Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Temptation of Jesus

First Sunday in Lent
Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV)

The temptation of Jesus

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written,
'One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
'He will command his angels concerning you,'
and 'On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
'Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.' "

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.


Today is the first Sunday in Lent. As most of us know Lent began on Ash Wednesday and lasts 40 days, not to include Sundays.

Our Lenten posture, as Christians, is one of prayer, fasting, and service. We are called to the sacrificial giving of our time, talent, and treasure. We walk the dark way of the cross with Jesus, watching and praying as he undertakes the long and painful march to Golgotha’s hill in order to make atonement for our sin.

The word “atonement” means to bring into harmony, reconciliation, or agreement. In our Genesis reading, we remember how the harmonious song between God and humanity descended into cacophony and discord when Adam and Eve chose to listen to the crafty words of the serpent who suggested that they should eat of the tree of good and evil and become as God.

Isn’t it sad that from the beginning we were not able to observe the Law of God? Adam and Eve were told, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."

Why is it that as human beings we always want what we cannot have? Instead of focusing on the freedom to eat from any of the other trees with blessing and liberty, Adam and Eve turned their eyes to the one tree that was off limits for their own protection.

It seems to me that this is the nature of sin. It is the prioritizing of the “I” over and above the “Thou.” I want to eat from the tree. I want to touch the tree. I want to live forever. I want my eyes to be opened. I want to be as God…”

No wonder our constant refrain during the season of Lent is, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions…”

And in response we hear God’s harmonious singing of the verse, “Return to the Lord your God, for I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…”

Aren’t you glad that our ashy, sinful hearts do not get the last word?

Aren’t you glad that as Christian-Lutherans we are always bound to lift up Law and Gospel together?

For today, despite the sinfulness of our ways, there is still good news!

There is one who was able to take on human flesh and still prioritize the “Thou.”—HIS NAME IS JESUS, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Despite the trickery and temptation of Satan in the wilderness, Jesus was able to prioritize the word of God and his love relationship with the Father, declaring, “Away with you!” to the very personification of evil.

These days many of us have a hard time even talking about the devil. Hollywood has done a number on us, giving us an image of a man with a pitchfork, horns, red skin, and a tail.

But, this ridiculous imagery has done great harm to us as Christians. It causes us to discredit the very real threat of sin and evil in our world. It causes us to fail to name and call out the pernicious depravity in our communities which manifests in innumerable examples of hatred, pride, envy, and hypocrisy, apathy, gluttony, negligence, and prejudice, waste, greed, rage, and war just to name just a few.

Furthermore, this farcical imagery has also desensitized us to the heinous ways in which human sin brings grave suffering to our loved ones, neighbors, global communities, and creation itself (Sundays and Seasons).

Lent is a clarion call to sit up and take notice of what is going on around us! It is the urgent sounding of the shofar which is meant to wake up the soul and turn its attention to the important task of repentance (Maimonides). It is the desperate appeal of the good for us to rise up and manifest peace on earth and goodwill toward all people in our words and in our actions…

Today, we are called to recognize the manifold ways that we have been driven by the Spirit out into the wild and dangerous places where evil is resident, ever whispering in our ears, and seeking to compel us to forget that we are the beloved children of God…

But, have no fear! For we will find that even in the wildest places we are never alone. God is with us; Christ is with us!

During this Lenten Journey to Easter, although we will surely go the dark way of the cross, we fear no evil. For we journey with Jesus.

And the good news for each of us is that our Jesus is well able to name evil and crush it underfoot saying, “"Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him…”

On this day, it is my prayer that we will hear and heed the invitation to prioritize our God above all else. I pray that we will hear and heed the call to hold fast to that which is good and render no one evil for evil. And I pray that all of us would take ridiculous joy in the opportunity to love and serve God and neighbor, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Remember that you are dust, and to the dust you shall return…

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @

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