Our Gospel message comes to us today from Luke the 4th chapter, beginning at the 1st verse.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13, NRSV)
All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you've done for us in Christ. Now as we open that word we pray that your spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus name. Amen
“Jesus Shows Us That Scripture Resists Temptation”
Our Gospel lesson for this morning is one of those unique texts that give us a true glimpse into the humanity of Jesus. Luke tells us that after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River, he is led by God’s Spirit into the wilderness, where he is tempted by the devil, or the personification of evil. During those forty days Jesus fasted, which sets up for us the first recorded temptation that Jesus encountered.
Luke begins by telling us a rather obvious fact. “At the end of those forty days of fasting, Jesus was famished.” The devil then slyly approaches Jesus and says to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Well, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea. After all, Jesus is the Son of God and he certainly had the ability to turn that stone into bread. But that’s not what he does. Jesus resisted the temptation to use his divine abilities to serve his own human need. But even more important, is the means by which Jesus answered the tempter’s ploy. Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
The devil then led Jesus up to some high pinnacle, in which he showed Jesus all the earthly kingdoms, and suggested to Jesus that he could have the political authority over all of these nations, if he would just worship the devil. But even though Jesus was fully human, he wasn’t seeking earthly authority, or political power. But again, listen to how Jesus answered the devil’s ploy. “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Finally, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple. Again, he asks Jesus to prove his divinity, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘[God] will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
But Jesus didn’t need to test his divinity. Rather, he simply responded to the devil in the same way that he had responded to him in the previous temptations. Jesus said, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And realizing the steadfast faith of Jesus, Luke tells us that the devil left him until an opportune time.
Did you catch the dynamic that is taking place in these temptation stories? The tempter comes to Jesus, seeking to call into question his divinity, or his loyalty to God. But Jesus doesn’t respond to the tempter from the point of view of his divine nature, as the incarnate Son of God. Rather, Jesus responds out of his humanity, as a person who has been raised a child of Israel.
As Thomas Long points out in his commentary on our text, “Luke tells us that ‘it was his custom’ to go to the synagogue. He did not go only to preach, to stir up the people, or to make a cameo appearance that could be reported in the New Testament. Jesus went to the synagogue Sabbath after Sabbath. He heard the lessons, he learned the teachings of the Torah, he prayed the prayers.
Somehow we have forgotten that even Jesus had to learn about his faith; even Jesus was a student. He was not only the incarnate Son of God, he was also fully human. And during his childhood years and visits to the synagogue, Luke twice tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom, grew in his understanding of the doctrines of his faith.
It should not surprise us to learn, then,” continues Long, “that when Jesus was tested by the devil, when Jesus was pushed against the wall and had his calling and loyalty to God pressed to the limits, he did not defend his faith from the point of view of his divinity, but from his humanity. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy. He quoted truths he had learned as a child, had recited in Sabbath school, and heard time and again in the synagogue. “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” “It is written, ‘Worship only the Lord your God…’” “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” End Quote.
I believe that the point of our Gospel lesson for this morning makes it clear that our lives can be shaped and molded through the power of God’s Spirit working through the church, to live in a harmonious relationship with God. The fact that Jesus did not rely on his divine relationship with God to face the temptations that were put before him, but on what he had learned through the Scriptures as human child of Israel, should inspire us all. God’s Spirit, at work in Christ’s Church, is a support, and source of strength to those of us who seek to live our lives as disciples of Christ, and witnesses to God’s redeeming grace.
I would like to close with another quote from Thomas Long, who relates an illustration that many of us hear this morning can recall. Long writes, and I quote: “The school where I teach gave an honorary degree several years ago to two men named High Thompson and Larry Colburn. On March 16, 1968, Thompson was a young helicopter pilot flying on patrol over the countryside of Vietnam. When he and his crew, Colburn and Glenn Andreotta, flew over the village of Sơn Mỹ (Mỹ Lai), they saw a nightmare taking place below them. United States Army troops in Charlie Company, under the constant pressure of danger and the madness of war, had lost control of their discipline, reason, and humanity. They had begun slaughtering unarmed civilians in the village, most of them women, children, and elderly men. 504 people had already been killed.
Thompson set his helicopter down between the troops and the remaining villagers. At great risk to himself, he got out of the helicopter and confronted the officer in charge, Lieutenant William Calley. He than airlifted the few villagers still alive out of Sơn Mỹ, and radioed a report of the scene, that resulted in a halt to their mission, thus saving thousands of innocent lives.
Standing there on the platform at the university commencement, Thompson was given the microphone, and he spoke to the question, “How could he have found the moral courage and strength to do what he did that day?” His answer surprised the audience of graduates, and brought them to a thoughtful silence.
“I’d like to thank my mother and father for trying to instill in me the difference between right and wrong,” he began. “We were country people. I was born and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and we had very little. But one thing we did have was the Golden Rule. My parents taught me early, ‘Do unto others what you would have them do to you.’ I was raised as a Christian. That’s why I did what I did that day. Each of you are going to have to make many decisions in your life. Please make the right decisions, because we all depend on you.” Then he simply sat down.” End quote.
We don’t handle temptation any better than the Children of Israel did in the wilderness. We complain and grumble far too much. We are not educated in Scripture, so we cannot even throw it in Satan’s face. All the fasting and mortification of our bodies in Lent fails to improve the deficit of faith. Perhaps we would be better served in Lent in keeping in memory that the Captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering. He made all the right choices in our behalf. He suffered in our place. He did not just relive the history of Israel. He has relived our lives as well. God sees us in the responses Jesus made to temptation rather than ours. Our only hope is that we are united to Jesus by faith. Left to ourselves, we are most hopeless. Thinking of what Jesus has done for us, and believing that He did these things for us is what should occupy our thoughts during Lent. These thoughts will cleanse our lives and souls far more that our vows and rules.
Dear Heavenly Father, your Word became flesh and lived among us in the person of your Son Jesus the Christ, who was indeed truly human and truly divine. As a human, he, like the rest of us wrestled with temptation by the lures of this world, yet he remained true to his mission of redemption. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us in our temptations today. Keep us from being distracted from you through the lures of this world, and guide us in our walk of faith. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
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Note: Thompson experienced posttraumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, divorce, and severe nightmare disorder. Despite the adversity he faced, he remained in the United States Army until November 1, 1983, and continued to make a living as a helicopter pilot in the Southeastern United States. In 1998, Thompson and Colburn returned to the village of Sơn Mỹ, where they met some of the people they saved during the killings, including Thi Nhung and Pham Thi Nhanh, two women who had been part of the group about to be killed. Thompson said to the survivors, "I just wish our crew that day could have helped more people than we did." He reported that one of the women they had helped out came up to him and asked, "Why didn't the people who committed these acts come back with you?" He said that he was "just devastated" but that she finished her sentence: "So we could forgive them." At the age of 62, after extensive treatment for cancer, Thompson was removed from life support and died on January 6, 2006, at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Pineville, Louisiana. Colburn came from Atlanta to be at his bedside. Thompson was buried in Lafayette, Louisiana, with full military honors, including a three-volley salute and a helicopter flyover. On February 8, Congressman Charles Boustany (R-La.) made a statement in Congress honoring Thompson, stating that the "United States has lost a true hero, and the State of Louisiana has lost a devoted leader and dear friend."
The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission. Sermon contributed by Rev. Ronald Harbaugh.
The season of Lent is supposed to remind us of the 40 days of Jesus temptation in the wilderness. How should we observe it?