Temptation Luke 4:1-13
As Jesus rose out of the water, feeling each droplet of water run down his face, his hair, his back. As he rose up and saw the sky torn asunder and saw the Spirit of God take the form of a dove and begin to descend to the place in the Jordan River that he was now standing. As he rose up and heard the voice of God arising from the depths of his soul and saying, “this is my beloved, on him my favor rests.” As he saw the near speechless reaction of the crowd pointing at him and staring in awe, for a brief moment, he was able to dwell in that place, dwell in that time, dwell in the presence of the Holy and it was as if all time had slowed to just a trickle. Like his life had become a movie and the film was now passing frame-by-frame. And then, just as he had begun to wrap his mind around what had just happened, everything, shifted from a trickle to a gush, and the movie that was passing frame-by-frame now seemed to be moving at double speed, triple speed, and everything, John, the crowds, the water, the dove, the voice, the Spirit, God, all seemed to be bearing down on top of a singular point on his head. It was as if nothing had changed and everything had changed all in a single blink and what had been an otherwise normal day had now been tossed into chaos. If ever you wonder if Jesus was as truly human as he was truly divine, you need to look no further than the crescendo of this story and what will follow. Here is Jesus, around 30, surely somewhat settled in the life that he was leading, coming to the Jordan River because that is what Jews were doing at that time. Coming to the river because his cousin John is leading a movement of the faithful back to God. Coming to the river because there is something deep in his soul that is driving him to do so. And as he rises up and surveys this new earth, this new realm of God that is blossoming all around him. He seemingly freaks out. And we can be sure that he freaks out because the next thing we know he is running out to the wilderness around Nazareth to be by himself for a long time. And really, do you seek that kind of solitude, that kind of silence, that kind of time to yourself to think if your whole being has not been shaken to its core? And it is at this moment that the new being that is arising in Jesus’s soul, that has been uncared and is now about to be imparted on the world, encounters the siren song of the old order of the world, the broken order, the sinful order.
Because Jesus had left so quickly, because he had become so full of the Holy Spirit, because he felt like he had to get away no matter what the cost, after some time, he realizes that in his haste, he hadn’t taken any food with him. And isn’t it just the way it is that we can all go along time without eating but when we do and that first thought of eating passes over our minds, it becomes the dominant thought. Perhaps it is a relic of our pre-limbic brains from a time in which we acted as biological creatures whose chief mission in life was to do whatever it was that we had to to survive. Because we see that just as Jesus is starting to make some peace with the new trajectory that his life has taken, the physical needs of a person begin to crop up and immediately he is tempted to create food, where before there was not food. To use his newfound powers, his newly discovered connection to God, to perform magic tricks the way a magician at a carnival might do. And somewhere in the midst of that temptation, as he sat on the precipice of being able to satiate his hunger with the simple creation of bread, the darkness that too often infests the whole of the world began to speak to Jesus. And because, as we all know, the temptation towards the darkness, towards selfishness, towards relying on our own powers and casting God out of the place of chief importance in our lives, is so strong, we see that it comes back to him again and again seeking to move the line just a little bit until all Jesus can think about is the warmth, the smell, the taste of fresh bread melting in his mouth and just as he inches towards succumbing to the temptation, the spirit that burns in his soul roars at the darkness, “scripture has it, we don’t live on bread alone.” Perhaps he had to remind himself of this. Perhaps he offered a guttural rebuke to the darkness that was gathering all around him, but just as he did, the darkness dissipated and he felt that gnawing in the pit of his stomach for anything that resembled food disappear as well.
And maybe it is that Jesus thought it was done at that point. He had tamed his deepest physical desire for life and for sustenance. He had placed his trust in God to take care of his needs. Perhaps at this point in his silence and relief he looked out over the edge of the cliff that he was sitting on and surveyed the area. Some distance away he could see the smoke arising from cooking fires in the small villages that dotted the landscape that was unfolding before him. In his mind he looked out even further still to Jerusalem, the holy city, to the temple where he had taught the elders as a child. Further still he thought of the magnificence of Rome and all the power over its Empire across much of the known world, until bit-by-bit, he became aware of the opportunities offered him by his new power. When he got back down, he knew that he would begin to gather followers and that those followers still looked to God to provide a ruler that would take on the mighty Roman Empire, that would return the seat of power to Jerusalem, that would restore the Davidic monarchical line of which he was a member. And slowly it dawned on him. He could be the one that raised up an army to challenge the Roman government and all their puppet rulers in Judah. He could be the one that would march across the globe with his armies and his Divine power. He could walk right up to the Caesar’s throne and displace him and place the laurel atop his own head and then he would be ruler of the world and all the nations would bow down before him. And before he knew it, he was surrounded once again by the darkness, by the temptation to take all the power of God and secure for himself earthly power and prestige. In his own mind, he could justify it to himself. He was protecting his people, his nation, Israel. With the defeat of the Romans he could protect the whole of the known world and become an earthly ruler like Xerxes or Sargon, and the darkness continued to tear at his very being, with the image of King Jesus the great, ruler of all the world. It was so easy. All he had to do is allow the darkness to wash over him. The darkness that spoke to him words that demanded that he give up his allegiance to God and a sure life of pain and oddity. And he was just about to relinquish control, to allow the darkness to move through him as it moved through the rest of the world when from the depths of his soul, like a voice that was both his own and like nothing he had ever heard before, he screamed out to himself, to the darkness, “‘You will worship the most high God; God alone will you adore.” And a sense of calm and relief washed over him and in the West he could see the sun beginning to make its descent down past the mountains that served as the backdrop of his vista. And he continued his preparations to return home. And then it happened.
Was his walking on the rocky path that led to the bottom of the mountain and tripped? Was he picking up whatever stuff that he brought with him and pricked his finger on a bramble that sat just next to his pack? Did he just have the gathering awareness that to live a life for God was going to inevitably bring pain and suffering to himself and his person? Whatever it was, that fear, that temptation took hold of him again. How did he know that God would be there to take care of him when all the world cast their stones at him, and beat him, and attempted to throw him from the top of the synagogue. How could he be sure that this feeling that he had, this power that was rising up in him, this feeling of intimate connection to God wasn’t all in his head. Had he imagined the dove. Had he imagined that voice. Was he really God’s beloved and would God take care of him in his times of greatest need and struggle? And just like that, once again, the darkness surrounded him, and was more cunning, more insistent, than before. And it rang out in a single question, are you sure? Are you sure that God will care for you? Are you sure that God will hold you up when those in power, those that you are decrying as hypocrites and only seeking their own wealth and standing, when those people begin to plot against you, hurt you, seek to end you? Are you willing to put your whole faith in God without having put that God to the test? And in his mind’s eye, Jesus could see the Temple once again. The symbol of the Jewish religion, the traditional home of God. He could see the very top of it, towering above all the other buildings. He could see all those people down at the bottom scurrying in and out of the temple in the midst of prayers and suddenly he wasn’t so sure. If he was going to dedicate his life to God, to the realm of God, to following God wherever the Spirit of the Divine led him, if he was going to do all this, did he really not want to make sure that God was going to take care of him. And the darkness, sensing the final opportunity to derail the mission of Jesus before it even began offered a final bit of scripture for him. ‘God will tell the angels to take care of you; 11 With their hands they’ll support you, that you may never stumble on a stone.’ ” It right there in black and white, so to speak, the word of God for the people of God, the divine decree that God’s angels would protect him, that he would never even stumble on the path of his mission in the world. And to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was all true, all Jesus had to do was take a single step off the edge of the Temple. He inched forward and looked down again at all of God’s children moving back and forth. He took a deep breath and began to lift the weight off his right foot as one does when they are about to take a step, when a feeling, a voice, a power came exploding out of him and once again he was back on that mountain, back in the moment, and he screamed into the darkness, “it also says, ‘do not put God to the test.’ ” And just like that, the darkness dissipated a final time and Jesus could see the sun setting behind the mountains to the west, could see the cook fires sparking the darkness just down past the mountain, could see all of God’s world, God’s realm erupting before him and he knew and he believed and he left, ready to change the course of human history, forever.
We are going to spend the rest of the year journeying with Jesus, from this moment, to his teachings, his healings, his feelings, his miracles. We are going to walk with him through angry crowds and angrier Romans. We are going to sit with the disciples in the boat when the storms arise and we are going to sit beneath the cross while we watch him take his last humanly breath. But all the while, we are going to look back to this moment, this moment that demonstrates that he is human, just like us, but he is also so intimately connected to God that shows us how to be pure conduits of light, to take on the darkness and illumine the path of those who find themselves trapped by the darkness. To stare our own temptations, shortcomings, brokenness in the face and declare that they will not get the final word but rather God’s light, that shines for all to see, bathes us forever in grace, forgiveness, peace, and love and we are called to share that with all the people that we meet, in word and deed, until all the world is reconciled to one another and to God. We’ve got a lot to do, let’s get to work. Alleluia, amen.