From Pastor Kenny's Desk
March 10, 2019
Jesus returned from the Jordan filled with the Holy Spirit, and she led him into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by the Devil. Jesus ate nothing during that time, at the end of which he was famished.
The Devil said to Jesus, “If you are God’s Own, command this stone to turn into bread.” Jesus answered, “Scripture has it, ‘We don’t live on bread alone.’”
Then the Devil took Jesus up higher and showed him all the nations of the world in a single instant. The Devil said, “I’ll give you all the power and the glory of these nations; the power has been given to me and I can give it to whomever I wish. Prostrate yourself in homage before me, and it will all be yours.”
In reply, Jesus said, “Scripture has it: ‘You will worship the Most High God; God alone will you adore.’” Then the Devil led Jesus to Jerusalem, set him up on the parapet of the Temple and said, “If you are God’s Own, throw yourself down from here, for scripture has it, ‘God will tell the angels to take care of you; with their hands they’ll support you, that you may never stumble on a stone.’”
Jesus said to the Devil in reply, “It also says, ‘Do not put God to the test.’”
When the Devil had finished all this tempting, Jesus was left alone. The Devil awaited another opportunity.
~ Luke 4:1-13
It really doesn’t have to be bread, power, or safety … temptations, I mean. In this sacred text the devil tries to seduce Jesus with the promise of bread when he’s hungry, the glory and power of all the world’s leaders, and the promise of rescue combined with the suggestion that God is not sufficient to keep Jesus safe. And all
Jesus has to do in return is worship the devil.
So in this scene, it’s bread, power, and safety … but it could be something else … because the point isn’t the specific temptations, but rather the underlying nature of temptation itself.
Further, I would argue that temptation is not so often temptation toward something … usually portrayed as doing something you shouldn’t … but rather is usually the temptation away from something … namely, our relationship with God and the identity we receive in and through that relationship.
Too often people of faith have focused on all the things we shouldn’t do, instead of pointing us to the gift and grace of our identity as children of God. But the devil knows better. Notice how each of the temptations seeks to eat away at and undercut Jesus’ confidence in his relationship with God and therefore challenge Jesus’ identity.
Jesus, of course, picks up on this. Which is why when the devil offers him bread, he responds with an affirmation of trust in God. The next temptation is more transparent, offering Jesus the power of the world’s leaders in return for Jesus’ allegiance and worship. But again Jesus knows that his allegiance can only be given to the one from whom he has received his identity. Finally, the devil proposes that God is not trustworthy, and prods Jesus into testing that relationship. But Jesus refuses.
In each case, the devil seeks to undermine Jesus’ confidence in both God and himself. That is, he seeks to erode Jesus’ confidence that he is enough, that he is secure, that he is worthy of God’s love. And in the face of these temptations, Jesus quotes the sacred story of Israel in order to declare that he is a part of that story and therefore reaffirm his identity as a child of God. Rooted in the scriptures … Jesus is reminded not only that he has enough and is enough but that he is of infinite worth in the eyes of God.
Bread, power, and safety. But it just as well might have been youth, beauty, and wealth. Or confidence, fame, and security. On one level, we experience specific temptations very concretely, but on another they are all the same, as they seek to shift our allegiance, trust, and confidence away from God and toward some substitute that promises a more sound and secure identity.
Which is why I think this passage is really about identity theft. And not simply the devil’s failed attempt to steal Jesus’ identity but all the attempts to rob us of ours. In many ways it’s all a power-struggle that is intended to wreak havoc with Jesus and if we are honest with us as well. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit … the truth is this was the only way he could endure such a struggle … and it’s the only way we can as well. Remember … Jesus takes on our personhood in such a way that he is tempted and tested. Not for the sake of our own claim to such feats but for the sake in knowing, deeply, intimately, what it means to be human.
As we embrace our human-ness while also owning our identity as God’s Beloved there will be times of doubt, struggle, discouragement and frustration. There will be times when it is a challenge to remember God celebrates us and walks with us … just the way we are … while also loving us more than we could ever imagine. God understands our temptations … when the voices in our head tell us we are not enough, or we’re not worthy and will never be secure in God’s love. Luke reminds us how to handle these times by sharing how Jesus resisted temptation and power-struggle with the devil.
Jesus shows us how to resist power-struggles and temptations of all kind! Jesus’ resistance to temptation is a bold “no” to power as we know it. Power that dominates. Power that controls. Power that lifts up for the sake of marginalization and degradation. Power that insists on individual and self-centered power. And the temptation not only to power itself, but what the claim of power then leads to, has hold on, or determines. Our attention to power is often unable to see the consequences on the other side. Jesus has the foresight of that which the devil offers fully in view. All this is certainly not for the good of God’s love in the world.
We live in a time and in a world where we are under assault every single day by tempting messages that seek to draw our allegiance from the God who created and redeemed us … and ALL people … toward some meager substitute is often in the shape of a myriad of power-struggles. Jesus … filled with the Spirit … reminds us that we can resist, recognize and reject power-struggles by realizing God loves us more than anything, loves us enough to send God’s only Son into the world to take on our lot and life, to experience the same temptations and wants, to be rejected as we often feel rejected and to die as we will die, all so that we may know God is with us and for us forever. Furthermore, God raised Jesus from the dead in order to demonstrate that God’s love is more powerful than all the hate in the world and that the life God offers is more powerful … even than death.
And this love and life is for ALL people … period. This is one of the goals of the season of Lent. To clear our focus from the things that hinder us from clearly seeing and experiencing God. Perhaps it’s temptations, power-struggles, a behavior causing your pain and brokenness, or simply some sort of personal identity theft … that keeps you from celebrating your Beloved-ness being named and claimed as God’s Beloved.
This is one of many reasons to stay engaged within the life and ministry of MCC Richmond. Tempted in multiple ways to lose our faith in God and confidence in ourselves, we come to church to be reminded of … and given again … our identity as beloved children of God. In the face of so many assaults on our identity … in other words … we come to church to have that identity renewed and restored that we might live in the confidence of God’s abundant life and remind and share with others God’s unending love.
Lent is often focused on self-denial, sacrifice, and resisting temptation. But might we instead … or at least in addition … imagine that Lent could be an ideal time to celebrate our identity as people of God, affirm our brilliance as God’s Beloved … just the way we are … and marvel at the love and grace of God. Then and only then will we create a world without power-struggles and temptation.
God loves us and will keep loving us no matter what, and for this reason we are enough. I know that I need to hear this declared again and again, as in the face of all the messages to the contrary that promise can seem so difficult to believe, and my hunch is others need to hear that word as well. Rejoice in knowing you are a beloved child of God and are holy and precious to God!