First Sunday in Lent

by Crossings

TEMPTATION AND TRUST
Luke 4:1-13
(First Sunday in Lent)
analysis by Al Jabs

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where 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. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And 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. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” 9 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, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.


DIAGNOSIS: The Problem with Evil

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: In the Wilderness
The wilderness where Jesus is encountered in this gospel could be anyplace–or no place in particular. We should not think of it as some place other than where we are already. Our own locus is desert enough. That is where Jesus finds himself. But one thing is for certain–he is not alone. Being alone is never the problem. We can be in the wilderness when we are in the company of those who are attending church with us, or when we are surrounded by friends, or when we are reading John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress. But we are not alone.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Tempted
Where we are, in the wilderness, the evil one, Diabolus (the devil) is there testing us, as he did the Son of Man, with bread, kingdoms, and perhaps even using the words of God to see if we will jump in to the protecting, underlying arms of angels. These temptations are not to esoteric goals. They are temptations precisely because they are the very things we want: to quench our hunger, to gain power, to secure our identity. In the midst of this temptation, we are prone to cave in. But in the process, we have allowed evil a place in our very own being. There are private demons and collective demons–enemies within and without; but despair now finds a place in our hearts, as there is never enough bread, never enough power, never enough security. Martin Luther called it Anfechtung–a despair of the spirit. Paul had his near death anxiety. Peter had his remorse. David has his realization of murder and adultery. Even Jesus would have his cry of abandonment: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Given Over to the Devil
To make the depiction as vividly frightening as it is, the devil points to all the kingdoms of the world and tells Jesus what has transpired: “it has been given over to me” (v. 6). What is frightening about this is not that the devil has such power to take it to himself, but that God has allowed the evil one to take us all as captives–that God has given us over to the devil (compare Romans 1, where the people of the world are thrice abandoned). The devil is God’s devil, and that is the real locus of our problem.

PROGNOSIS: The Victory of the Spirit

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Led by the Spirit
Jesus was led into our wilderness experience, but not by the devil. He was led there by the Spirit of God. Is God silent here? No, He suffers with me and with you, whatever our circumstances. In this dark night of the soul, God is present to see us through the suffering and the tragedies that come to one and all. Precisely because the world has been given over is Christ there to see us through in the promise, to suffer through the bitter dregs. Heaven and hell are in the balance, but in the end, Jesus will endure the challenge, and change the locus of our being for the better. We are no longer given over to the devil; we are a people who are firmly in the hands of the God-in-Christ who has allied himself against all evil, and sees us through to a promising new day.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Full of the Spirit
We breathe in this new found being in Christ, and are full of Christ’s spirit that gives us the victory. Following his baptism, Jesus was full of the Spirit. That assurance is given also to us who have died and risen in the waters of baptism as an assurance of victory in the midst of the temptations of life. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. To be sure, like Luther, we confess the plea that we are merely beggars needing forgiveness and rescue. But we have cast our begging onto Jesus, who fills us with his Spirit, and gives us the weapons to fight against evil within and without. We are not caught in despair, but are embraced in the hope that is ours through Him who has endured all the temptations to make us God’s very own daughters and sons–who do not live by bread alone but by the Word of God; who worship and serve the Son and his Father through the Spirit; who have passed through the test thanks to the Son of Man. And with the Spirit of the Son of Man, we are also led beyond the temptations by that Spirit.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Opportune time (and place)
The devil looked for a more “opportune time” to test Jesus. That would come at the cross, another (and most powerful) wilderness experience. But Jesus would pass through that test as well, rendering for you and for me all occasions, all times and places to live in the power of the Spirit. The problems of feeding the hungry are great. The challenge to sell out to the glitz and glory of the secular kingdoms is also great. The temptation to torture people and confuse people about God’s saving act through Jesus Christ is also present. But these are all opportune times and places to live in the power of the Spirit, and to know that whatever our failures and weaknesses, there is the kingdom of the Spirit that is ours to live for others. Jesus will see us through the test, and we will not be alone. He will be there with us to face these opportune times and places.

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  • Crossings

    Crossings is a community of welcoming, inquisitive people who want to explore how what we hear at church is useful and beneficial in our daily lives.

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