Sermon Commentary for Sunday, March 6, 2022
Luke 4:1-13 Commentary
Comments, Questions and Observations
Couched between our text for this Sunday and the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3.21-22) is Jesus’ genealogy. The words immediately before Jesus entering the wilderness are, “the son of Adam, the son of God.” (3.38)
Thus, not only can we read Jesus’ forty days of trials in the wilderness alongside the forty-year wilderness exile of Israel, we can also read it alongside the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. (see Justo González in his Belief Series commentary, Luke)
Comparing the scenes of the garden and the desert is telling. Humans (represented by Adam and Eve) were in a lush garden, living with abundance, peace and authority over the wild animals. Jesus, on the other hand, is in the desolate wilderness, is not eating, and is subjected to the dangers of the beasts. Simply based on circumstances, humans clearly have the upper hand of having their basic needs of food, shelter and safety guaranteed—assuredly these should help them resist temptation, right?
And yet, there is a reason why Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Because even in the best of circumstances, ensconced in security and abundance, humanity has a poor track record when it comes to resisting temptation.
In both the garden and the wilderness, the devil uses God’s very own words to make his temptation. The difference between how humanity and Jesus Christ respond when facing temptation, the clear indicator of whether or not they will fail and give in to the temptation, is whether or not they know the meaning of those words and trust the person behind them.
Adam and Eve knew the words that God spoke—the words that commanded them to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But when the devil in the form of a serpent turned those words back to them, they did not think about God and all God had already proven to them about his care and provision for them. Instead, they thought about having more. And so, even in paradise, temptation comes and we give in.
As we see in the garden, the sad irony is that what is promised to humanity often becomes the reason why we give in to temptation. Adam and Eve already had everything they could ever need, and yet they gave in to temptation because they believed that it would give them more of what God had already promised them—everything they could ever need!
The devil tries to play the same game with Jesus. Satan really does only have one playbook…
First, the devil tempts Jesus to exploit his identity as the Son of God to exert his power over the things of the world and miraculously turn stones into bread. Then, the devil tempts Jesus to take hold of his power and destiny now by using the devil’s means for ruling on earth (getting people to give up on what is good and to join his “team”). Finally, the devil tempts Jesus to test God’s promise of protection.
The devil’s choices of content are not out of thin air. They are all things that truly and rightly belong to the Christ, the Son of God. And, they are things that are guaranteed to be part of Christ’s glory.
Jesus already has ultimate authority and power, it has been given to him by the Father; he can work miracles… the devil wants him to exploit that power.
Jesus is already the Prince of Peace and the rulers of the Kingdom of this world… the devil wants him to abuse that power for his own pleasure.
Jesus is the beloved Son of God, in whom the Father is well pleased; he has the Father’s heart… the devil wants him to distrust that love and make the Father prove it.
In essence, the devil is trying to tempt Jesus to enter the game he himself committed to when he first rebelled. The devil is trying to enlist Jesus into the fallacy the devil is clinging to; the devil is tempting Jesus to go after what already belongs to Jesus and what will be his, just more quickly than divine wisdom would lead him to it.
But Jesus knows not only the words of Scripture, he knows the one who inspired them. Jesus knows what they mean—their infallible message. Unlike us humans—and even while in a time of great distress (a theme that we see throughout Jesus’ times of trials)—Jesus is able to lift his mind to the grander arc of God at work in the world. He trusts the word and work of God. He IS the Word and Work of God in the world.
In The Ethics of Freedom, Jacques Ellul sees Jesus pivoting back to the wisdom of God with each of the temptations. When tempted to exploit his position, Jesus submits to divine obedience. When tempted to the instant gratification of greatness, Jesus postures himself for radical servitude. When tempted to prove his beloved specialness by necessitating divine protection, Jesus rejects independence and its inherent falsehood that we have the right to dictate conditions to God.
Unsurprisingly, when faced with temptation Jesus is able to do and be much better than every other living human in the history of the world. And he knows this about us: there is a reason why Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” He taught us to pray that God would not lead us into the time of testing our trust in God’s word and work because it is so hard to live by faith and trust.
Modern Bibles do not use this title, but Jesus’ time in the wilderness, resisting the temptations of the devil, being tested by God for faithfulness and trust, we could see this as Jesus’ first open battle against evil on behalf of humanity. Here, Jesus does what no human can do for him or herself. He fights the devil and does what Adam and Eve did not. He is weak and maybe even a little afraid out there in the desolate and dangerous desert, but he does not succumb to the evil one’s whispered attempts to sow doubt. Here in the wilderness Jesus begins his winning against the regime of evil, begins to break the chains of suffering, the quelling of fears. He begins an earthly battle that only God can wage, and he plays by his own wisdom rules.
As we enter the season of Lent, this time of trial that Jesus endured on our behalf serves as context. It both reminds us of why the Incarnation and cross are necessary, and becomes a source of strength. We too can call upon the Holy Spirit to make us more like Christ, able to resist temptation, we too can commit ourselves to disciplines that help us to know the Spirit’s infilling, we too can sacrifice and trust that God’s words and work are true. We can deny the devil and his shortcuts and pursue the wisdom ways of God.
All of this, of course, proves to be very difficult for us to submit to, and thus, Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” But Lent becomes about trying to do that very thing, it becomes about recognizing our weaknesses and need for God’s intervention. It is about willfully identifying and then addressing one’s own proclivities for wilderness temptations, and it is about asking the Spirit to fill you with the same strength and faith of Christ in order to face them and say no to the devil and his ways. Best wishes on the journey!
A close reading of the first two verses points to a number of key details. Once again, Luke points out that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. Luke also makes clear that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. Like God allows the accuser to test Job, the Spirit allows the devil’s persistent tempting of Jesus over his forty days of solitude and fasting. These last three temptations were one of many—many while Jesus was in the wilderness and among many that Jesus would face throughout his ministry (most of which are not included in the Scriptures). All of these details help us understand that nature of this battle (and our battles until Christ returns): both the temptations and the presence of God with us are ongoing.
A number of years ago, I heard about the marshmallow test. Essentially, kids sat at a table and were given one of those large marshmallows. Then they were told that they could eat the marshmallow whenever they wanted, but if they could wait and hold off on not eating the marshmallow until the adult came back (between 5 and 15 minutes), they would be given a second marshmallow to enjoy. Watch this video to see some kids fighting the temptation. The original studies had to do with will power, impulse control and instant gratification, but I also see the plight of the human when faced with temptation. Though there is a distinct promise for something more and better if they are able to hold their desires in check, it’s a real struggle for most of the kids to not succumb to at least a little nibble right now. From Adam and Eve until now, we’ve struggled to not give in to temptation.
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