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A wilderness of temptation

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Theme: A wilderness of temptation

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, we are beset with temptations daily: be our guide, helping us discern the difference between wants and needs, through him who faced temptations and did not stray from the right nor the left, your son, our saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I don’t know if any of you saw a report on the news recently of a report being done at a Macquarie Bank of Australia. The point of the video was not the news story, but what was going on in the background.

A seemingly remote reporter was interviewing a bank employee in a large room full of people, desks, and computers. In the background, one man was viewing more than stock and bond prices. On his monitor appeared a picture of a nearly nude model, Miranda Kerr. The employee was oblivious that a live camera was in the same room with him. Then he turned around, saw the camera, and immediately switched the image on his monitor.

The reporters on channel 10, I believe that was the channel I was watching, were howling as they showed the video clip. And the clip is very popular on YouTube. The Australian newspapers had a field day with it.

Bank management took a very dim view of the incident. The bank told local media, “Macquarie has strict policies in place surrounding the use of technology and the issue arising from today’s live cross on Seven News is being dealt with internally.” (Yahoo)

I’ve read statistics of the use of porn by employees on the job, but I don’t remember that exact numbers. I’ll bet they are understated, because people won’t readily admit to that kind of activity. I guess it is too big a temptation.

And speaking of temptation, we have today’s gospel story. We shift back to last January when Jesus was baptized. When Jesus is baptized, he is declared God’s son. Now we find out what kind of God’s son Jesus will be. What we heard today is what happened right after Jesus’ baptism. Jesus receives the Holy Spirit at his baptism. So now, full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returns to wherever he was before his baptism. The Holy Spirit then leads Jesus into the wilderness.

Going through a wilderness is hard. Surviving a wilderness is hard. The southern part of the Holy Land has a landscape we stereotypically apply to all the Holy Land. It is made up of dirt – lots of dirt. Sources of water are hard to find. Once in a while a plant is seen above the soil struggling to survive. It is bleak. It is depressing. And amazingly enough, people scratch out a living there. They are called Bedouins. (Describe a scene.)

The Holy Spirit leads and Jesus follows – wilderness or no. Jesus stayed in the wilderness forty days. Forty days is a biblical euphemism that means a long time. During that time, he was tested by the devil. That’s what the devil does. Job was tested by the devil and Job passed. Jesus also passed.

Luke tells us that Jesus ate nothing during this “long time.” When it was all over, Jesus was famished. Duh! I’d be hungry, too!

So, what were the tests that the devil gave to Jesus? The first was conditional. “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.” Now playing: Jesus the Wonder-maker! Magician par excellence! What is ironic about this scene are all the requests that are later made of Jesus asking for miracles. Jesus often fulfills the request, but sometimes he sighs when he does it.

Jesus’ response to the devil is from Deuteronomy 8:3, “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (NRSV) Okay, Jesus passes that one and he can quote scripture.

For the next test, the devil led Jesus up to a really high place and showed Jesus all the countries in the world. Above Jericho is the Mount of Temptation. It’s not high enough for the purposes of this part of the story. But it looks high from Jericho, which is about 1300 feet below sea level.

The devil said, “I will give all of this to you and much more glory besides. This authority was given to me and I can give it to whomever I choose.” The devil then adds a kicker to seal the deal, “If you worship me, then it’s all yours.”

Jesus returns to Deuteronomy by answering from verse 6:13, “The LORD your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.” (NRSV) Okay, Jesus passes the second test, but he only seems to know one book of scripture.

The devils’ claim that he controls the world sounds true. Anyone who demands worship must be lying about having authority over all the world. Otherwise, the demand for worship is moot. Where else do we hear lies that sound true? In advertising? From the media? From politicians? From talking heads on radio and TV? From the clergy?? When we give common sense advice to children?

Next, the devil leads Jesus out of the wilderness to Jerusalem. He places Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple and says, “If you are God’s Son, jump.” Instead, it was Jesus’ brother, James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, who was murdered by being thrown off the wall of the temple.

The devil is the next one to quote from scripture and from Psalm 93:11-12, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” (NRSV)

Jesus stays with Deuteronomy and from 6:16, “Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” Having finished his tests, the devil leaves Jesus until a better time presents itself. Of course, that time will be at Gethsemane.

These tests are about what worldview Jesus’ ministry will have. The tool for their battle is scripture. They both quote scripture, but have different worldviews. Scripture can be used to defend any point of view. The devil’s worldview is one of magic and power. God is treated like a multimillion dollar Super Bowl spectacular.

Jesus’ worldview is about a non-coercive sacrificial love. For Jesus, magic is not real. Power is subservient to responsibility. God is pleased with Jesus, because Jesus represents the power of love. Jesus is tested to see if he will stay true to his mission. What we say yes to and what we say no to reflects our values and worldviews.

Jesus asks of us, what form will our discipleship take? Discipleship requires commitment. Do our daily decisions depend on magic or power? Or do our daily decisions involve faith, love and humility? This is our wilderness test. It’s a tough test where we don’t always get a good grade.

We often ask ourselves if only I was stronger, if only I was smarter, if only I was more disciplined, if only I was more loving? These are good questions to ask, but they are done in retrospect. The question for us to answer yes to is a question of love. It is the voice that Jesus trusted at his baptism, “You are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

When we experience our own times of wilderness, do we rely on our own resources or do we ask God for help. Because if we rely on ourselves, if we think individualism is our savior, then the door to temptation is opened wide. Our only hope is on God. Without God we are lost. Without God we remain in the wilderness.

This story is about confusing needs with wants. The good news is that the one who can withstand temptation, when we cannot, rose from the dead. When we, individually, cannot withstand temptation, Jesus has already stepped in for us. In God alone, is the tempter defeated.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of discernment: through which we may choose the good and reject the bad, setting our hearts on your ways and not our ways, through the one whom we rely on as our rock, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: Luke 4:1–13 (NRSV)

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 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. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus 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. 6 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. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus 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, 10 for 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.’ ” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

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