Today's Scripture focus: Luke 4:1-13
I've always had a hard time trying to imagine Jesus really, truly, being tempted. Maybe it stems from my childhood and the emphasis on the perfection of Jesus. Maybe it was the fact that I really enjoyed stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as a kid. I had this mental image of Jesus as a knight doning the "Armor of God" and the wimpy little darts of the enemy bouncing off him like toys. This Jesus wouldn't really be tempted. It may have looked like he was, but there was no way that any of those puny little darts threatened Sir Jesus the Perfect.
Things got a little more complicated for me as I got to know the Bible a little better. In seeking to battle my own temptations, I remember memorizing this verse from the book of James: "Each person is tempted when he is lured away and enticed by his own desire." (James 1:14). And then there's this verse in Hebrews that goes a little further in describing Jesus' temptation: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) By implication, then, are we to deduct that since Jesus was tempted in every respect and that true temptation comes from our own sinful desires, that Jesus had sinful desires? Is there a chink in your armor Sir Jesus?
As I read today's passage, I am not really bothered too much by these questions (though they may interested to ponder). Instead, I am struck by the manner in which the enemy comes to attack Jesus. One of the many depictions of Jesus in movies is a CBS mini-series called Jesus, starring Jeremy Sisto (a strange choice, in my opinion). While the film-makers definitely took some artistic license depiction of of the temptation, I think they got at the theological meaning of the temptation pretty well. (You can see it on youtube here. Fast forward to 8:50 for the beginning of this scene.) In it, the tempter appears to Jesus first as a beautiful woman, then as a well-dressed, distinguished man (a little bit the stereotypical slick, used car salesmen, but a good looking guy nonetheless).
The tempter first appeals to Jesus' human limitations. He is hungry. His body needs nourishment. He could turn stones to bread. When that doesn't work, he shows Jesus the multitude of hungry people in the world. If he won't turn the stones to bread for himself, maybe he will for those people. The temptation is this - perform a little miracle Jesus. Feed them with your miraculous powers. You can meet all their needs.
The second temptation is this - Jesus you just need a better public relations team, some more effective and strategic marketing. The people aren't going to listen to you because you have no credibility, no platform. Throw yourself down from the top of the temple. Let God send angels to put on a little show of your power. Then, they would listen to you. Then you would have a platform. They'd be eating out of the palm of your hand, Jesus.
The third one is the real test. "I could give it all to you, Jesus. Power. Authority. Control. A kingdom. That's who you are, right? The king of Kings. Bow down to me and I'll give it all to you. I'll help you live up to your calling and be the man you were created to be."
In essence, the temptations boil down to this: "Jesus, I'll give you exactly what you want - food to feed the hungry, people that will listen and follow your every word, a world where you will reign as king and lord. And guess what . . . you don't even need that whole cross thing to accomplish it." Yes, this is the temptation for Jesus - the temptation of fulfilling his mission by shortcutting around the cross.
This is our temptation as well. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow after him daily. For those that do, Jesus promises new and abundant life; rest for the weary; healing for the mind, body, and soul. The temptation, however, is to pursue those things apart from the cross, apart from the provision of God in Jesus. The temptation is to look for them in the ways of this world, in the things of this world. But that is exactly what it is - a temptation, following our our own desire above God's desire. Let us remember those accompanying words from the book of James, "Blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12)
Prayer: God, I acknowledge my temptation to take hold of your promise in y way, according to the way of the world. Help me to follow Jesus to the cross so that I may receive your reward in your way and your time. As I follow you into the wilderness, I call on your Spirit to strengthen me as your Spirit strengthened Christ. Amen.
Lead Us Not Into Temptation?
Today's Scripture focus: Mark 1:9-13
One of the great spiritual highs I have as a pastor is the privilege of baptism. It is such a powerful picture of our identification and connection with Jesus - going beneath the water to die to our old self and being raised up again to new life. It is so awesome to be able to lead people through this initiation into a community of people who are seeking to model their lives after Jesus of Nazareth. Sometimes during baptisms, I'm pretty sure that I can catch a glimpse of the heavens parting and the Spirit of God descending on those baptismal waters like a dove. I sometimes think that I can hear echoes of those words Jesus heard at his baptism, "You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased."
The baptism of Jesus was surely a high point of his thirty or so years on earth. It was a confirmation of what the angel had told his mother those many years ago: "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1:31-33 ESV) It was a confirmation of his identity, his uniqueness, his calling.
Very quickly, however, we find that the Spirit has descended on him for another reason as well - to strengthen him for a time of temptation. Today's scripture says, "The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness." Now, I have to admit that there are a number of things about this one sentence that give me pause.
First, it says that this happened immediately following Jesus' baptism. Was there no celebration? No time to bask for a moment in his sonship? No time to just hang out on this spiritual mountaintop? I know that when I baptize someone, I encourage them to make a big deal about - to throw a party, to take it in slowly and savor. It's as if Mark is saying, Jesus didn't come to hang out on the mountaintop, but he came for the wilderness.
That brings to the second thing. There is something about the wilderness in scripture. Moses fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian man and went out into the wilderness area. It was here that he met God in the burning bush. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty before entering the promised land because of their disobedience, but God cares for them and provides for their needs. Elijah meets God in a cave in the wilderness. It's as though the writers of scripture are trying to tell us something - while there may be times that we meet God in the safety and comfort of the city, more often than not, we are going to truly have a life-changing encounter with this wild, untamable God in the wilderness areas of our lives.
This wilderness can take many forms - the wilderness of sin and temptation, the wilderness of loneliness and isolation, the wilderness of sickness, the wilderness of losing a job, the wilderness of a broken relationship, the wilderness of depression, the wilderness of addiction - the list could go on and on. The point is, whatever wilderness we find ourselves in, we should look around, listen closely, and pay attention because God may be trying to do something awesome in us through that experience.
Finally, I am struck that it says that "the Spirit . . . drove him out" into the desert. It's the same language that we find in Mark 11:15 where Jesus "entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and bought in the temple." It seems, in a way, so violent - the Spirit driving Jesus away from this experience of love and affirmation, this spiritual high place. What does it mean that the Spirit would drive Jesus out into the wilderness to face temptation? I mean, seriously, didn't Jesus himself teach us to pray, "lead us not into the temptation, but deliver us from evil?" Even if the Spirit is not the one directly tempting Jesus, this sure seems like the Spirit is at least leading him to a place where he will be tempted.
I can't help but think of the words of the Apostle Paul to the believers in Rome when he wrote, "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5 ESV) I have to believe that, while the baptism of Jesus affirmed his identity, the temptation of Jesus solidified his character. It allowed Jesus to stare his humanity in the face, to see the enemy, and to win the victory, paving the way for us to follow.
I need to be reminded often that temptation is not a sin. Temptation is an opportunity to stand with Jesus in looking at my humanity, looking at our enemy, and surrendering to the power of Christ to overcome sin on my behalf.
Prayer: God, thank you for the wilderness areas of my life. Thank you for the times when all the excess stuff and distractions are stripped away, and I can honestly see my great need for you. As I face temptation on this lenten journey, let me throw myself on you and feel your victory coursing through my life. Amen.
Fasting - and Why I Don't Like It
Today's focal passage: Matthew 4:1-11
Let me begin by saying, "I don't like to fast."
I don't like the feeling of being hungry. I get irritable. I get short-tempered. I sometimes get headaches (though, admittedly, this may have more to do with a caffeine addiction than going without food). My wife doesn't really like it when I fast, either (for all of the above reasons). She often becomes the recipient of my irritability. I guess that shouldn't surprise me, though. Isn't that what we do? Isn't that one of the real temptations of Lent? We want to focus on anything but our own failures, our own short-comings, our own addictions and attachments in this world. We want to put the spotlight on someone else.
I'll speak for myself, though. Through fasting from food, I come face-to-face with my own struggles in this area. I don't want to deal with my own unhealthy relationship to food, so I take out my guilt and shame on those closest to me. I don't want to be confronted with my true self, so I deflect my shame, guilt, anger, etc. onto someone else. The problem is - this is what Lent is all about. It is about holding up the mirror and getting a good look at ourselves, then casting all of that at the foot of the cross of Jesus.
There is a historic connection between the forty days of Lent and the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil. As we begin this journey together, I am struck by the fact that the first temptation Jesus faces hits at such a basic level. We all need food to survive. In the book of Genesis, God looked at all that was created in the Garden of Eden (including food) and pronounced it good. Going without this basic necessity causes our body to scream out in protest, "But I need food to survive!" While this is true, there is little danger that my body is going to have serious adverse affects from a little fasting.
What it really gets at is much more telling - what is my relationship to food? Obviously, I eat to fulfill my biological needs for nutrients that fuel my body. But it's more than that. I eat because I enjoy the taste of food. I eat because of the psychological effect it has on me (can anyone say "comfort food"). I eat because I'm bored sometimes. I eat because it's the socially acceptable behavior in certain circumstances.
Yes, food can be good, but food can be an idol. While the cravings I feel are, in part, my body telling me that it needs nourishment, it is also my spirit saying, "Don't take away my god!" (god, not God). It is my self-indulgent spirit saying "gimme, gimme, gimme." It is also a reminder of how blessed I am. I can go the cabinet, pull out an evening snack, and the hardest choice I'll have to make is "which one?" It is hard for me wrap my head around what it is like for Tayson, the child we sponsor in Zambia, on a daily basis. I don't know what it is like to not have adequate resources of daily food and water. It is difficult for me to imagine what it is like to look into my children's eyes as they beg me for food, knowing that I have none to give them. And yet, this is the reality for many of fellow brothers and sisters around the globe.
So, I'll say it again, "I don't like to fast . . . but I need to fast." I need to hear Jesus speak into my life, "Man does not live on bread alone" to remind me about my sometimes idolatrous relationship with food. But I also need to hear Jesus say, "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat" to remind me about my relationship with others in the world who aren't nearly as fortunate as I am.
May this Lent be a time for us all to take a long, hard look at our relationship with food.
Ecclesia Writer's Consortium
We are blessed at Ecclesia to have a number of gifted writers and teachers. Here, you'll find devotions, meditations, and musings from a sample of those writers.