Saturday, February 16, 2013

First Sunday in Lent: Whatcha Gonna Do?

Readings for this Sunday:  Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91; Romans 10:8b-31, Luke 4:1-14

Today’s the first Sunday of Lent. Last Sunday we stood on the mountain top with Peter and James and John and saw Jesus revealed in all his glory, heard the Father say, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

It’s a fitting end to the season of Epiphany which starts with the baptism of Jesus. In the gospel of Luke we have Jesus praying after his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descends on him as a dove, and the Father says to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.”

Baptism and Transfiguration are book ends to Epiphany - revelation in no uncertain terms that Jesus is the Son of God.

If Epiphany reveals who Jesus is, Lent reveals what the Son of God has come to do.

If Epiphany always starts with Jesus’ baptism, Lent always starts with Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Immediately after Jesus hears the Father’s voice and is filled with the Spirit, he’s led to the wilderness and to an encounter that defines what Jesus has come to do.

Now I know that in our translation, the devil says, “IF you are the Son of God…” And maybe that implies that the devil is tempting Jesus to doubt God’s clear affirmation that Jesus is indeed God’s Son. And that’s certainly one way to look at it. 

I think there’s a better way to translate that “if.”  That little Greek word also means ‘since.’

Jesus is full of the Spirit, sure in the knowledge that he is God’s Son.  And the devil knows exactly who Jesus is – I mean every demon Jesus encounters says “Lord” or “Son of God."   

Jesus is the Son of God – no doubt about that.  But what is it that the Son of God has come to do?  What does it mean that the Son of God has taken human form and lives on earth?

“Since you are the Son of God…”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Since you are the son of God, turn the stones to bread and eat your fill – why should God be hungry?”
Jesus has the power to turn stones to bread – later on he will use that power to take five loads and two fish and feed 5000.  Jesus uses his power not to take care of himself, but to care for others.

“God’s given me all this to rule. I’ll give it to you – just bow down, declare your allegiance to me, and we’ll share this power.”
Jesus calls out the devil in his lie.  While the devil may exert influence over the kingdoms of this world through deception and pride and violence, those kingdoms - the whole world - are God’s and God’s alone. And the only one Jesus owes allegiance to is God.  There’s no compromise, no sharing of power here – Jesus is here to do God’s will, to reconcile all of humanity to God, and that means ultimate defeat for the sin, death and the devil.

“Since you are the son of God, no harm can come to you. Go ahead check it out –prove to everyone that you are God - jump off and let the angels catch you
Ever the trickster, the devil misquotes the very Psalm we read this morning, twisting it to urge Jesus to display his power in a cheap stunt.  Jesus chooses not to call the angels that day.  Nor does Jesus choose to call the angels when the soldiers come to arrest him, and put him on trial, and nail him to a cross.

The story of testing and temptation reveals who Jesus is and what he’s going to do about it:
·                 He’s not tempted by bread, because he is the Bread of Life.
·                 He’s not tempted by kingdom of the world, because he’s bringing the kingdom of God to the world.
·                 He’s not tempted to prove who he is by a display of power and glory, but throughout his ministry he will show just who the son of God is – and in doing so reveal God’s love –
o   by serving humans not being served by angels;
o   by rescuing the sick and the lost not himself;
o    by obedience to God’s will, not grasping at divine rights;
o   by loving us enough to die for us.

Jesus answers the devil’s tests and says “no” to the ways of the world, and “yes” to opening himself to allow God to work through his life – and death – to reconcile humanity.

Defeated, the devil leaves Jesus in the wilderness.

Defeated, but not giving up, the devil waits for an “opportune” time.

We’ll hear about that opportune time in five weeks.

At the opportune time, the devil enters into Judas, and plans for betrayal are laid.

At the opportune time, an easier way out dangles before Jesus as he kneels to pray in the garden, and he asks, “If it’s possible take this cup away from me. But Father, your will be done.”

At the opportune time, Peter denies that he even knows Jesus, and at that moment Jesus looks at him with sadness knowing his disciples all deserted him.

At the opportune time, when Pilate says he finds Jesus to be innocent, the crowds cry “crucify him”.

At the opportune time, the religious leaders, and the soldiers and even one of the criminals next to him mock him as he hangs on the cross, saying, “SINCE you are the Messiah, the Son of God, save yourself.”

At the opportune time, the devil thinks he’s won.

The resurrection says otherwise.

The resurrection says that even though the devil continues to wait for the opportune time

– and we all know that we humans face temptation
                and that there are times we walk in the wilderness

– we never walk through the wilderness alone.
 Just God led the Israelites through the wilderness,

 just as the Spirit led Jesus through the wilderness;

God goes with us through our own times of wilderness. 

We too are filled with the Holy Spirit.  And through the Holy Spirit, we can face our own wilderness temptation.

Sure, we’re not Jesus, so sometimes we fail and give into temptation.  We turn our eyes away from God and onto ourselves.  We choose paths that lead us away from God’s purpose in our lives.  We forget who we are and whose we are.

Part of God’s promises to us in baptism – “child of God, you are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever” - is that regardless where we wander in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit is with us, seeking to remind us that we are beloved children of God, to bring our eyes back to God, and to lead out of the wilderness, still full of the Spirit,  strengthened by our time of testing, and ready to live the lives God created us to live.

This is the first Sunday in Lent – the first Sunday in the season of the year we take time to examine our lives as children of God.  We spend 40 days intentionally in the wilderness, reflecting and praying and confessing.  We spend 40 days, waiting for God, led by the Spirit, turning our eyes to Jesus who gives us the strength to resist temptation, and teaches us how to follow in his footsteps.

Forty day to ponder how Jesus’ temptation and his death on the cross – and everything during his ministry on earth - reveal that the Son of God came to teach us about God's love.


  1. "Since" makes it even more powerful.

    I also thought the "opportune time" teasers were really powerful.

    Thank you.

  2. "since you are the Son of God"

    hopefully I remember that next time I preach on this passage.