First Sunday in Lent, 2016 Bunker Hill Luke 4:1-13
Baseball’s spring training starts this week. Even Major league veterans, no matter how great their talent, spend about 40 days testing their skills in order to prove that they are worthy to play with the big club and complete the long grind of a major league season.
Jesus too prepared for the long and grinding season during which he strove to win our salvation. It took him from Bethlehem to Nazareth to Jerusalem before he could be proclaimed as the victorious Christ. He was the Holy One of God with whom nothing is impossible. Simeon saw his salvation the in eight day old child, the light and glory of all humanity. At age 12 Jesus, in the temple, said that he needed to be about the things of his Heavenly Father.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day he went back home to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph. Jesus was not only Son of God, but Son of Man, descendant of Adam and Eve. As the Son of Man he had united himself to all humanity. And so in this Lenten season we come down from the glorious vision on the Mt. of Transfiguration and go with him to Jerusalem, to the inglorious Mt. of his crucifixion. The question is, will he win our freedom from sin, death and the devil? Just as his human nature did not make him any less divine; so his divine nature did not make him any less human. Jesus did not have a souped up human nature. He was the genuine article, human through the through. In Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, a Jewish character says, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” Jesus, born a Jew, felt blood trickle down his face as the crown of thorns pricked his scalp. Undoubtedly he laughed at celebrations of the people. When nailed to the cross he died.
As a human being, Jesus is in need of the Holy Spirit. That’s the hope for Jesus and thus it is our hope also in the time of temptation. Jesus knows better than anyone else the full fury of temptation and the need for the Holy Spirit and its sword, the word, trust in the word. Luke tells us, “He left the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the Wild.”
We tend to associate the presence of the Holy Spirit with joy and happiness and clapping of hands. However, in Jesus’ case the Spirit led him into the wilderness, the wild. It had already been said of Jesus that he will “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” However, in order to be the sonshine of our life he must go into the place of darkness and shadows of death. In the temple Simeon had also foretold that Jesus would be a sign that would be opposed. The question is, “Will Jesus follow the leading of the Spirit and demonstrate unwavering trust in God to supply his needs or would he use his power to serve himself apart from God. St. Paul wrote, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Would Jesus remain the Son of God in order that you and I could be Spirit led sons and daughters of God?
In scripture, wilderness, the wild, was a place of chaos, devastation and barrenness, the haunt of predators jackals, owls, lions, and vultures. The Wild was the place where God’s chosen people, a people whom God intended to be priests for the whole world, had failed miserably again and again. In the time of testing, a time for them to discover whether they would learn to know God as their God, the God in whom they could trust, God’s chosen and blessed people failed.
Luke tells us, he was in the wilderness “for forty days being tempted by the devil.” In the Wild he becomes prey for the predator Devil. The Devil preyed on him continuously during his time in the wild. In the movie version of J.R.Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” Frodo, whose task is to destroy the ring, is beset by Gollum in the wilderness. Gollum is a subhuman creature who uses all his evil wiles against Frodo, including convincing Frodo, through whispered lies and innuendos to turn against his companion and closest friend and send him away. Thus Frodo is left alone to fend off the wiles of Gollum. We don’t have to be in the desert or wilderness to be in a place of chaos, devastation, where stalks destructive forces threatening our trust in God and our own well- being. It can happen in the time of grief, in the time of youth, in the time of middle age, in the time of our declining years, in the setting of our homes, or school or work. We can be starving for some order in our life, some, hope, some way out, some comfort, someone to care, someone to rescue, some sign from God.
Then Luke tells us, “When the days were ended, he was hungry.” Actually, he was near starvation. His hunger was like setting a ball on a Tee for the devil. He took full advantage of Jesus weakened condition. “If, (or better,) since you’re the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” The devil strikes at the very heart of who Jesus is. Will he remain the faithful Son of God even while starving? Who could blame him if he used his power to rescue himself from starvation. He had the power. Why not use it? Wouldn’t we? What good is the Christ if he died of starvation? But Jesus answers, “There is more to life than food, there is the food of God’s word which feeds us not only today, but unto eternity.” And yet this does not mean we should stand by and quote scripture to the people starving in the Syria as the result of a policy of war. For we need both the word for our spiritual life and food for our physical life.
From the temptation of the mundane everyday things the devil tempts Jesus with power to control and rule all the nations of the world. All Jesus has to do is recognize that the Devil really is in control of the world. Of course it’s a scam, like being told you have won the lottery in Nigeria and all you have to do is send some money to cover the costs of getting it to you. The Devil owns nothing. Though the world may seem a sorry mess, God, who created it, still governs it. Our worship is called a Divine Service, for only God is Divine and worthy of worship.
Finally, the devil takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple, over 500 feet above the Kidron valley. “Now prove that you can trust God. Jump off and see whether God will really send his angels to lift you up lest you stub your toe on a stone.” And Jesus says, “Get out of here. Scram.” And the Devil can do nothing other than leave. However, he will be back at a more opportune time, when Jesus is on the cross. The Devil will speak through the rulers of the people, “Let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God.” And through one of the criminals crucified with him, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” It was left to Pontius Pilate to post a sign above Jesus head, “King of the Jews.” It was left to a Roman soldier to declare, “This man was innocent.”
For us and for our salvation Jesus died an innocent man. The devil had done his worst, but had failed. Thus for you and me, Spirit led people, trust in the Lord, for he will declare you innocent too. Heaven and earth will pass away, but his word will remain.