1 Lent 2016
Deacon Buck Close
Luke 4: 1-13
Jesus, full of the HS, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit
in the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil.
Today, on this first Sunday of the penitential season of Lent, we hear
again the story of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and of his
temptations. Unlike many of the gospel stories that were passed down
by eyewitnesses, this story can only have one of two possible origins.
First, it could have been made up out of whole cloth by someone who
felt that such a story would bolster Jesus’ ministry and the early church.
That possibility can be discounted by the fact that it is contained in all
the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – but is slightly
different in all three. Thus it reads like oral history not fantasy. The
second possible origin of the story, and the one we believe to the true,
is that Jesus recounted this experience to his disciples who passed it on.
Thus this is one of the most sacred of stories for it must have come
from Jesus’ own lips.
A second point about the story that is worthy of note is the nature of
the temptations. All three (turning stones into bread, becoming the
ruler of all in partnership with the devil, and throwing himself off the
temple to be caught by angels) involved supernatural power. That is,
they were not ordinary temptations that we face which usually are
centered around one of the seven deadly sins. So, even at this early
stage in his ministry, Jesus may have been aware of his un-earthly
powers and been subject to the temptation to abuse them.
When we think of Jesus in the wilderness, we should remember that
the place where he spent that time was a terribly harsh and desolate
place wedged between the inhabited central plateau of southern
Palestine and the Dead Sea. It was rocky, barren, and uninviting of
human habitation. There he went to wrestle with the devil. I find it
more useful to think of this time as one in which Jesus meditated on
the nature of his ministry and what he must do to win people over to
the path that God had shown him. The three temptations can be
looked at as different methods Jesus rejected as ways to attract
First, there was the temptation to win them over by bribery, i.e. by
giving them material things. By turning stones into bread, Jesus could
have attracted quite a following and rewarded that following with free
stuff – real material things that they wanted. Instead, he responded
that people don’t live by “bread alone.” Thus Jesus is saying to us that
his way is not the way of material reward in this life.
The second temptation has to do with the very real temptation to
compromise. If Jesus will worship the Devil, the entire world will be his
to command. In other words, lighten up Jesus and we can co-exist
peacefully and both be happy. It is tempting to compromise one’s
standards and make peace with the world on the world’s terms. Jesus
rejected this path of appeasement saying, Worship the Lord your God
and serve only him. So Jesus rejected the path of relativism.
Finally, Jesus was tempted to use acts that were sensational to win over
people – like throwing himself off the temple without being killed. He
rejected that temptation saying that one doesn’t use God’s power to
make senseless experiments, to show off. He saw that sensationalism,
while effective in the short run, would never change people at their
So, let’s think about the wilderness period as a time when Jesus, in
solitude, pondered the nature of his ministry. During that time he
experienced great temptation to lure people with material things
(stones into bread). He experienced great temptation to compromise so
that his message and ministry would be easier (deals with the devil).
And lastly, he experienced the temptation to use sensational tricks to
win people over dramatically (throwing himself from the temple). All
these temptations he rejected. BUT, that doesn’t mean that temptation
was over. Listen to the last line of today’s gospel: When he devil had
finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Friends, we should not read this familiar story literally and try to
imagine it as a play in three acts that stars Jesus and a devil with horns
and a tail. It is too serious for such a simplistic interpretation. This story
is a serious message to us about the constant nature of temptation. It
doesn’t matter how you explain it – either by a literal belief in the evil
one or by a less literal belief in human frailty – temptations that Jesus
faced are there – in spades – for us today. This story reminds us of that.
Furthermore, it reminds us during Lent that we best deal with
temptation when we give it the undivided attention it deserves.
Another way of saying this is not letting our guard down. Jesus
defended himself against the temptations he faced by time alone –
desert time so to speak. And that is precisely what Lent calls us to. We
are called to set aside time for serious introspection and prayer. And
yes, we are called in Lent to be more aware of this need than at other
times of the church year. Although I am not good at this – I tend to
subconsciously equate quiet solitude with inaction and being non-
productive – I know it is what God calls me to do during Lent. So I
commend some serious desert time to myself and to you this Lent. And
if we open ourselves to God’s grace and listen for that still, small voice
in the silence we create, we will be on our way to a Holy Lent. Amen