Some things we just know.
Our faith journey right now has brought us into Lent, and this past Wednesday we were invited into a holy Lent, one of self-examination, repentance, prayer, and study. May we journey faithfully together in these days.
We pray as a congregation for a new bride and groom during their marriage service. One of the prayers is this: “Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.” We might notice that the prayer is not IF a husband and wife will hurt each other in some way, but WHEN. Some things we just know. Any two people in a relationship, whether young friends in kindergarten or those being married, or long time friends facing old age will at some point hurt one another’s feelings. The situation is not about IF, but WHEN.
Today the devil uses the word “IF” in this challenge to Jesus: “If you are the God’s son, speak to this stone in order that it may become bread.” (http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2013/02/twice-led-not-fed-well-read.html) The late New Testament scholar Paul Achtemeier points out, however, that the verb tenses in this sentence would actually lead us not to the word “if,” but “since.” SINCE you are the God’s Son, speak to this stone that it may become bread.” Just as there is a difference between IF and WHEN in our relationships, there is a difference in IF and SINCE in a “who are you?” moment. In this instance, the devil acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God. As if “you just know” certain things. The change is word changes the temptation: the devil is not saying “if” Jesus could change a stone into bread, because certainly the son of God could do that, but “since” he is the son of God, why not? Why not change a stone into sustenance? You are, after all, famished. The temptation becomes how the son of God should act….
Think about this, my friends: Jesus could have walked out of the wilderness at any time: He is the Son of God! Jesus stayed in the desert, being tempted by the devil (Luke used the word devil, not Satan) on an ongoing basis. (The verb tenses indicate an ongoing action, not a one time event.) So, create bread! “I dare ya!” Jesus replies with Scripture, words from the book of Deuteronomy. The full text of Deuteronomy 8:3 reads, “[God] 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.” God does these things: humbles us, feeds us, and wants us to know that we do not live on physical food alone. We need God.
Then the devil shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world,” which is an impossible thing to do. In New Testament times, term “the whole world” was used to describe various empires, Greek and Roman, but that is still a lot of territory to see all at once. Still, the devil tempts: “I’ll give you power!” Power, authority – who wouldn’t want that? Lots of us just want to control the television remote, and here is the whole world being offered up to our control. Ahh, power!
Jesus’ reply is valid in a very real way today. “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.” Oh, how tempting it is to serve the “little g” gods of our lives, whether it be honor, recognition, status, cool cars, trendy anything, … so many things are we tempted to worship. As we walk into Lent, we are reminded to worship only the Lord our God and to serve only God. That’s a tough thing to do. We might say, “wow, what an awesome big screen TV!” ‘Wow, what awesome humility!” just doesn’t sound the same. Worship God.
There are subversive words in here, as well. The devil is at least intimating that it is he who gave other rulers their kingdoms; that these rulers bowed down to him and received their power. Jesus is making the radical claim not to bow down to any ruler on earth, but only to God. These are dangerous words in a time when your life depended upon your loyalty to the empire and worship of the emperor. The complete verse from Deuteronomy (6:13) is: “The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.”
Well, the devil knows scripture, too. He recites part of Psalm 91 to Jesus in the context of telling Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple so that Jesus’ personal guardian angels will save him. Psalm 91:11-12 reads, “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.” “Come on, Jesus, jump! You’re the son of God! The angels will save you!” … right?
Jesus is not deterred. Do not put God to the test, he says. So although Jesus was tempted and tested, God is not to be tested. It is God who has it all and to whom all is due: power, glory, worship, and praise. We may be tested, but we are never alone in whatever dry place we find ourselves. We are not left without that which will sustain us; we are not left alone to battle the wiles of the devil.
It came to me this week from one also studying the word of God that Jesus could have walked out of the desert at any time. He could have stretched out his arms and done all that the devil tempted him to do. Jesus stayed in the desert. He did not succumb to worshipping a false god, a false power, a paltry imitation of our true Creator.
Instead, Jesus trusted God, submitted to every human temptation. God loves us so much. Instead of stretching out His arms to play a game with the devil, Jesus waits for God’s time, “in a time,” our scripture says. And in God’s time of completion, the battle is won. In God’s time of redeeming our utter brokenness, Jesus will stretch out his arms on a cross and die.
Some things we just know. Know today how much God loves us and that Jesus is with us during every desert time.