Making Right Choices - Luke 4:1-13
A friend of mine’s son—a gregarious little kid just shy of 4 years old—learned this Passage in Sunday school one morning. Later that day he asked his mother, “Hey mom, what do you know about the devil?” A little caught off guard, she turned the question back on him: “What do you know about the devil?”
“Well,” he began, “the devil talked to Jesus and the devil was mean.” Then, leaning in close to her, he dropped his voice to a loud whisper, “If we were at a store, and you and dad were in one aisle, and I was in another aisle, and there was lollies the devil would say, ‘You should take some.’”
Impressed that her little boy seemed to understand so many points about the story she asked him: “Honey, if we were at a store, and Dad and I were in one aisle, and you were in another aisle, and there was lollies, and the devil said, ‘You should take some!’ What would you say back to the devil?”
A genuine grin lit up the boy’s entire face and without hesitation he replied, “Oh! I would say thank you!” It’s not surprising that a 3-year-old missed the point, but lots of us miss the point all the time, do we not?
Before the temptation Jesus was baptised and “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus’ baptism signalled the beginning of His earthly ministry.
In the Gospel of John, we are told that when John the Baptist saw Jesus walking toward him he announced: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world…” …and then he said: “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
Now, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returns from the Jordan and is led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he is tempted by the devil.”
The appearance of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism has answered the question as to whether or not Jesus is God’s Son. John the Baptist has testified to seeing “The Spirit came down from heaven as a dove and rest on” Jesus. The question now is what kind of Son will Jesus be?
I think it’s safe to say that most of us here this morning have been baptized.
Most of us have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. And, perhaps, most or many of us have had an experience of taking time away from our busy lives in order to attend to our souls.
Some of us here have probably been on a “Walk to Emmaus” weekend. Or perhaps we have gone on some other highly-spiritual retreat. We often emerge from these times “full of the Spirit.” It’s awesome, isn’t it?
How many of you know what I’m talking about? We feel radiant, full of joy and great intentions. But as time passes, we find that living lives “full of the Spirit” is not as easy as we might have hoped. At the very time when it seems that we have risen to new spiritual heights, something often seems to conspire to bring us back down. Other voices start to try and lure us away from our identity as baptized children of God.
And so, our Scripture passage for this morning is not really all that surprising in many ways, is it? I mean, even little old me can relate to it.
I remember the night I finally decided to give my life to Jesus Christ—once and for all (I was 17 at the time). And it was pretty radical. Up to that point I had been a somewhat rebellious teenager.
And I thought that I had finally MADE IT—I HAD ARRIVED. I had been instantly sanctified!!! I would never sin again. I knew every answer to every question in the universe.
And of course, everyone I spoke with would understand what was going on and rejoice, and those who hadn’t yet given their lives to Jesus would do so immediately. How couldn’t they? Why wouldn’t they? It made so much sense. (remember, I was 17 at the time)
And so, I immediately started calling my friends, telling them what I had done and explaining the Gospel in whatever way I understood it. The reception was not exactly what I had expected. And it brought me back down to earth real fast. It didn’t stop me, but it did knock me off my high horse a bit.
So, the fact that Jesus is tested just when He is as filled with the Holy Spirit as anyone can be comes as no surprise. What is surprising and what is insightful is how Jesus stands up under the pressure and defines what it means to be completely in tune with God.
Today’s Scripture passage is only partly about temptation. It is also about Jesus’ choice—and our choice—to be obedient to God. His obedience marks the beginning of His ministry and it is one of the main themes of His entire life on earth—from His rejection in Nazareth at the end of today’s chapter to His arrest and Crucifixion in Chapters 22 and 23.
In John Jesus says: “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” That is one reason why Jesus is able to say: “If you knew me, you would know my Father also,” and “the Father is in me, and I in the Father,” and, “I and the Father are one.”
You know, as the Uniting Church, we are called to be Jesus’ Body on this earth and in this community. Jesus is the “Light of the world,” but He bestows that name on us as well. As Jesus is One with the Father, we are called to be One with each other and one with Christ. And by this all people are to come to know Jesus.
I wonder if some of the reason that Jesus’ Church—across the board—is not as effective at this as it could be is that we aren’t being obedient to Christ. “A new command I give you” Jesus says, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
We are told in Luke 4 that Jesus “ate nothing during those forty days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” Talk about an understatement! And this is when the devil came to call. The devil said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Sounds reasonable to me.
But Jesus resisted the devil, who said, “If you are the Son of God…” “If you are the Son of God…” The devil was trying to define what it means to be God’s Son. “If you are God’s Son, then prove it, then take advantage of it. Work a little magic. Take the easy way out of this situation. Just act like you are fasting. Why be hungry when there is potential food all around you? Turn this rock into bread. You can do it on your head!” And He certainly could have.
Later we see Him feed 5,000 and then 4,000 people--out of selfless compassion—with only five loaves of bread and two fish! But Jesus is choosing to be obedient, not to His own stomach but to God’s will. How often am I obedient to my own stomach rather than God’s will?
When I’m throwing food away in the garbage, am I thinking about the person who is starving down the street?
When I waste money on myself rather than being more frugal in order to share more with those who do not have enough, am I being obedient to my own stomach or to God’s will?
Boy, I’ve got A LOT to learn. But that’s part of what makes being a Christ-follower so exciting. It’s a journey, not a destination!!!
Think about your life at home, the office, at school—wherever. What does the devil use to try and lure you to forget who you are as a child of God and tempt you to trade in your inheritance in Christ for a few crumbs of bread?
I believe that if we ask God to reveal these things to us, we will see them for what they are. Evil works on the basis of distortion and lies. The devil presents wants as needs, falsehoods as truths, and distrust as faith. The devil’s second pitch to Jesus—that all the kingdoms of the world have been given to him—sounds as if it could be true—but it is false!
And it’s revealed as false by his demand for false worship. At stake is who will be trusted and worshiped. Where else do we hear lies that sound truthful? In advertising? From politicians or the media? From friends? From the pulpit? From the commonsense “advice” we give or are given? How might clinging to God’s Word and the Way of LOVE unveil such lies for what they are—lies?
In Galatians 5 Paul says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” He goes on to say: Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.
They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want…let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Is this not what Jesus is doing in Luke 4? Is this not the key to living life to the full?
Jesus quotes a passage from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” In a world filled with bright and shiny objects—all vying for our undivided attention—this is a demanding passage, but Jesus quotes it and abides by it. And we are called to do the same.
A friend of mine used to tell me the story of how, as a child, when he would be headed out the door of his house his mother would call to him: “Johnny, don’t forget—you have been baptized!” In other words, “Don’t forget who and Whose you are!”
What do you do in order to remember who and Whose you are? I ask this, because it can be very easy to forget, get off-track and listen to other voices. And when we do this, we aren’t really following in the footsteps of Christ, are we?
Certainly, coming to worship on a regular basis is a key component. If one thing is clear in Scripture and in experience, we cannot live this Christian life on our own. We need one another. Again, we are called to be the “collective” Body of Christ.
The Writer of Hebrews says: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…” Putting our Faith into Action is, probably, the most effective means of remembering who and Whose we are—and the most important means as well.
Feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, providing clothing for those without… …loving all people without conditions… …caring for the lonely… …serving and not looking to be served… …walking humbly with God and others.
This is what it means to be a Christian. This is what keeps us grounded in Christ. We are all tempted, as Jesus was, to take the easy way. We are all tempted to live selfishly rather than selflessly. We are all tempted to only look out for our own interests and ignore the plight of others.
But this is not what it means to be a Christian. This is not what it means to love. This is not life, but rather, it is death and hell. We are shaped into being Christ followers by learning to be dependent on God.
For it is when we are weak that we are truly strong. (pause)Again, today’s Scripture is about Jesus’ choice—and our choice—to be obedient to God. Certainly, obedience appears to be the more difficult choice, but it is the ONLY WAY to TRUE FREEDOM.
Personally, I am still working on it. How about you?
LET US PRAY
Holy God, Refuge of desert wanderers: as the seeds of grace you have planted within us bear an abundant harvest, we would offer the first fruits in thanksgiving to you and in service to others.
Jesus Christ, Companion of Lenten pilgrims: you understood that God alone feeds us, and so became the broken Bread; you knew that the power to transform our lives comes from God alone, and so became our Servant; you did not ignore the warning not to test God, and so became our Hope.
Holy Spirit, Leader of Christ's apprentices: you fill the hungry with the Bread of hope you fill the arrogant with the Servant's humility; you fill the hopeless with that trust which endures. Amen
Photo published: under Creative Commons. prilfish