By James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2006, 00.159.51_PS1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10195821
The scripture for this sermon is Matthew 4:1-11. You can find it here.
What makes you who you are? Most of us like to think of ourselves as self-made people. Rugged individualist. Independent people. But is that really true?
I owe a lot of who I am to the people who shaped me: My parents and siblings, my wife and kids, my teachers and mentors through the years, and all the faithful people in the congregations I’ve served through the years. I owe a lot of who I am to the people in my life. Isn’t that also true for you?
John Turner, a social psychologist, has done a lot of research demonstrating how much of our identity comes from the relationships we have. Pointing to research like John Turner’s David Lose recently wrote a piece that I find help in his weekly blog …in the Meantime (a link to his blog can be found here), he writes:
“No one wakes up one day and says: ‘You know who I’m going to be? I’m going to be one of those crazy people who paints my face, wears a costume, and goes wild at football games rooting for my team.’ Instead, you hang out with friends, watch lots of football, decide to go to a game, discover someone has brought body paint, and then all of a sudden realize you are one of those persons! You could say the same about the women in purple and red hats at restaurants, or bikers, or Trekkies, or just about any of the other groups we associate with and from which we derive a lot of our identity.”
I find thinking about identity helpful in looking at the story of Jesus’ temptations. It is important to remember that immediately before this Jesus has been baptized in the Jordan by John. As Jesus is coming up out of the water, a voice from heaven says: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Now Satan begins his temptations by saying, “If.” “If you are the Son of God.” Satan is sowing doubt – raising the question – really? Are you sure? The Son of God, pretty lofty claim, Jesus.
In the first temptation Satan calls Jesus identity as the Son of God into question and invites Jesus to wonder if he can really trust God to provide. Jesus has fasted forty days and forty nights. When it says he was famished, it may be one of the greatest understatements in the Bible and Satan is quick to use it. So you are hungry Jesus, obviously you can’t trust God to provide food, better to take matters into your own hands.
Take a look around Jesus – look at all the hungry people in the world.
By SSGT CHARLES REGER – http://www.dodmedia.osd.mil/ (http://www.dodmedia.osd.mil/DVIC_View/Still_Details.cfm?SDAN=DFST9301047&JPGPath=/Assets/1993/Air_Force/DF-ST-93-01047.JPG), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1738750
Can you really believe God is going to provide for you? Least we think this was only something Jesus faced. Why is it so many of us to stop working? Why do we fill our lives with endless activity? When I listen to our high school students talk among themselves the thing they talk about is how exhausted they are. Why do we place less and less importance on honoring the Sabbath. I’m not talking about just coming to church. I talking about taking a whole day to rest. Why can’t we do that? Why do we find so many other things to be of more value? Aren’t we also tempted to wonder about God’s care? Aren’t we afraid if we stop we will end up like the people in the picture? Aren’t we also tempted to find a deeper sense of who we are in things other than our identity as children of God?
If we believe Jesus was truly human – then Jesus experienced the depth of what we experience: the fear of not having enough; the concern of not doing enough or the “right” things to get ahead; the drive to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Jesus felt all of these fears. And yet, Jesus answer was grounded first and foremost in his identity as God’s Son.
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Then Jesus goes on to feed the 5000.
Jesus second temptation begins in the same way as the first. Taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple Satan says, “If.” “If you are the Son of God throw yourself down.” God has said, ““He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Prove to yourself and me that God cares.
Look at all the Syrian refugees.
By Robert Cotičderivative work: MagentaGreen – This file was derived from Slovenska vojska tudi med vikendom v velikem številu pri podpori Policiji 01.jpg:, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46751305
Look at the homeless people.
By David Shankbone – David Shankbone (own work), CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1642775
Look at all the illness.
By John Crawford (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Take a look around Jesus – look at all the pain and suffering in the world. How can you believe God cares?
Aren’t we also tempted to look at all the suffering and wonder? Don’t we also find it most difficult to believe when we are experiencing – hardship, pain, or trouble? When we wonder, “Why me?” Or we stand helplessly by and watch a loved one suffer? Aren’t we tempted to doubt whether our being God’s children matters. Aren’t we tempted to demand, “God prove to me you care!” Words are cheap – let me see it!
Jesus felt this pain acutely – he lived it on the cross and yet he responds: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” And he devotes a large share of his ministry to alleviating suffering and healing and to living out his identity as God’s Son – despite the suffering that awaits him.
Finally, Satan tries a bribe. He takes him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’
Who hasn’t wondered, “Is there anything more? Aren’t we all tempted to think at times, “This is all there is.” There is nothing beyond what I can directly observe or experience. The only thing that is of value is what helps me get ahead – now. Satan is right there! He offers Jesus the ultimate “how to” book. Just worship me.
I mean after all, you only go around once in life better and there isn’t enough gusto for everyone. So I better make sure I get mine. Do whatever it takes because “He who has the most toys wins.”
Have you ever been jealous of what someone else has? Have you ever been tempted to believe that the ends justify the means? Jesus knows exactly what that’s like. Jesus refuses to find his identity or trust his future to anyone but God. Jesus responds, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Then Jesus continues to trust God even when the authorities and powers of this world turn against him – and crucify him.
Because he does we can turn to Jesus for strength in our temptations. To be honest, I would rather that God just took away all temptations. But, that is not the way life is. Jesus experienced temptations and so do we. If God isn’t going to take away temptation, then I would rather that God would make me strong so I can fight temptations. But, that also is not the way it is. Instead God invites us to rely on Jesus to be strong for us in temptation. It is a subtle, but important difference.
Martin Luther knew something about being tempted. He often wrote of his dark nights of the soul when he felt tempted by Satan. For Luther it was his identity as a baptized and redeemed sinner, and his turning to God for help in the midst of temptations that helped him resist the devil accusations. Luther is attributed with saying:
“In conflict with the devil it isn’t enough to say, ‘This is the Word of God,’ for it is the devil’s greatest [trick] to take away one’s weapon when fear strikes. He has done this with me. He knows in my heart I am constantly praying, ‘Our Father,’ etc., but he often harasses me about my not praying. The devil is the kind of spirit who won’t leave the weapon in a person’s hand if the Lord steps out even for a moment. Accordingly, one must pray constantly, ‘Father, help,’ etc. Nobody should fight with the devil unless he first prays, ‘Our Father.’ It is a remarkable thing. He is hostile to us. We know a hundredth part of what he knows. He tempted Abraham, David, etc., and he knows how to get the upper hand. …
…Once I debate about what I have done and left undone, I am finished. But if I reply on the basis of the gospel, ‘The forgiveness of sins covers it all,’ I have won. On the other hand, if the devil gets me involved in what I have done and left undone, he has won, unless God helps and says, ‘Indeed! Even if you had not done anything, you would still have to be saved by forgiveness, you have been baptized. …”
“…praise be God, who gave us the Word and allowed his Son to die for us! He did not do this in vain. Accordingly we should entertain the hope that we are saints, that we are saved, and that this will be manifest when it is revealed. Since Christ accepted the thief on the cross just as he was and received Paul after all his blasphemies and persecutions, we have no reason to despair. As a matter of fact, all of us must be saved just as the thief and Paul were. Good God, what do you think it means that he has given his only Son? It means that he also offers whatever else he possesses.” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 54, Table Talks, edited and translated by Theodore G. Tappart, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1967, No. 590, pp.105-6.)
So take heart. Who you are is determined by whose you are. You belong to Christ. Jesus holds you now and in your time of temptation. Cling to Jesus and let Jesus be strong for you. Amen.