Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Temptation of Jesus: According to Luke

Luke 4:1-13     (NRSV)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to protect you,’


‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Matthew, Mark and Luke --- the synoptic gospels (because they are very similar) --- all open the ministry of Jesus in the same way.

After Matthew and Luke present the birth stories, then all three share the story of John the Baptist --- after that we have our story for today.

The story of Jesus' temptation, by the devil, in the wilderness

Have you ever wondered why?
          Or is that just something I do?

Why did Matthew, Mark and Luke all begin the ministry of Jesus in this way?

·         Mark --- story is only 2 verses long
·         Matthew and Luke switch the order of the second and third temptations.

Luke seems to have two purposes in telling the story the way that he does:

1.       Luke wants us to understand what kind of Messiah Jesus is.

The devil challenged Jesus to prove his messiah-ship in conformity with the Jewish expectations for the messiah --- and thus pervert what his messiah-ship was really meant to be.

Each temptation assaulted Jesus not at a place of his weakness and vulnerability, --- but really at the point of his greatest strength --- his compassion, him commitment to God, his trust.

And I don't think we should see these as momentary temptations either.

They represent the lure of the popular but shallow enthusiasm as well as the hostility --- isolation --- and rejection that would hound Jesus all the way to the cross.

2.       Luke wants us to have the necessary tools as we confront temptation.

Do you remember the story Flowers for Algernon.  It was a book that most people read in middle school or in freshman high school English classes.

Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse.

In poignant diary entries or progress reports as he calls them, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life.

If a certain pill could make you suddenly and permanently smarter, would you take it?

You'll probably never have to decide that, because no such Flowers-for-Algernon pill exists, and, as far as I know, none is in the works.

But what's definitely under study is how we might increase the IQ of our yet unborn children.

Scientists haven't "cracked the code" yet --- but through research on the human genome some believe we are getting close.

While we're not there yet ---  at the place where we can customize our offspring in terms of how high their IQs will be,
but the truth is there is significant research underway toward that goal.

At BGI Shenzhen, which is China's top biotech institute and home to some of the best DNA - sequencing machines in the world, Zhau Bowen --- a high-IQ prodigy himself --- is using those machines to crack the code for intelligence.

He and his team expect that, within a decade, they'll be able to boost the IQs of children by as much as 20 points.

John Bohannon, writing about this for Wired magazine says:
"In theory, that's the difference between a kid who struggles through high school and one who sails into college."

So maybe soon we'll be able to have smarter kids.

But here's a question:
If they're more intelligent than we are, will they be able to make wise choices instead of stupid ones?
·         Will they still buy tickets to an Adam Sandler movie?
·         Will they still watch The Bachelor, Big Brother or The Jerry Springer Show?
·         Or --- and this is the ten million dollar question --- will they be able to resist temptation better than we do?

I suspect the answer is no.

It seems that sometimes super-smart people use their intelligence only to come up with cleverer rationalizations for yielding to temptation.
I think I could have written this --- but Keith Miller writes in "Temptation: A Strong Wind for a Flickering Flame."
"Temptation is a strange experience for me. I want to be God's person. But I also have some deep human needs for approval, affection and the satisfaction of strong physical and emotional drives. When wrestling with a specific temptation, I seem to change into a different person inside. I have a kind of tunnel vision and only see the object of my resentment, greed or lust. All else is blotted out. I am no longer the smiling, friendly Christian, but instead am an intense and sweating stranger -- yet not a stranger, for I know this one so well. Reason waits outside the door of temptation for me. I argue against my conscience and dazzle myself with agile rationalizations. By that time the battle is usually lost."

I understand completely what he is saying --- because I have fallen into that rabbit hole.

Or Paul --- for most of us --- the paragon of what a Christian is to be:     
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15)

And what about Jesus? --- Orthodoxy proclaims him as fully human --- but at the exact same time --- FULLY DIVINE --- yet our text this morning reminds us that he too had to face temptation.

The author of Hebrews reminds us:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)

I have become aware that temptation is part and parcel of being a human.  It is as real as the snow that is outside right now, or the heat that will come this summer.

It's not that we can AVOID it --- Jesus couldn't avoid it. 

Nikos Kazantzakis may have best illustrated this in his powerful book: The Last Temptation of Christ.

The central thesis of the book is that Jesus, while free from sin, was still subject to fear, doubt, depression, reluctance, and lust.

Kazantzakis argues in the novel's preface that by facing and conquering all of our weaknesses, Jesus struggled to do God's will, without ever giving in to the temptations of the flesh.

The novel advances the argument that, had Jesus succumbed to any such temptation, especially the opportunity to save himself from the cross, his life would have held no more significance than that of any other philosopher.

And that's where the difficulty lies.

We have to distinguish between temptation and the giving into temptation.

"Lead us not into temptation" is a legitimate request, but, given that temptation continues to come at us, the petition is maybe shorthand for:
          "When we are tempted, help us not to fail the test."

I don't know if you noticed --- but one of the things that fascinates me about the text is how the story begins.  The text begins by saying:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness

The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness --- fully aware of what was about to take place.

It seems, to me, to be saing that temptation might even have a positive role in our lives.

IF, and it is a big IF.

If we are willing to learn from it and allow ourselves to grow and become better people.

Again, the author of Hebrews seems to be suggesting this very notion when he writes:
Hebrews 2:18   (NRSV)
Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

The analogy that is often used about temptation is the image of standing at a fork in the road.

If that analogy has any validity --- then it seems to me that the nature of temptation is that these forks force us to make decisions:
          Will we follow the leading of the Spirit or the opportunity of the devil?

Sometimes the pull of temptation is so demanding --- so obvious --- that the choice of turning at a major intersection is all we can see.  And the answer is fairly easy.

At other times, it's in small choices, slight detours that, when followed one after another, lead us to destinations that God does not want us to go.

It's those little choices along the way that get me in trouble.
By themselves they aren't that significant --- but they lead us further and further down the wrong road.

Thomas à Kempis wrote about these detours, in his devotional book The Imitation of Christ --- he said,
"For first there cometh to the mind a bare thought of evil, then a strong imagination thereof, afterwards delight, an evil motion and then consent. And so little by little our wicked enemy getteth complete entrance because he is not resisted in the beginning."

I get it!  Because that is me!

Look at the story of David and Bathsheba --- note the pattern of small steps that are created:  (2 Samuel 11:1-5).
First, David, from the vantage point of his palace roof, "saw" Bathsheba.

Then he "inquired" about her.

Next, he sent messengers to "get" her,

and finally, he "lay" with her.

There was no sin in the seeing of Bathsheba, but that was the fork in the road, and, by inquiring about her, David was making the first of a string of decisions that would lead to moral collapse.

What I hate about trying to overcome temptation is that when we read the Christian literature it seems to imply that if we avoid making that one big mistake --- or if we make just one correct choice --- then the battle is won.

It's not that easy.

And maybe a quick read of this story in Luke will give us that notion.
          Jesus refused to yield and that settled it --- but did it?

But we know later in the story --- when Peter tried to get Jesus to stop saying he was headed for suffering and death, Jesus replied,
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

That passage reminds us that the temptation for Jesus to turn off the road God wanted him to walk was still going on.

Even our passage today reminds us that the devil "departed from him until an opportune time."

So we, like Jesus, have to keep deciding daily (hourly --- maybe even every minute), whether we will be who God calls us to be or something less.

And it can be hard to see it when we're standing at a fork in the road --- both ways may seem good, but we're actually more fulfilled when we make the choices that demand our best.

So how do we do that?

How do we resist evil and avoid going down the wrong paths.

Maybe the first thing we should do is do what Jesus did?

And what was that?

Turn to the scriptures --- Jesus knew God's word --- and so as he is being tempted --- he responded with passages from the Torah --- from Deuteronomy and Exodus. 

The scriptures gave Jesus the tools to fight off evil and go down the wrong path.

But most of us don't know scripture like that --- when we are confronted with those incremental choices we can't think of what to turn too.

So what do we do then?

Well, if it is infidelity, or taking a shortcut, or really anything at all, don't go to that person who is your tempter and ask them to help, because they will most likely help you rationalize those first few choices.  And before you know it
          your marriage is compromised
          your integrity is lost
          you have gone so far it is hard to stop

Go get help!

Go find somebody you trust --- somebody who will hold you accountable --- and talk to them.

Could be a pastor
          another friend
          a professional

BUT DO IT --- before it is too late

Temptation is real --- very real --- none of us can avoid it

The question is --- how do we choose --- which road we are going to go down

Because once we start down that road --- the damage is real.


R Keith Howard said...

You are right Steve. Rarely is it the first bad decision that gets us in trouble, but the cumulative affects of bad decision.

Keerthisiri Fernando said...
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