God Moves…Into the Desert

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[a] led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil[b] 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[c] 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, 10 for it is written,

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

11 and

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

12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13 NRSV)

Jesus is still wet from his baptism in the Jordan River.  Water clings to his clothing; his hair is dripping wet.  And God’s words still ring in his ears: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22b)

Next thing he knows, the Holy Spirit that had descended on him during the baptism experience leads him into the wilderness: lonely, barren, rocky, and haunted by wild animals.  The outcome of the forty days will make or break Jesus’ new ministry.

“Since you’re the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus has no problem seeing the hunger in people’s eyes.  There’s not enough food for everyone.  If he could fix that, the world would be a better place.  He’s tempted by the instant remedy: let’s take all these stones and change them into bread.

It’s a creative solution.  It makes use of all those stones that have little purpose and people would finally eat.  Instant solutions are tempting.

We see hunger and poverty all around us.  If only we could find instant solutions.  People would no longer need to suffer. We would no longer need to feel guilty about our abundance.  It would be a better world, wouldn’t it?.

Jesus responds to the temptation: “It is written…”  In his most difficult moments he remembers scripture.  He has memorized scripture and it is a part of who he is.  How often have you quoted Psalm 23, “Yea though I walk through the valley of death…”  When have you found yourself reciting the Lord’s Prayer?

Jesus responds, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” (Luke 4:4b)

This vision isn’t enough.  Feeding people is important: physically, spiritually and mentally.  His ministry will  need to be bigger.

“I’ll tell you what.  If you’ll bow down and worship me, I’ll put you in charge of all the kingdoms of the world.”  There’s his chance!  To bring real peace to the world.  To spread his ministry of Golden Rule love to everyone.

This is an easy trap.  We worship lots of worlds: our nation in relation to the rest of the world, our pocket books and check books, even our church denomination and/or building!  We put these in between God and us and they get in the way of our relationship with God.

No.  This isn’t going to work.  Jesus quotes scripture again.  Love God and serve God only.  This vision is bigger, but it’s still not enough.  Jesus needs something bigger.

Instant remedies are too narrow.  World domination adds to the problem rather than solving it.

“Okay,” the Devil tries again.  “Let’s go to Jerusalem and remind those in the Temple who’s in charge.  Throw yourself down and show them that God has your back.  The angels will stop you from being hurt and everyone will want to worship you.”  The Devil even uses scripture to prove his point just like Jesus is doing.

Jesus, tired and hungry and worn out by temptation and trial, must have seen through this one more easily than the others.  God’s Spirit didn’t leave him alone in the wilderness, but remained with him.  God had had Jesus’ back all along.

“It is written,” Jesus  returns to his scriptural roots.  “Don’t test God.”

Spend enough time in the wilderness and humility finds you.  Spend time being beaten down from the desire for instant solutions to pressing problems with no relief in sight.  In the wilderness, you find yourself wondering if God would be generous enough to call you home tonight.  Or contemplate taking your life because you can’t take any more.

Try praying over and over again, “God, I can’t take it any more. Please do something!  Anything!”  Spend enough time in that kind of hell, demanding that God stay with you because God is all you have left.  Humility fills your starving soul.

Jesus stands there watching temptation walk away until a more opportune time.  Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, he returns to Galilee and begins his ministry.  Testing and temptation have strengthened him for the job ahead.

He now has a mission statement.  It comes from scripture, of course.  Most of his answers come straight out of scripture.  He shares his mission statement with his friends and family in hometown Nazareth:  “to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives andrecovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

That’s a large vision.  It’s God-sized mission.

Dear reader, before I end this, let me share one more thing.  Jesus didn’t just surmount temptation, he allowed it to strengthen him and to develop his sense of God’s call.  Often we do the same, perhaps without realizing it.  Often we leave the wilderness stronger for our experience, even though we went through it kicking and screaming.

Gut, here’s the thing.  Sometimes we fail miserably.  Sometimes we succumb to the instant solutions or decide for the political answer.  Some times we put barriers between us and God.

When you do, remember a couple of truths.  First, you’re not Jesus.  Second, God hasn’t given up on you.

When we can’t do what Jesus did, we pray, “What would Jesus have me do?”  Return to scripture.  Return to the stories that make sense to the situation.

Most of all, pray.  As we begin this Lenten season, what wilderness are you experiencing.  Take it to God in prayer.  Then see what comes from it.  You just might be surprised to at the discoveries you make.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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