After spending almost six months working with Footwashers: Following the Jesus Way, today’s Gospel should have been a slam dunk. If you haven’t read it yet (Go get it and read it!) a major part of the book is a treatment of the Lukan account of the temptation. But, Footwashers, as practical as it is, was written for use in academia. I needed to preach a sermon, which is proclamation. Let’s hope I managed it. But, read and decide for yourself, if you’d like.
If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread. It’s obvious that he isn’t providing for you. Forty days without food and water, wandering in the desert. Obviously he isn’t going to take care of you, so you have to do it for yourself. I mean what kind of God, what kind of father is he. If you are his son, and he is letting you starve, then you’ll have to provide for yourself. God helps those who help themselves and all that.
But Satan is assuming that we are kept alive by food. Now, a doctor may tell you that we need food to survive. And that is how God created us to be. But we are kept alive by the one who breathed into our nostrils the breath of life. And the word he speaks is sufficient. It is that word and promise of God that drove Jesus to the desert . And whatever sustenance Jesus has in that word, it is enough to keep him alive, if only barely. Satan’s temptation is that Jesus can not trust His Father to take care of his physical needs. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus will talk about worrying. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing. The pagans seek after these things. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
And it does no good to say, “Well, Jesus never had to worry about making that paycheck stretch until the end of the month.” True, because he never had a paycheck. He had to rely on the generosity of the people he met for each and every meal. And in the Gospel reading, he knows what it is like to be on the edge of starvation, and at that moment, to have Satan tempt him with bread. After all, he can make water to wine, he could raise up children of Abraham from the stones. Certainly bread from those stones would be no trouble.
But no. The Word of God is sufficient. We need not worry about the physical stuff of this world, about the life of our bodies. Because our heavenly Father is the one taking care of us. He provides. And we are to trust him.
Having failed to tempt Jesus with food, Satan takes him to the pinnacle of the temple. Now, by the standards of our age, it wasn’t all that high. Not a skyscraper by any means. But, the height of the temple, combined with the temple mount and the hill it was all built on, would have made even a small building into a deadly drop.
And, if Jesus is the son of God, the one to redeem the world, then the Father can’t let him die here. So, even if Jesus flings himself off the temple, God has to save him. It seems that God needs Jesus more than Jesus needs God. So, no adventure can end in death until the cross. Of course, Jesus knows that this is simply testing God. There is no purpose, other than to try and show God who’s boss. And that’s been tried. We’d like to think that, if we can follow this rule, or that, if we are faithful, he has no choice but to take care of us. But, God creating us, showing us love, is not required of God by any sort of rule. It is purely his grace and mercy that do it. As we say in the first article, “Without any merit or worthiness in me.” And that’s about first article stuff – creation, food, clothing, etc. We haven’t even gotten to the second article stuff about redemption and forgiveness yet. We don’t have a claim on God. He has a claim on us. Through the washing of water and the word he calls us his own. And that’s entirely his work, not ours.
Finally, Satan tries to sell the Brooklyn bridge. The kingdoms of the world don’t actually belong to him. All of creation is God’s already, So Satan has nothing to give. That’s what makes it the perfect target for Satan to try and sell to Jesus. As one pastor put it, ” Whatever the devil gives is shoddy; he takes whatever he can get and ruins whatever he receives.” So, the kingdoms of the world are not his to give, and even if they were, they really aren’t all that impressive. Of course, all the striving of man, all the wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, that’s all the work of Satan. And Jesus does call him the prince of this world. So while our heavenly Father rules over heaven and earth, the princes and emperors and kings owe more to Satan than to our heavenly Father. Of course, the riches of the world, the splendors of the kingdoms and empires, the entire span of human history and its glory, can be seen in London at the British Museum. The riches of ancient Rome, the splendor of Babylon, the glory of Alexander the Great. All can be viewed for free, between the hours of 10 and 5:30. Which is to say that the splendor and majesty of the world all the pomp and power, the beauty and the wealth, fades, and is no more. It is the Word of God that endures forever. And so, the worship of worldly power, or glory, of fame, of being impressive is vanity, a chasing after the wind.
Jesus does not need Satan and his false promises in order to establish an earthly kingdom. The biggest reason is that Jesus didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom. He doesn’t need the friends and connections and quid prop quo’s and backroom deals that Satan promises will go in his favor.
Jesus preaches publicly, in the temple. He teaches the people. He brings them the Word of God. And his death – shocking even to the disciples, is the path of life. That’s what Jesus gives. And Satan’s temptations can’t hold a candle to that. Of course, when Satan comes tempting us, he does so subtly. He doesn’t come saying “Turn away from God.” He gives a little push here and there. A little flattery to the ego. A lie here and there. And our sinful flesh is all too willing to go along with it.
And that’s why Jesus came to live the perfect life. Because you can’t do it. He came to be The Man. The one who would live and die for you, and so set the pattern of your life. But that pattern is not a life you just work toward and finally, by great effort achieve. It is a life that is given to you in Holy Baptism. A life he gives through his holy Christian Church, where he gives the forgiveness of sins.
The temptation to try and do it yourself is a strong one. And it fits right in there with what satan was saying to Jesus. You can do it, you have the power. Just seize the moment, be the god that your Father won’t let you be.
And for someone facing death on the cross, that’s got to be a tempting offer. But Jesus is without sin. Satan fails because Jesus is the Son of God, the one to redeem. And now our pattern for living as a human being is set by him, in his temptation, in his cross and passion, his death and burial.
We now go through the season of testing and temptation, looking not to our strength, but to the strength given by God. We come to hear the Word of God, the thing we most need in life, to respond in prayer, to receive his gifts. To be the children he has called us to be.
And angels came and ministered to Him.
That is our prayer as well. “Let your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foew may have no power over me.”