“So . . . What’s So Wrong with These Temptations?” (Luke 4:1-13)

First Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2010

“So . . . What’s So Wrong with These Temptations?” (Luke 4:1-13)

Timing is everything. An action that might be perfectly acceptable in one setting could be totally out of place in another. It depends on what’s being done when. For example, suppose you or I wanted to play a game of Scrabble or dominoes or some other board game. Perfectly fine activity. Sounds like fun. But now suppose we wanted to play those games on Sunday morning at 9:00. Well, now we’ve got a problem. At 9:00 on Sunday morning there is something vastly more important we should be doing, and that is, going to church. That far outranks playing a board game. Some other time later, fine. But not now. Timing is everything.

That’s kind of the situation we encounter in our text for today, the account of the temptation of our Lord. What Jesus is being tempted to do–is the problem entirely in the activity, or is it in the timing? Keep that in mind as we ask, “So . . . What’s So Wrong with These Temptations?”

Jesus has just been baptized in the Jordan River. There at his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, and the Father’s voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Now Jesus is about to start his public ministry. But first he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. You see, our first parents, Adam and Eve, had been tempted by the devil in the garden and had failed miserably. Mankind fell into sin, this sinful nature has been passed down from generation to generation–down to you and me today–and so death fell upon mankind like a shroud. So can this one representative man, the second Adam, Jesus Christ–can he succeed where we have failed? If death and the devil are to be defeated, Jesus must overcome the temptations that you and I succumb to.

And not only Adam and Eve, but also God’s people Israel–they went out into the wilderness for forty years, and they too failed miserably. Grousing and grumbling and rebelling, the children of Israel could not withstand the devil’s temptations, and many of them fell in the wilderness as a result. Now here is Israel reduced to one, in the person of Jesus the Messiah. Will he overcome where Israel failed? If there is to be a new people of God, Jesus must lead the way.

So Jesus goes out into the wilderness to meet the devil’s temptations head on. But now notice what the devil tempts Jesus with. Are these things so bad in themselves? Or is it also a question of timing?

Let’s take the first temptation listed in our text. Jesus had eaten nothing during the forty days; he was fasting. Naturally, he was hungry. And so the devil comes with the first temptation: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

Now let’s think about that one for a minute. Is there anything so wrong with Jesus turning a stone into bread, in itself? You know, it’s not like he couldn’t do it. He had the power to do it. “If you are the Son of God,” the devil says. Well, yeah, Jesus is the Son of God! The Father had just said so, “You are my beloved Son.” And as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Logos, he was there in the beginning, active in the creation of the heavens and the earth. Christ is the one “by whom all things were made,” including all the stones in the wilderness and all the grains of wheat in every field. It would be no problem for Jesus to whip up a tasty loaf of bread out of a stone. No big deal.

And indeed, Jesus himself will do something like that later on in his ministry. When he feeds the 5,000 from just five loaves and two fish, and there are twelve baskets left over, is he not doing something much more spectacular? Look, this is just one little old stone to turn into bread. What’s the problem?

And here Jesus is so hungry. Doesn’t he deserve to get a bite to eat? What would be the harm in that? Who could possibly be more entitled to have, not just a loaf of bread, but an entire feast held in his honor? And indeed, Christ will have a great heavenly banquet, the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which will have no end–a feast we will enjoy with him and which we receive a foretaste of now in this Sacrament. As the obedient Son of God, Jesus is worthy of feasting not fasting. So why begrudge him a little loaf here after forty days of fasting? Go ahead, Jesus, turn the stone into bread! What would be so wrong? “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

But Jesus has more important things on his mind than merely filling his belly. Jesus answers the devil, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” The bread will wait for another time. Right now Jesus is on a mission from God. Right at the outset of his ministry, Jesus is denying his own natural human desires in order to do the will of his Father. That’s what he will need to do at the conclusion of his ministry, when he will say, “Not my will but thine be done.” Completing this fast will be good preparation for that. And so Jesus turns away this first temptation of the devil.

The second temptation: “And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’”

Well, let’s leave to the side for the moment the matter of whether or not the devil really had been given all that glory and power for him to distribute as he wished. And of course worshiping the devil would be wrong in and of itself. But the idea of Jesus being given “all the kingdoms of this world,” “all this authority and their glory”–well, what would be so wrong about that? Isn’t Jesus entitled? After all, he is the very Son of God. Who better to receive all that glory? Did not the angel Gabriel tell Mary his mother: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And later on, Jesus himself will say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” All authority. So what’s wrong with Jesus claiming all that power and glory now? Go ahead, Jesus, take what is rightfully yours! “All the kingdoms of the world. . . . To you I will give all this authority and their glory. . . .”

But this is not the time. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, not as the world reckons power and glory. And Jesus’ kingdom and authority and glory will not be won by taking any shortcuts, much less by worshiping the devil. His kingdom will involve a crown of thorns and a sign that says, “The King of the Jews.” And so Jesus answers the devil, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” Second temptation, overcome.

Now the third one. The devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem. There they go to the pinnacle, the high point, of the temple. The devil says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Again with the “If you are the Son of God.” Now it’s not that the devil is denying that Jesus is the Son of God. No, it’s more like saying, “Since you are the Son of God, do something to prove it.” Who better than you, Jesus, to deserve the protection of God and his guardian angels? Surely God would not let you, his beloved Son, see any harm!” Go ahead, Jesus, take a leap of faith, take God up on his promises! “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.”

But that line will not work with Jesus: “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And in fact, the devil’s line will not work later, either. Peter will confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, but when Jesus starts talking about going to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and be killed, Peter objects, and Jesus rebukes him, “Get behind me, Satan!” And when Jesus does go to Jerusalem, and he is suffering and being killed, and the mockers there say, in words echoing the devil’s temptation here, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross”–at that time also Jesus will resist the temptation to take the easy way out.

You see, it’s all about timing. There will come a time when the Father does vindicate his Son by raising him from the dead. There will come a time when Jesus does receive an everlasting kingdom and all authority and all glory. There will come a time for joyous feasting at the great heavenly banquet. But that time is not yet, not at the time of the temptation. First Jesus has a job to do. And he will stick to the task. No shortcuts. No easy way out. No using his divine power to serve himself. No, “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That’s what Jesus is about. That’s the journey to Jerusalem, the way of the cross, that Jesus is setting out on, here at the outset of his ministry. And he will not be deterred.

And that is good news for you, my friends. For you have a Savior who has withstood and overcome all the temptations of the devil–who has defeated the devil for you. Whereas you and I have yielded to temptation and sinned, many times, falling for the old lie, “You deserve it, and you should get what you want, and have it now”–where we are weak, Jesus is strong. He stays true to the course. You have a Savior, Jesus, who is completely faithful, utterly reliable, strong to save, totally committed to your eternal salvation. That’s why he defers the bread and the glory and the protection. He will not be deterred from going to the cross for you.

For Jesus, glory is coming, but first there must be suffering. Indeed, the glory comes through the suffering. Jesus suffering and dying for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine–there is his greatest glory. The glory comes through the cross. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Yes, it was. Jesus knows this. From the temptation in the wilderness all the way to the cross in Jerusalem, Jesus knows what his mission is.

Timing is everything. In the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus knew what time it was: It was time to defer the glory, in order to go to the cross. And because of Jesus’ impeccable sense of timing, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation.”

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Published in: on February 20, 2010 at 10:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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