The Temptations of Jesus Are Not Ours


The Temptations of Jesus Are Not Ours

We have entered the season of Lent and the journey towards Jerusalem begins with Jesus being sent by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness. Jesus will fast for forty days and be tempted by the devil. The temptation of Jesus by the devil is a well known biblical account. Unfortunately, we often fall into the temptation of equating the testing of Jesus with our own daily trials. 

Scripture: Luke 4: 1-13

It didn’t quite go down this way in Tolkien’s book but in Peter Jackson’s film versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we witness the steady, relentless (but often subtle and quiet) attacks of Gollum on Frodo Baggins as Frodo attempts to carry the Ring of power to Mordor so as to destroy it. Bit by bit, innuendo by innuendo, whisper by whisper Gollum wears Frodo down, poisoning him against the truest friend anyone has ever had (Samwise Gamgee) and wooing Frodo to Gollum’s side. Seldom is Gollum overt, seldom does he make anything remotely akin to a bold or obvious move. But he whittles away at Frodo’s determination and seizes on every opportunity to make Samwise look bad in Frodo’s eyes until finally Gollum succeeds in turning Frodo against Sam. Sam is sent packing, leaving Frodo unprotected and now utterly vulnerable to Gollum’s full frontal assault in trying to get the Ring back for himself.

As the devil knows and as one can detect in Luke 4 and beyond, it’s not the big moments of life that bring us down into sin and tawdriness, it’s all the little compromises the devil makes us commit along the way that leads to destruction. (reference)

The temptations of Jesus that we read today are overt attacks by the devil towards Jesus. Let’s be clear that Jesus faced other tests and temptations throughout the gospels. Every time he healed on the Sabbath, every time he taught the truth about God’s love, when he kept company with tax collectors and sinners. Every time Jesus did these things, he could have made another decision to do the expected thing that wouldn’t have gotten him in trouble with the authorities.

When Jesus hung on the cross, dying he could have chosen to act otherwise and not die. Instead, he endured agony in that death.

Lent is a season of preparation. A time when Christians would fast over Lent’s forty days before Easter. We would fast, because while Jesus was in the desert he also fasted. In fact, Luke tells us that Jesus ate nothing, so he was hungry when it was over. Much of what we do in Lent is designed to parallel the journey that Jesus is on as he travels towards the cross. Jesus fasted, so we fast. Jesus faced temptations, so we give up chocolate or coffee.  It’s about here that we run into trouble, didn’t take us long did it?

Professor David Jacobsen writes, “The problem with the temptation narratives at the beginning of Lent is the reductive view of all temptations as garden-variety challenges to individual faith.” (reference)

Karoline Lewis agrees, as she writes, “The problem with Jesus’ testing in Matthew, Mark and Luke is how quickly we switch the focus from Jesus’ trials to our own temptations – as if we could withstand the kind of inquisitions that Jesus faced.” (reference)

Growing up people would ask me ‘what are you giving up for Lent?’ It is a question we don’t hear quite so often today. I’ll let you in on a secret, I have never given anything up for Lent. Not once.

It raises the question, do the temptation narratives really translate into giving up chocolate or coffee during Lent? When we focus on ourselves are we truly focusing on the key issues of this very important narrative in the gospels. Is the modern equivalent to being tested and tempted by the devil to simply give up something that we enjoy for forty days?

Going back to Karoline Lewis, she continues by writing, “Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is Jesus’ temptation alone, not ours. A sermon that is faithful to this story, even faithful to Jesus himself, will not devolve into a hot mess about our own trials. People can give up what they want for Lent, they don’t get to use Jesus as a reason for doing so.”

Luke uses the temptation narrative not to draw a parallel between our personal temptations around faith, but to demonstrate how Jesus would fulfill his purpose as Son of God. NT Wright notes, “[The temptations] …are plausible, attractive, and make, as we would say, a lot of sense.” (Luke for Everyone, p43). This leaves us with the question, what are the gospel writers trying to convey through the temptation narrative? Is it simply that Jesus could withstand the testing of the devil? Is there something more going on? We should note that Jesus defends himself from the devils attacks by rooting himself in scripture and the understanding of the character of God. This is further illustrated through all that Jesus would go on to do. In his teaching and healing ministry of reconciliation.

The temptation of Jesus is linked directly to his anointing by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. We read that Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness.

What we learn from the three tests that are set before Jesus, is that he is not interested in being the Son of God in some mighty temporal way. Otherwise, he simply would have done what Satan suggested and it would not have been temptation at all. It would have been Jesus acting as the people thought a god should act. But Jesus isn’t interested in that. His life, indeed his death, teach us something different.

NT Wright asks, “How can Jesus bring about the real liberation, not just from Rome and other political foes, but from the arch-enemy, the devil himself?” (Luke for Everyone, p43).

This is the key. The questions the devil poses would have Jesus be seen as a temporal ruler in the fashion of David. A conqueror, which is what everyone wants. But that isn’t why Jesus came. Jesus didn’t come to end wars. Jesus came to demonstrate what God wanted, what God desires from us. That we be peaceable, loving and grace filled.

We know Jesus is the Son of God, the question we are left with is what type of Son will he be?

One of love, grace and mercy.

If Lent isn’t about giving up chocolate or coffee. If Lent isn’t about comparing our own daily trials to those that Jesus faced, if instead it is about understanding the nature of God, then what are we to do with our rituals and traditions? The only parallel we can draw is a test of identity. Who are you, who have you chosen to be, who has God called you to be. That is a truth that is tested daily. Do you allow the whims of society to sway your judgments or are you faithful to your calling as a child of God? This should be our focus, living as children of God. It is a focus that will be challenged daily. Don’t give in. Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

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