As we move into the Christian season of Lent we begin with Jesus in the wilderness at the start of his ministry and the gospel writer Luke brings us into this wilderness story in chapter three. Jesus, now an adult, has sought out John the baptizer who is working near the Jordan river. As the crowds receive John’s baptism “of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 3) Jesus joins the people, standing with fishermen and shopkeepers, children and widows all waiting their turn (Why was Jesus baptized?). The baptism itself, according to Luke, is rather uneventful; it is Jesus’ prayers afterward which opens the heavens and the Spirit descends “in bodily form like a dove” (v. 22) accompanied by a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (v. 22). After this, the thirty-year-old Messiah is led to the wilderness, “where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (4:2).
This temptation story is rather familiar to us: Jesus heads out to the wilderness to pray and fast, and it is there that he and the devil have an embattled exchange of and will and words for forty days. Luke shares with us three temptations presented to Jesus by the devil: gratification, power, and selfishness. I think we can all agree that these are core desires for any human, and for Jesus I’m sure they were overwhelmingly attractive to his humanity.
Who doesn’t want to be fed at the very onset of hunger? More. Now. Faster. Immediately.
Who, after working long and hard, doesn’t want success? Power. Fame. Glory. Image.
Who, living in this world, wouldn’t put oneself first? Me. Mine. Win at all costs. Forget them.
Jesus denied himself and these temptations presented by the devil, and chose to live out his vocation as peacemaker, love bearer, God-with-us Messiah. Knowing the full story of who Jesus is and what he did we shrug our shoulders and say, Of course he did – he’s Jesus. We readily acknowledge Jesus’ God-ness but all-too-often forget his human-ness. While he vanquished the devil in the wilderness, is it not possible that these temptations continued to follow him as he traveled throughout Galilee?
As “he began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone” (Luke 4:15), was Jesus not tempted by his immediate successes? On the Sabbath, as he read from the prophet Isaiah before the Pharisees and Scribes, proclaiming his Godly anointing (Luke 4:18-19), was Jesus not tempted by his fame and glory, prophesied centuries earlier? As he stood there in Nazareth (Luke 4:22-30) with the power to win the people over and make them follow him, was Jesus not tempted to win them over at all costs…to force them to follow…to vanquish all naysayers for personal success?
In these temptations of Jesus I find deep connection with my Lord because, truthfully, this is where I find me and my life most often. These temptations Jesus faced daily are temptations that I face daily: I want things now…I want fame and power…I want to put me first and to walk all over my friends and enemies alike to get what I want. I want to choose these temptations because they would feed my feeble ego, my need-for-now, my human self-worth. Fame? Instant gratification? Self-success? Sign me up!
It’s easy to understand these temptations because they’re what make the world around me work. Products are pushed on me because I need them now, because I can get them now; pretty much anything I could ever want is a mere two days away. The ability to be famous and popular is just one social media post away – if I keep dumping content something will eventually stick and the world will know me. The stories of the self-made success are all around me, and the three step programs to be a self-made success are just a credit card purchase away. I can readily have anything and everything that I could ever want if I so choose…I just have to say yes to the temptations around me.
But in these temptations of Jesus I also find connection with my Lord because I find a model of overcoming temptation. Throughout his ministry Jesus’ humanity faced these temptations on a daily basis, wrestling with himself – the God and the man – each vying for priority, importance, and significance. But God won – God always wins. Despite his immediate successes, each day Jesus chose God. Despite his unprecedented popularity, each day Jesus chose God. Despite his ability to choose human-self, each day Jesus chose God. Jesus chose to follow the One who chose him, to follow the One who called him by name, to follow the One who knows him as Beloved. God chose Jesus, and Jesus chose God right back.
And the beauty of it all – the beauty of God and God’s love for us, friends, is that God chose us. In the life of Jesus lived on earth among us, in the death of Jesus on the cross for and as us, in the resurrection of Jesus promising our own resurrection, God chose us every step of the way. In and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God chose us – would you choose God right back? In the face of temptation, would you say yes to God? Would you choose the treasures of heaven over the here-and-now treasures of earth? Would you choose criticism, disapproval, and disregard over fame, power, ‘shares and likes’? Would you choose to live a life of love for your neighbor and their well-being over your self and your desires? God has said yes to you – will you say yes to God?
As we begin our journey into Lent, I pray that each of us can choose God over temptation… choose love over hate…choose peace over war. May we cling to these words from 1 Peter 5:8-11 (The Message translation):
Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does!
God loves you and chooses you every day…dare you return the choice?
much love. sheth.