Page last updated



based on Luke 4:1-13
by Rev. Thomas Hall

elen and Gladys were going door to door. As members on First Church’s evangelism committee, they were knocking on doors and inviting folks to their church. But being in their eighties, they got a bit disoriented and ended up evangelizing a seedy neighborhood. No one responded to their invitation-except Verleen. Verleen had never been in church in her life, never even seen a Bible, but was so taken with the Sunday worship, that she decided to attend the Thursday morning women’s Bible study.

"Our study today is from Luke 4," the pastor began. "It’s the story about Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Have any of you ever been faced with temptation, and with Jesus’ help, resisted?" he asked the group of ladies after presenting his lecture.

One woman told about how just the week before, she had walked out of the grocery store with an extra loaf of bread. "Why should I return it? It was their mistake, not mine," she argued. But finally she remembered who she was-a Christian-and so she marched back into the store and paid for the loaf of bread. The ladies all agreed that this was indeed a very good example of resisting temptation.

Then Verleen spoke. "A couple of years ago, I was into cocaine really big. You know what that’s like! You know how that stuff makes you crazy? Well, anyway, my boyfriend, not the one I’ve got now, the one who was the daddy of my first child, that one, well we’re high on coke and so we knock over a gas station one night-got $200 out of it. It was as simple as taking candy from a baby. Well, my boyfriend, he says to me, ‘Lets knock off that convenient store down on the corner.’ And something in me, it says, ‘No, I’ve held up that gas station with you, but I ain’t going to hold up no convenience store.’ He beat the hell out of me, but I still said No. It felt great to say No, ‘cause that’s the only time in my life I ever said No to anything. Made me feel like I was somebody."

Verleen, is right. That’s exactly what this text’s all about. Saying no, because we are special. Saying no, because God is faithful. Saying no because the battle belongs to the Lord.

Here’ s where Luke begins the story.

After all the people had been baptized, Jesus also was baptized. while he was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you."

What a powerful experience that Jesus has! Jesus is named as God’s deeply loved Son. Not only that, but he sees this dove-a symbol of purity and of the Spirit-settling on him. Jesus knows what that means. As God’s chosen, he has a job to do. But as a human being, he goes about that job dependent upon God’s Spirit. Just like we need the Spirit to help us do the will of God. So the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove-equipping him to carry out faithfully God’s will.

You’d think that owning that kind of an experience, Jesus would be looking for a nearby leper or woman with an issue of blood to launch his ministry. Let’s see. He’s got to interview a bunch of guys so he can come up with twelve disciples. Then he’s got to arrange his teaching schedule; finish up his prep work on the parables. And then go on to do a whole lot healing and delivering. Times’ a wasting, Jesus might well have thought.

Yet the Spirit who has filled him does the most peculiar thing we could imagine. The Spirit leads him away from ministry. This Spirit leads him away into a lonely, humanless place called the eremos, the wasteland. Isn’t that strange? Few wandered in the outback. Even fewer returned. The literature of the time described the eremos as haunted; it was where the demons howled and evil lurked.

For over a month Jesus eats nothing. Perhaps he wanders, meanders. But we know he has the Scriptures on his mind. Probably recalling the Exodus, when Israel spent 40 years on this deserted wasteland. Griping, grumbling, distrusting God the whole time.

Coming out of his fast, the man is famished. That’s the final warning signal the body sends before death sets in. He will need to eat soon or perish.

"I see you’re hungry, Jesus." the voice says. "Well, I’m here to help you. Just use your power to zap this stone into pita bread. You’ll feel better, live longer. Come on, what’s the harm in eating?"

Jesus whirls around seeing no one. But a rock now lies beside his feet among the sand. "One does not live by bread alone." He kicks the rock aside and walks on.

Next thing Jesus finds himself standing on the summit of some mountain that overlooks the world. Like he’s seeing the globe from the space station Mir. Way up there. From the mountain, Jesus can see all the kingdoms, all the wealth of the world.

"This is mine, you know," the devil boasts. "I can share this treasure with you. Just think what it would be like to be king of the mountain. To have people sing, "He is Lord," and to be referring to you. I can make arrangements to transfer this big piece of real estate into your hands. Just one thing I need from you. No big deal, really. Little silly, maybe. But it would mean a lot to me," the voice wheedles. "Just do me this favor and its all yours--venerate me."

Does Jesus clench his fist in rage? Does he struggle before answering? We don’t know. Be he says only nine words: "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only."

Now atop the southwest tip of the Temple that towers up over forty feet, the devil launches his most insidious attack. "You know I’ve been listening to the Scripture too, Jesus. And Psalm 91 is excellent. Says that God’s special ‘Chosen One’ could actually throw their body off this wall and never hit the rocks below. Let me quote this amazing verse for you. Quote- ‘God will order his angels to take good care of you. They will hold you up with their hands so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’"

In one final response, Jesus says, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."

We all face temptations, don’t we?

It couldn’t hurt to skip out of work-just this once.

It couldn’t hurt to fudge on the numbers-just this once.

It couldn’t hurt to not tell my spouse where I’ve really been-just this once.

It couldn’t hurt to take out my frustrations on the kids-just this once.

To focus only on the bottom line,
to act now, and pray later-just this once.

It couldn’t hurt to leave God’s law and Christ’s love out of my decision-making loop-just this once.

The story reminds us that every temptation we face will lead us in one of three directions. We’ll always to be tempted to be unfaithful to God’s will or to distrust God’s love or to worship a lesser God.

At the center of the first temptation is to be unfaithful to God’s will for our lives. We’ll always need to eat, drink, drive cars, live in houses, and get jobs. But Jesus reminds us that there is much more to us that physical things. Jesus remembers his baptism-who he really is, and what that means to him-doing God’s will.

The second temptation-showing all the kingdoms - is a temptation of compromise. Seems to teach us that it is very easy to compromise our faith a little here, a little there. Worship shifts when we compromise our faith. It is not persecution that will kill our faith, it is compromise. Slowly but gradually forgetting who we are; what our Christian faith means to us. If we compromise our faith too much then we will wonder why should we open our church doors wider? What good news do we have to share with others? Don’t let your faith become weak through compromise.

The final temptation-to throw caution to the wind and jump-just to see if God will catch you-really questions God’s love. God has a plan for our life. Let God carry out God’s plan-with no shortcuts or changes. Trust that the One who was with you in the womb, at your baptism, with you when you cried out to him-continues to be with you always.

Be faithful to God’s will, worship God, and entrust your life to God. That is our calling. You’ll have to discover what that looks like in your life-Jesus did. But be assured the Spirit is with you to help you do the right thing.

When you come to Holy Communion this morning and receive the bread and the cup-try to visualize receiving Christ into your life anew and afresh. When we’ve invited the Lord Jesus Christ into our life, we receive the only One who has successfully resisted evil. When we receive Christ, we receive forgiveness, healing, God’s love and power to do the right thing. God takes us and assures us that in this community called the Body of Christ, we can follow Christ-even through the eremos, the desert. To Thy Table, Lord, we come. Amen.