(Lk 4.1-13) Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
This is the second Sunday in the season of Lent.
The season of Lent is typically known as the season
where Christians practice self-denial in some way.
We fast from food,
we step back from social media,
we give up coffee or meat or something we love.
That’s what Lent is know for, I think.
It’s a season of self-denial
so that we can enter into something better.
A season of going into the wilderness
so that we can identify with the sufferings of Jesus.
Lent says servants aren’t above their master.
Jesus suffered for our sake
and we want to be with him.
We want to enter into solidarity with him.
We mentioned last week,
that the ultimate reason why Lent is good news
is because God has already chosen to enter into solidarity with us.
Sure, Lent is the season
where we’re learning to follow Jesus into the wilderness—
where we’re learning to follow Jesus to the cross.
The reason why this is good news—
why the wilderness is good news, why the cross is good news—
is because bare the places where God has already followed us.
God meets us in the wilderness, in the dry place, in the badlands,
God even meets us in our death
and God brings new life.
God raises the dead.
God makes all things new.
Lent is not a season
where we try to save ourselves.
Lent is a season where we celebrate
that God saves us in the wilderness.
God doesn’t save us because of anything we do—
God loves us and God saves us because that’s what God is like.
If we’ll begin to realize that,
it changes the way we approach Lent.
Lent is good news.
It’s a season where we’re invited to do something we all hate—
to embrace our weakness and believe the grace and love of God.
So in light of this reality—
that God meets us and saves us in the wilderness,
these are the questions that I want us to explore during the season of Lent:
What is Jesus saving us from?
What is Jesus saving us for?
We’re in our second week of reflecting on the temptations of Jesus—
and today I want us to reflect on the second temptation,
and see how it might answer those questions.
(Lk 4.5-8) The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
Here in Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptations,
after Jesus is tempted to use his power to fill himself up,
Jesus is brought up to a high place (v5)
and shown all the kingdoms of the world in an instant.
The impression I had growing up
was that this is like a dark version of the Lion King
where instead of Mufasa and Simba up at the top of Pride Rock,
we’ve got the devil and Jesus up to the top of the world
and the devil saying: “Everything the light touches… can be your kingdom.”
And so the temptation inside of Jesus was something like:
“That looks like a nice tract of land,
that’s some nice acreage over there…
and—what’s that?—all I’ve got to do is worship the devil?
It might not be the conventional fair-market value, but it could be a sweet deal.”
I’m not sure this sort of thing
would be a legit temptation
even for us—much less for Jesus.
Become a devil worshipper,
and you can have your choice
of mountain or beachfront property.
I think this is a pretty good clue
that Luke is talking about something deeper
than Jesus just having real estate envy.
First—this can’t be a literal high place where you literally see all of the earth—
it doesn’t matter whether you’re on Mount Evans or Mount Everest
you can’t see the entire world.
No matter how high you get,
you cannot physically see all the kingdoms of the world.
Even from the international space station,
you can’t ever see the entire world in an instant—
you can only ever manage about half of the world.
I think whatever is going on here is some kind of vision—
some kind of imagining, some kind of thought process.
Jesus is looking down from a high place
and imaging himself stepping into power in the world.
Into a position of influence, into a position of prestige,
into a position of authority and splendor (v6).
Jesus isn’t just being tempted with a vacation house;
Jesu is being tempted with the White House.
The verb that the devil uses is in the aorist tense in Greek—
it’s just a quick, simple verb.
Jesus doesn’t have to live his life
ritually sacrificing cats in the basement
or groveling at the devil’s feet.
The devil isn’t asking for an ongoing thing.
The quickest of bows would do.
Maybe even just a small nod of the head.
Just some kind of acknowledgment
up here—on this high place—with no one else around—
that Jesus’ allegiance is to the ruler of this world.
“And then all of this can be yours.
You can be in charge right now, Jesus.”
The strange thing about this temptation
is that the devil is tempting Jesus with kingship.
The world needs a king—
the world needs someone in charge—
someone to sort out the world and put the world right.
We all know how important leaders are.
Presumably that’s why we spend
such time and energy and money every four years
on national elections.
A good leader can make all the difference.
A good leader can hurt the land or heal the land—
hurt the nation or heal the nation.
The ancient people of Israel had long known this—
had long been looking for a God-sent king who would
both rule the world and heal the world.
The people of Israel had had long believed
that one of THEIR kings—a king from the line of David—
would be that king for the world.
Whenever a new king was crowned in Israel,
Psalm 2 would be sung… kinda like when we swear in a new President next year,
there are particular words said in a particular way at particular ceremony in February.
This is what part of that song said about the king of Israel:
I will proclaim the LORD’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
The song has got Yahweh—the God of Israel talking to the king—
calling him his own child, and—quite significantly—
telling the king to ask for the nations.
Ask for the nations to become your inheritance,
ask for the ends of the earth to be your possession.
The people of ancient Israel had believed
that their anointed king—their christ, their messiah—
SHOULD ask for the nations, SHOULD ask for the ends of the earth.
Here’s how Psalm 72 talks about Israel’s king:
(Ps 72.1, 8, 11)
Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness…
May he rule from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth…
May all kings bow down to him
and all nations serve him.
The nation of Israel believed that one day
God would send a king to whom all other kings would bow—
a king who would rule from sea to sea—to the ends of the earth.
And they believed that
this king would save the world.
If you were not aware, the Christian faith
is the ongoing, living confession
that Jesus is that king.
Christians are people who hail Jesus as king.
People who believe
that Jesus is living
and that Jesus is Lord.
So what’s so terrible about this temptation?
I mean, obviously we don’t want Jesus worshipping the devil—
bowing down to the prince of darkness—
but what’s wrong with the rest of it?
In a certain way of looking at it,
Jesus is being tempted to step up
as the world’s king.
This temptation is similar to the first temptation.
In the first temptation,
the devil holds before Jesus
something good that Jesus is eventually going to get..
Jesus really is hungry
Jesus really is human.
“Jesus you’re eventually going to eat again—
why not make it right now?
“Why not just use your power, your agency, your gifts—
why not just use them for yourself?
“Why don’t you just use your power to fill yourself up?”
Here in the second temptation,
the devil is holding before Jesus
something good that Jesus is eventually going to get:
the nations of the world hailing Jesus as king.
“It’s all been given to me,”
the devil says (v6)
“and I can give it to you.”
If the first temptation smelled like a bakery
this second temptation smells like a new car.
It smells like success…
and success right now.
“This is something the world needs, Jesus—
and this is something that you’re going to receive—
why not just take it right now?
If the first temptation hit Jesus where he’s weak—in his own hunger—
this second temptation hits Jesus where he’s strong.
I think the devil is tempting Jesus in his strongest place—
with Jesus’ love for the world.i
Jesus loves the world and plans to heal the world.
That’s why Jesus is here.
It’s not that the devil is tempting Jesus to something evil.
The devil is tempting Jesus
to something good.
Take the reigns of the world—
I can give you all world’s authority and splendor:
Thrones and armies,
congress and wall street,
parliaments and world banks—
they can all be yours.
Think of the good you can do.
You can banish corruption from governments and economies—
you can bring peace, you can bring prosperity, you can heal this world.
“That’s your mission as the messiah, isn’t it?
To rule the world and heal the world?
“Make a quick compromise right now—
no one has to know—and it can all be yours.”
I think this what most temptation looks like.
Most temptation isn’t
to grab ahold of evil things.
In fact—strictly speaking—
nothing in creation is evil in itself.
This world is full of good things.
Wonderful sights and sounds and tastes,
good relationships, good projects, good experiences.
Work and food and games
and sunsets and hiking and coffee
and sports and sex and bird-watching and art—
this world is full of good things.
That shouldn’t surprise us:
The opening song of the Bible tells us
that God created the world good, that God filled the world with good things,
that God himself—who has really high standards—
declared that this world is “very good.”
“Things” are good.
What God has made is good.
Creation is good.
Evil—moral evil—is what happens
when we chase good things
the wrong way.
And that’s something Jesus saves us from:
Jesus saves us from chasing good things the wrong way.
Almost all of our temptations,
are actually not temptations toward evil.
Most of our temptations are actually towards good—
towards good things—towards good things the wrong way.
This goes from the very biggest to the smallest.
For example: the holocaust.
I know, it doesn’t get much bigger.
But Hitler and The Third Reich
didn’t wake up one more morning and say
“I’ve got an idea—let’s pull off one of the most evil atrocities of all time.”
“Let’s chase some evil.
I’m really tempted to do some evil.”
It’s almost impossible to find anyone anywhere in history
that wants to pursue evil for evil’s sake—even the Nazis.
No—in their minds,
they were chasing something good.
They wanted a strong country
and a united, healthy, prospering human race.
That’s something we could all get behind:
a strong country and a united, healthy, prospering human race.
Who doesn’t want that?
The desire wasn’t wrong.
The goal wasn’t wrong.
What was horrifying, what was evil, what was despicable,
was the way they chased after that good.
Evil is what happens
when we chase after good things
the wrong way.
The problem isn’t with God’s good creation—
with sex or food or pleasure
or being respected by others
or finding success in our career
or wanting justice in that situation.
This world is full of good things.
The problem is with the way we chase after good things—
the way we’re willing to trample down good things.
This is a helpful insight in relationships.
Get into the habit of asking the question:
“What’s the good thing that they’re chasing?”
The people around us everyday—
even the people we don’t like, the people who might be doing us wrong—
they’re probably not chasing evil.
They’re chasing good.
That person who is an endless gossip
is probably chasing something good.
Maybe it’s some kind of self-esteem—
by most accounts, a good thing.
The problem is the way that good is being chased—
it’s at the expense of tearing down others people.
That person stuck in a cycle of addiction
is probably chasing something good—
maybe a sense of inner peace.
They’re just doing it in an incredibly destructive way.
That thief on the news caught stealing—
who was robbing people of their security—
was probably chasing security themselves.
We could go on and on.
Most of our evil—most of our sin—
doesn’t happen when we’re tempted to evil.
Most evil comes from chasing good things in the wrong way.
I think bowing down to darkness
is less obvious than we think.
It doesn’t look groveling before the devil
or ritual sacrifice of cats in the basement.
It happens really quietly.
A compromise here, a small decision there,
and eventually a choice to chase something good thing
even if it means trampling down others.
Even if it means trampling down other goods.
But Jesus has come to save us from this darkness.
Because where we fail,
Jesus defeats this temptation for all of us.
Jesus sees a good thing in front of him—
(Jesus ruling the world IS a good thing)
but he says “no” to chasing it the wrong way.
Jesus’ actual destiny is to be king—
to rule the world and heal the world.
How in the world does he say “no” to it right here?
Jesus is being tempted with a good thing—
rule the world, heal the world—
and he says “no” to it.
Jesus recognizes that
he’ll have to compromise
a better thing to chase that good thing.
And so Jesus answers (v8):
“No, I won’t worship you—not even a quick nod—
because I’m grounded in the worship and service of God alone.”
I think Jesus is grounded in something better
than the good things in front of him.
Jesus is committed to a Better Thing—a Best Thing—
the honoring of God with his life.
Here we find a human being whose entire
life is committed to the best possible thing—
to the worship and service of God.
His life is about something deeper than himself—
even deeper than the good he can do in the world.
That’s where his deepest allegiance lies.
Jesus has said “yes” to the Best Thing
and that reorders all of his decision-making about good things.
It reorders the way
he chases after good things.
Worshipping his Father, serving his Father, honoring his Father—
that’s the filter that everything runs through.
The devil by saying: “grab power, rule the world”
and Jesus answers back by saying: “I will worship and serve.”
He’s committed to the Best Thing,
and that makes his decision right here really easy.
“I will not rule the world this way.
“Somebody DOES need to sort out the world—
that would be a good thing.
“But I will not compromise this Best Thing
for the sake of this good thing.”
He can’t pursue that good thing that way
because he’s committed to something deeper, something better.
Jesus confronts temptation and defeats temptation
where each and every one of us falls and fails.
And now Jesus gives
this kind of life to us.
I think Jesus saves us from chasing good things the wrong way,
because Jesus reorders our lives with the Best Thing.
we believe that mysteriously—somehow—
Jesus gives us his very own life.
That the Spirit of Christ begins to live—
begins to dwell, begins to take up residence—
And this is the kind of life that Jesus gives to us:
the life of worship and serving.
That’s what the Best Thing look like.
And when we say “yes” to this Best Thing—
when we invite God to fill us more and more with the life of Jesus—
we find help navigating a world of good things.