Saturday, February 20, 2010

C, Lent 1 - Luke 4:1-2 "Trials & Temptation"


And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. (Luke 4:1-2)


Just when you'd think things couldn't get any worse, then it does! You see, he came from a privileged place. There was no pain or suffering, hunger or want. But where he found himself was a far cry from the fertility and luxury from where he had come.

Jesus walks in the wilderness; his stomach knotted from hunger. Now when things seemed like they couldn't get any worse, old hairy legs shows up - the devil. He grabs the opportunity to take Jesus to task, testing him in the weakness of his hungry human state.

These forty days wandering in the wilderness follow a time where at the Jordan Jesus was baptised, the Holy Spirit came down on him, and God declared him to be his Son whom he loved. But on having received the Holy Spirit, and wonderful acknowledgement of his Father's love, he's led into a time of trial and suffering. How much worse could it have gotten?

After all, the preincarnate Son of God, before he was born to Mary, was at the Father's right hand in heaven. He was a member of the Holy Trinity! The Son of the Father from eternity, eternally begotten! God the Son was there with the Father and the Holy Spirit at the creation of time and space. This God was untouchable by sin, suffering, trial and temptation.

But this is what God the Son gave up because he loved the Father. He became bound by time and space; born in Bethlehem and dependant on humans. God the Son became the epitome (e-pit-o-me) of weakness lying in a makeshift bed in an unwholesome environment!

Having been baptised he now walked in the wilderness. This is where the Spirit led him. And the Father who announced his love for his Son now allows him to flounder for forty day in the desert. Imagine yourself in this situation. If we had Christ's power, surely we would rationalise our situation with our sinful nature to improve our lot.

Just as Jesus walked in the wilderness for forty days, the Israelites had been in the Sinai wilderness for forty years. They stood on the edge of entry into Canaan. Just across the very same Jordan River in which Jesus was baptised before he went into the wilderness.

God walked with the Israelites in the desert during this time. Although the Israelites inherited their wilderness wanderings due to their wickedness and waywardness! Yet, God still remained with them and was faithful to his promise to deliver them into a land flowing with milk and honey - into the land of Canaan. All they had to do was remain faithful to God and things would get better and better.

The Israelites and Jesus walked the same road, but on it they walked the completely opposite direction. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came from his heavenly glory to be born a human, was baptised into death, and wanders in all human weakness in the wilderness. However, Israel, adopted as God's children, is delivered from trial and testing in Egypt, into the Sinai wilderness, and then into Canaan, an earthly paradise chosen by God in which for them to live. God's one and only Son, and God's adopted children, walked very different directions for a very good reason.

The Israelites were tempted by just about everything that came their way. It made no difference whether they were in a place of plenty or paucity, they whinged and wanted more and more all the time. They didn't trust God. In fact, they begrudged him even while he provided for them and protected them in the wilderness.

Jesus on the other hand, had everything, and gave it up, yet he didn't doubt God for a moment. Surrendering his Godliness, he was born with the same flesh as the Israelites, and as you and me. He was susceptible to sin and suffering, but he didn't fall into disbelief; not even once!

Jesus and the Israelites cross paths at the Jordan. Jesus came from paradise into the wilderness and the Israelites were delivered from the desert into the fruitful land of milk and honey.

They crossed roads at the Jordan and its where the X marks the spot. Israelites were being baptised by John with a baptism of repentance. And Jesus received a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire, which landed him on "the Cross" and a descent into hell.

In fact, "the Cross" is the X which marks the spot. The Israelites walked to the Jordan with the guilt of sin, and away with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus too, walked to the Jordan, but not with sin and guilt. He came holy, pure and spotless and left carried by the Holy Spirit into forty days of temptation, and three years of trial ending in his death on the Cross; cursed by our sin, yet in himself was pure and spotless.

The Cross marks the spot for us too. Christ meets us at the crossroads in baptism. St Paul challenges us in Romans chapter 6, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4)

You now walk in your baptism called to trust baptism's power in you for Christ's sake, allowing the Holy Spirit to do his perfecting work in and through you. You are called to trust the forgiveness of your sin, knowing that sin and death have no power in your life. And sin and death continue to have their power weakened by the light shone in our hearts through repentance that exposes the sinful things you're tempted to do. From baptism into Christ, you're called to walk and trust every day in the power of your baptism, through which the Holy Spirit gives you the newness of life.

However, unlike Jesus, we being born with a sinful nature continue to do sinful things. We go out from our baptism into the wilderness of this world and succumb to temptations all the time. We see our trials and the suffering we still must go through in this life and become hesitant of the Holy Spirit's leadership, doubtful of the Son's salvation, and are quick to replace faith in God through his Word, with faith in ourselves through our own works.

This is exactly why Jesus was the only one who went to the cross. Everyone else fell and continues to fall to the temptation that God and his kingdom will let them down. And Jesus knew this too. So he sends the Holy Spirit to continue turning us back to him and the power won at the cross given in our baptism that we might turn and return to Christ and his Word.

The greatest temptation we face as God's adopted children is to think God has abandoned us and left us for dead. Just like the Israelites did so many times in the Sinai wilderness, we are quick to toss our God-given faith away in favour of a faith, which comes from our morals, our understanding or intellect, and our feelings. This temptation is ultimately ground in a disbelief which wills us to believe God's kingdom is not near us or for us because of who we are as sinners.

Jesus knows we struggle to believe his kingdom is coming to us, especially when we seem to be having so many trials and troubles in this life. We're blinded seeing our day to day lives only in negative unbalanced Godless ways. Then temptation quickly comes willing us to throw out our trust in God who promises to lead us through the wilderness of this life and through death.

Jesus addresses our temptation to believe the kingdom is not coming to us. In the Lord's Prayer he gives us his very own personal words which move us to trust our Father, whose kingdom comes, and to trust the Holy Spirit's leadership away from the temptation that God's kingdom is not coming to us.

In the Lord's Prayer we are lead into a deeper and deeper belief that despite how things might appear, God is providing our daily bread in this life and will continue to do so right through into the resurrected life he has for us in eternity.

In fact, in Jesus' hunger he rebuked the devil with God's word, in part, from Deuteronomy 8:3, "man does not live by bread alone." (Deuteronomy 8:3, Luke 4:4) But this whole verse points to the very thing every person needs to receive throughout their earthly lives. Let's hear the full verse, "And he (the Lord your God) humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 8:3)

And so for us the food that leads us away from all temptations and specifically the temptation to believe that the kingdom of God is not for us is the Word of God. In fact when we hear the word of God preached we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive faith, and we are grounded in the assurance that "Jesus is Lord" and "God has raised him from the dead" (Romans 10:9)

So it's right at the point where everything seems to be getting worse, and we realise how weak we truly are, that we come to the crossroads where we're called to trust in he who has already walked the other way towards death and hell for us, but then was raised and glorified.

Through the Word of God the Holy Spirit works to plant in us faith that the kingdom of God is for us, and near us, despite the wilderness in which we walk today. Amen.