Year A Lent 1 Matthew 4 2011
The Temptation of His Life
At the end of his story he is shot down dead. Here was a man who gained a kingdom and lost all he ever had.
Two thousand years earlier a man from Galilee said, "What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lost his soul?" Perhaps when He made that statement He was not only addressing it to those who heard Him, but also was looking back to a time of decision in His own life.
There is something so very curious about the man from Galilee. He has captivated the imaginations of people throughout twenty centuries. He transcends time and place, culture and custom, race and language. Something there is in Him that always speaks clearly to us. We see it throughout the gospels, everywhere He went, in everything He said and did. Son of God and Son of Man, we know He became one of us.
While He is the answer to all our struggles, we see Him struggling with the things He faced. And, as He finds the way for Himself He finds the way for us as well. We see this truth at the very beginning of His ministry. He left His home up in beautiful Galilee, and went down the Jordan Valley to a place at the river. His cousin John the Baptist was there and he baptized Jesus in the river. And, a voice from Heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Then, Matthew writes in the very next verse, the first of chapter four, "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." Immediately following His baptism Jesus faces the temptations, the greatest temptations of His life. The issue was not whether He would rule the world, but how He would take it. So, out there in the wilderness of those barren Judean hills Jesus struggled with what He would do and how He would do it.
Sometimes we may not take this very seriously. We may not think Jesus was really tempted, not the way we are tempted, not our Jesus. But we need to understand that the temptations of Jesus were real temptations. Jesus was tempted. The New Testament clearly states this. Matthew tells us plainly that Jesus was in the wilderness tempted by the devil. He did not say Jesus wondered, imagined, was charmed, or that He considered his options. He tells us He was tempted, and that He went there to be tempted. Mark tells us He was tempted. Luke tells us He was tempted. John does not take time to mention it. He was in too big a hurry to get Jesus back up to Galilee. However, the book of Hebrews tells us, "He was in all points tempted like as we are."
The city of Jericho isn't far from the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. You can stand there in Jericho and look up into the Judean hills to a place called the Mount of Temptation. It is easy to imagine Jesus being up there, by Himself, fasting for forty days, alone and hungry, struggling with what He would do and how He would do it.
Surely, He must have thought of some easy ways to do what He had to do. That was the temptation of His life. So, there we see Him. He was tempted. Let's take a look at what He faced at all that he was offered:
- The First Temptation: Jesus was tempted by the wrong use of power.
- The Second Temptation: Jesus was also tempted by the wrong way to popularity.
- The Third Temptation: Jesus was tempted by the wrong kind of partnership.
Oops! No such thing. Of course not. Lent is a solemn season, full of serious stuff. We run special educational courses during Lent. Baptismal candidates are on their "cram course" during Lent. Practicing Christians are supposed to be more intentionally focused on one's prayer life during Lent. We "give up" things for Lent — chocolates, meat, sweets, smoking, bad TV shows.
Forty days is long enough to learn something new, miss something old, and change some habits. Unfortunately, it is not so long that we cannot get through it. Truth be told, even as the Easter eggs are turned into deviled eggs, so a lot of our good Lenten habits can get "deviled" as well.
Yet Lent should not be colored as an Ash Wednesday grey grind. What if instead of thinking about "getting through" Lent we look at these next forty days as a journey towards a miraculous destination — Easter Sunday. Doesn't everybody "like" to go on a road trip now and then? What do you "like" about your annual journey to Jerusalem? What makes the Lenten trip to that empty tomb so awesome?
It might be difficult to come up with a "like list" at first. Our culture doesn't normally do "like." This is one of the great things about Facebook. There is seldom a day goes by that I am not asked to speak out against something, or take a stand against something, or support a cause that attacks something. But Facebook is against against. It only has a "like" tab. You can't dislike something, only like it.
But the rest of this culture had not said "No" to negativity like Facebook has. All you have to do is listen to the news or surf a few websites to discover that commenting on what you "like" is not part of our twenty-first century communication culture. Instead it is all too easy to find thousands of "hate sites." There are sites dedicated to hating political parties, to hating politicians, to hating religious preferences, to hating religious leaders, to hating racial groups, to hating the rich, to hating the poor. There are sites devoted to hating a certain individual, and sites devoted to hating whole countries.
Hate is an easy sell. Vitriol is a vital and sustainable substance. No wonder being told to "list your likes" sounds foreign to our ears and hearts. That is a great tragedy of our world...