Temptation. Usually not something we like to talk about. What do you think of when you first hear that word…?
When I teach about temptation to Confirmation students, and I ask them the same question, I get things like chocolate, French fries, playing video games instead of doing homework, and skipping church on Sundays to sleep in (although I’m pretty sure that last answer is always to play to the judge….)
Temptation is really anything that tries to draw us away from God. Temptation in itself is not a sin—everyone deals with temptation. In fact, Jesus himself had to deal with it.
Enter our Gospel reading for today. Luke offers us a glimpse into a conversation and battle of the wills between Jesus and Satan. Who wins….?? Well, Jesus of course. I mean, really, pitting anyone against Jesus means Jesus is gonna win, since he’s, you know, GOD.
But what’s interesting about this story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, is WHAT Satan tries to tempt Jesus with. Because it is these three temptations that show us what Jesus’ ministry is NOT. To put it another way—the things that Jesus says no to are the things he refuses to do as our Lord, things that are not why he came.
In fact, you can fill in the blank in the sermon title as we go: “Jesus is not about ____.” There will be three words, to go with the three temptations Jesus confronts. You can even write those three words down as we fill in the blanks together. Ready?
First up, Satan knows Jesus is hungry. And not just, ‘I forgot to eat lunch hungry’—Jesus hasn’t eaten for 40 days. He is literally starving. So Satan shows up, knowing Jesus is famished, and tries to get him to change a stone into a loaf of bread, knowing full well that Jesus could do it if he wanted to.
Now, I doubt Satan is going to tempt us to change a stone into bread. First of all, we wouldn’t be able to since we don’t have God powers, and secondly, unless we were fasting for 40 days like Jesus, that temptation just sounds absurd. (For example, I would want to turn the stone into chocolate rather than bread…. That just sounds way better.)
But I think what the actual temptation is, is the temptation for Jesus to serve himself rather than others, to put his needs first above others. And if Jesus did that, rather than helping others, Satan knew that Jesus’ mission would be thwarted—just like if we focus on ourselves only, we miss all the people God wants us to help. So that first fill-in-the blank is selfishness.
A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard. The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog.
Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.
He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.
As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, 'What happened here today?' She again smiled and answered, 'You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?' 'Yes,' was his incredulous reply. She answered, 'Well, today I didn't do it.'
Look what disasters can happen if we ONLY serve ourselves?? Now, I’m not saying we can’t have a mental health day as needed—we need our days off to be healthy. But I’m talking about a way of life, of always only looking out for Number One. Jesus knew that his ministry was not about that. In the Gospels, time and time again we see Jesus helping people. Being God, he could have just chilled out and lived a comfy life. But that wasn’t his purpose. Jesus was, is, and will always be the one who helps others rather than just focusing on himself. Jesus is not about selfishness.
Second temptation—Satan tell Jesus that he can reign over all the kingdoms of the world, if he only worships Satan. Jesus says no way. At first glance, this temptation looks like Devil worship, right? But the deeper temptation here is POWER. Power over all those lands, all those people. So that second fill-in-the-blank is power. If you want to be more specific, you can write worldly power.
I think in today’s world we assume that having power means that all our problems will be solved. And, while having some power means we can sometimes get things done in a more efficient way, having power doesn’t mean our lives are perfect—usually power brings more problems rather than getting rid of them.
Take Joseph Stalin, for example. The leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until 1953, he certainly had power. People bordered on worshipping him, his name and likeness were all over the Soviet Union in the form of songs, statues, and town names. But because of his power, he was afraid. He was afraid to go to sleep. He had seven different bedrooms, which locked tight as a safe, and in order to throw off would-be assassins, he slept in a different bedroom each night. He had 5 chauffeur-driven limos go with him wherever he went, and each had the curtains closed so no one would know which he was actually riding in. He was so afraid, he actually hired a servant whose only job was to monitor and protect his tea bags.
It’s clear that being the leader of one of the world super powers at the time gave Stalin more problems rather than less. Jesus knew that that type of power, the power Satan was tempting him with, was not the point of his ministry.
Jesus knew that his power does not lie in ruling over earthly kingdoms—his power is about bringing God’s kingdom here to earth. His power lies in love, in loving us and showing us how to love him and love each other. Jesus sums up all of God’s teachings in two sentences in the 12th chapter of Mark: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love God, love neighbor just as you love yourself. Sound familiar? It’s Zion’s catch-phrase. Love God. Love your neighbor. Nothing else matters! That’s what Jesus is about.
Not to mention the fact that Jesus didn’t keep his power to himself—he sent out seventy followers to teach and heal in his name, and then when he ascended into heaven he told his disciples (and us!) to teach everyone what he taught them and to go and baptize in his name. Not too shabby. Jesus is not about worldly power.
OK, third and last temptation—everyone ready for that last blank to be filled? —Satan tries to get Jesus to throw himself off the highest part of the Temple so that he can be saved by angels. Jesus, of course, says no.
So what’s this temptation all about?! I don’t know about you, but I’m not usually tempted to throw myself off the top of Zion’s roof.
Most would argue this temptation is about FAME. If Jesus were to throw himself off the Temple and live, he would be famous immediately. Something like that would never be kept quiet. So that last fill-in-the-blank is fame.
But I don’t have to tell you that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just take a look at celebrities. Many of them start off OK, but once they become famous, they fall apart due to messed up lives. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Michael Jackson…. The list just goes on and on.
Yet, even in Biblical times people wanted to be famous. James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples ask him for the two most famous seats for all eternity in Mark chapter 10—they ask, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus, however, explains to them that it’s not about power or fame, it’s about being a servant.
And then Jesus tells them: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus’ fame was not in the fact that he could throw himself off a high place and live--- quite the opposite. He became famous because of his willingness TO DIE, to save us from ourselves-- by taking our sins away and having our sins die with him on that cross.
Jesus is not about putting himself before others, or power over others, or fame based on saving himself. He is about saving us, saving those who believe who he is and what he did for us.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Paul writes this in the Romans passage we read today, and we heard about it earlier in the Children’s Message.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Think about that for a minute. Think how radical that is. EVERYONE who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. EVERYONE. Doesn’t matter where you live, how much money you make, what the color of your skin is. If you call on the name of the Lord, and believe that he is your savior, you belong to Jesus. It’s that simple.
And THAT’S what Jesus is about. Not being selfish, or worldly powerful, or famous. Jesus is in the business of saving everyone who calls on him. That’s why he came to earth, that’s why he is still here now, as our risen Lord. That’s why we worship him, and serve others in his name. We have an amazing God, who died for us, who continues to save us and love us and help us defeat Satan. We need him as our savior because we can’t battle against temptation alone. He is there with us, helping us say no to Satan, like he did himself.
Now THAT is what I call a Savior. Amen?