Sermon text: Luke 4: 1-13
It really doesn’t have to be food, or power, or safety. Temptations come in all forms. But in today’s reading the devil tries to seduce Jesus with the promise of food when he’s hungry, the glory and power of all the world’s leaders, and the promise of rescue…along with the suggestion that God is not sufficient enough to keep Jesus safe. And all Jesus has to do in return is worship Satan.
In this scene, it’s food, power, and safety. But it could be something else. Anything else. Because the point isn’t the specific temptations, but rather the underlying nature of temptation itself.
I would argue that temptation is not so often temptation toward something, but rather, temptation usually draws us away from something…away from a diet, an exercise routine, a detailed schedule, clean living, our family and friends, or most importantly, our relationship with God and the identity we receive through that relationship.
We like to focus on all the things we shouldn’t do, instead of pointing to the gift of our identity as God’s children. But the devil knows better. Notice how each temptation seeks to erode and undercut Jesus’ confidence in his relationship with God. Each temptation seeks to undermine.
Of course, Jesus isn’t a fool. He knows what the devil is up to. Which is why when the devil offers him a logical temptation of bread, he responds with an affirmation of trust in God.
The next temptation is a little more obvious in terms of the negatives. The devil is offering Jesus the power of the world’s leaders in return for Jesus’ allegiance and worship. But again, Jesus knows that his allegiance can only be given to the one who gave him his identity.
Finally, the devil proposes that God isn’t trustworthy and can’t keep him safe, and goads Jesus into testing that relationship. But Jesus refuses.
In each case, the devil seeks to undermine Jesus’ confidence in God and in himself. He tries to erode Jesus’ confidence that he is enough, that he is secure, that he is worthy of God’s love, that this divine plan is foolish. And in the face of these temptations, Jesus quotes the sacred story of Israel in order to assert that he is a part of that story. He reaffirms his identity as a child of God. Through Scripture, Jesus is reminded that he is of infinite worth in the eyes of God.
Food, power, and safety. It could just as easily been youth, beauty, and wealth. How about confidence, fame, and skills? On one level, we all experience specific temptations, we can give specific examples. But on another level, they are all the same. They all seek to shift our allegiance, trust, and confidence away from God and toward some substitute that promises a more secure or robust identity.
Essentially, this passage is really about identity theft. And it’s not simply the devil’s failed attempt to steal Jesus’ identity, but all the other attempts to rob us of ours.
Consider the barrage of advertising that most of us see all the time. I know I pick on advertising a lot, but it’s always there. Nine times out of ten the goal of advertisements is to create in us a sense of lack and inadequacy, followed by the promise that purchasing the product will relieve our insecurity.
For many years I have watched different shows on Masterpiece Theater on PBS. All Creatures Great and Small, Sherlock, Downton Abby, Mr. Selfridge—you know, all those British shows. Thankfully, PBS doesn’t run commercials during their programs. But before the shows air they do have a few advertisements from their sponsors. So, for the past decade or so I’ve been watching these really well done ads for Viking River Cruises. And every so often I’ve got my computer open, looking at the website for Viking River Cruises.
I start to think: Maybe I don’t have enough adventure in my life. Maybe I don’t have enough culture. Maybe I don’t have enough excitement. Maybe I don’t have enough gourmet food. Perhaps this cruise will fill up whatever little holes I’ve got.
The ads work. They pull me away with the guarantee to see things differently on one of their Viking longboats. And then I look at the price tags and I quickly come back to reality.
The truth is, we are under assault every single day by tempting messages that seek to draw our allegiance from the God who created and redeemed us and toward some meager substitute. And I’m here to remind you that the meager substitute is never worth it.
For we know God loves us more than anything. God cares for us enough to send Jesus, the only Son into the world to take on our lot and life, to suffer the same temptations and wants, to be rejected as we often feel rejected, and to die as we will die—all so that we may know God is with us and for us forever. Even more, God raised Jesus from the dead in order to show that God’s grace is more powerful than all the hate in the world and that the life God offers is even more powerful than death.
This is the love and life given to each one of us in Baptism. Do you know what happens to Jesus right before he goes into the wilderness for forty days? He is baptized and the Holy Spirit drives him into the wilderness. In that moment, Jesus is assured of his identity. God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
So today I want you to try something. I want you to trace the sign of the cross on your forehead. A few days ago we marked a cross of ash and reminded ourselves of our mortality, today I want us to be reminded of our life together with God. I want you to say, “I am a beloved child of God.” Do it one more time. “I am a beloved child of God.”
Ultimately, that is our identity. And we are tempted to lose our faith in God and our confidence in ourselves we remember who we are as God’s beloved children. In the face of so many assaults on our identity, we come to church to have that identity renewed and restored so that we might live in the confidence of God’s abundant life.
Lent is often focused on self-denial, sacrifice, and resisting temptation. And that’s all well and good. However, Lent can also be a time when we remind each other of the love and grace of God poured out for us on the cross. We can move through this season with our eyes fixed fast to the cross, that difficult image where we perceive God’s empowering love for us most clearly.
God loves us and will keep loving us no matter what, and for this reason, we are enough. So go ahead, make the sign of the cross one more time and say, “I am a beloved child of God.” I think we need to hear this over and over because there’s so many other messages that speak against that simple truth. In the face of temptation, when we are confronted with all the different lures that try to pull us away from the security and promises of God, remember your identity. AMEN