Monday, March 9, 2009

SERMON Dennis Evans 3-8-2009
“Jesus’ Way: Temptation”

Scripture Readings: Psalm 91; Luke 4:1-13

When we read about Jesus being tempted or tested in the desert we hear some voices speaking. We hear the devil’s voice speaking to Jesus; trying to get Jesus to give in, trying to get Jesus to compromise and fail. Then, we hear Jesus’ voice answering back; resisting, remembering scripture and the message of the scriptures. We hear Jesus persevering and winning.
Those are two voices. If we listen closer, though, we will hear another voice. We will hear the quiet voice that Jesus also heard. It was a voice just as clear to Jesus as the doubts and the fears that the devil tried to use to make Jesus stumble. Jesus heard a voice that made him strong and kept him centered and focused.
Jesus heard the voice within the scriptures. He heard the voice of his Father there. Jesus also heard his Father speak loud and clear when he went to be baptized in the Jordan River.
John the Baptist was there on the banks of the Jordan calling on God’s people to repent, to get a new heart and mind from God, and receive forgiveness. Word of this had an amazing affect. People were moved. Crowds from the towns and villages went to John for that new life. Jesus went to John the Baptist along with the others; not because he needed forgiveness, but because he loved what everyone was doing by going there.
Jesus is God in human flesh and blood, and so he was very good at being human. He was absolutely normal, in every possible way, except that he never went wrong. Maybe the only thing that made Jesus strange was that his passionate goodness was perfectly mixed with a passionate love for human life and for other people.
So Jesus went to the river to be baptized, not out of need, but out of gladness. And the voice of his Father spoke to him, loud and clear, not out of forgiveness, but out of the same gladness. The voice said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) “You are my Son, my beloved.” “You are my beloved.”
This is the voice that Jesus heard, that spoke within the scriptures. This is the message that Jesus remembered, and used to keep from going wrong. “You are my beloved.”
“Man does not live on bread alone,” when he knows he is beloved by God. (Luke 4:4 & Deut. 8:3) You “worship the Lord your God and serve him only” because you are beloved. (Luke 4:8 and Deut. 6:13) You “do not put the Lord your God to the test” because you are beloved. (Luke 4:12 and Deut. 6:16) I mean that you do this because you are beloved, if you are Jesus.
But what do you do when you belong to Jesus? If you belong to Jesus, you are a part of him. You are his hands and feet in this world. You live in Christ, and Christ lives in you. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart form me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Jesus came into this world to make you beloved. When you are beloved your temptations are like Jesus’ temptations.
Now that might seem strange. How could you be tempted to turn stones into bread, or be tempted to worship the devil to get all the nations of the world to serve you, or be tempted to throw yourself off a high place so the angels could catch you and fly with you? You will never experience any of these things; unless you go crazy, or unless you take some really potent drugs.
The infinite and everlasting God; the abundant God; God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit loves you. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit love you infinitely and everlastingly; with a creating love, with a sacrificial love, with an animating love. You were created for love, and you were created to be a fountain of this love: a receiver and a giver of this love.
This is your purpose. Everything in life finds its place somewhere in this love. Happiness and fullness of life come from receiving this love and giving this love. Knowing the love of God in Christ is what opens up the knowledge and the enjoyment of this love. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)
Our lives are full to the extent that we know this. Our lives are empty to the extent that we do not know this. There is no greater damage, and no greater loss, and no greater tragedy, than to lose the knowledge of this love, or to never have found it in the first place.
We will not be tempted to turn stones into bread, but we will be tempted to doubt that we are beloved. But we can only be so tempted if we do indeed know this love and what it means to be the one who is beloved.
All of the ways we can go wrong when we are tempted; everything we can think, and say, and do when we part ways with Jesus: these are the result of our decision to act as if we were not beloved. When we go along with the crowd just to please others and impress them, it is evident that we want their love because we have forgotten the love of God. When our finances, or our families, or our peers tempt us, it is because we forget that we are always, truly beloved by the one whose love matters most.
The tragedy of this world is that there are people who have never learned that they are beloved. There is a sense in which such people are never tempted. At least there is no contest in such a temptation. The person who has no awareness of their value, because they do not know that they are loved, has nothing to stand on.
You can only be tempted if you know you are loved. You can only be supremely tempted if you know you are supremely loved. (Hebrews 10:29-31)
This is why the devil tempted Jesus with the words, “If you are the Son of God.” He calls Jesus’ relation to his Father into question. “Is it true? Did you really hear your Father say, ‘You are my beloved’?”
“Well Jesus! If you are beloved, why are you hungry? If you are beloved, why don’t you take more of an interest in looking out for yourself?”
“If you are beloved, why must you win the world at the cost of death on a cross? Why must you die for love?”
The devil says: “Only look at the world; and you can see that the world is mine. It serves me. It follows me. I can give you the world if you do the same: if you bow to me; if you serve me and follow me.”
What a contradiction we see! The Son of God is beloved, but he is hungry, and weak, and weary. The Son of God is beloved, but he is not loved with the same love he gives. The world returns his love with torment and a cross.
Do you know that, knowing that you are beloved, when you love sacrificially, you also might not be loved back the same way? Jesus went there and did that, and that is part of the fullness of his life. And that is precisely what you do when you are beloved.
Do you know that, even though you are beloved, that you might find yourself in need, and be hungry, and weak, and weary, and full of desires and longings; and have no legitimate way to provide for yourself, or satisfy yourself, except to remember that you are beloved, and hold on to that? Jesus went there and did that, and that was part of the fullness of his life. That is what enabled him to give us what we need to truly live. That is what you do when you are beloved.
There is this question: Is it enough to be beloved? (Craig Barnes) The mission of the devil was to get Jesus to say, “No, it is not enough to be beloved.” But Jesus did not give in. In the desert, and on the cross, Jesus said gave his “yes” to the question. “Yes, it is enough to be beloved!”
Luke abbreviates Jesus’ answer to the first temptation. The full answer of Jesus is given to us, by Matthew. In the full answer Jesus quotes a whole thought from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (8:3): “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (See Matthew 4:4)
What we need, even more than food, is to hear the word that proceeds from God and tells us that we are beloved. Love can exist without food (and a great many other things), and sometimes it must; sometimes we must.
If the angels could catch Jesus in mid-fall from the top of the temple, why did they not save him from the cross? When the disciples proposed fighting to save Jesus from his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) Or, as Luke will tell us (in the story of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, while he was waiting for his betrayal and his arrest); the Father protected his son by sending an angel came to strengthen him. (Luke 22:43)
Psalm 91 tells us about the faithfulness of the Lord’s protective love. “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” (Psalm 91:3-4) Think of the deadliest snare as the trap of the fear of separation from the love of God. Think of the feathers of God’s comfort as the symbol of intimacy and not of insulation.
What the Lord cares most about is to faithfully create and protect our sense of being loved. This is what the cross is about. This is what Jesus’ own temptation was about.
Surely this is what a mother’s or father’s love is like, at its best. A parent will not love their child in such a way as to protect that child from all risk and danger; or to protect them from everything that might hurt them. But a parent’s love will jump, in an instant, if it can, to spare that child from the worst hurt of all; the hurt of losing the confidence and the freedom that comes from being beloved.
The protection that a husband and wife give to each other has the same mission. You cannot protect the people you love from every hurt, but you can spare them from the hurt of not being beloved.
Jesus went out into the desert, seemingly alone, with the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit, and the unheard voice of his Father. We go into our temptation seemingly alone; but we go with Jesus, the beloved who makes us beloved. We have our deserts to cross, but we are not alone because we share them with Jesus; and Jesus shares his desert with us.
We are in him and he is in us. The book of Hebrews tells us this: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18)
The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the greatest desert and the most lonesome valley that Jesus walked through, and that was the darkness of the cross. On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by his friends, and he felt forsaken by his Father. He cried out, “My God, my God; why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
But Jesus did this out of love for his Father, and out of love for us. His willingness to walk that desert is what saves us and sets us free. It is food for our very lives. Whatever desert we walk through is full of the food of Jesus who is there with us and makes us beloved.

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