Testing time. . .

Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for coming to worship today.

Last week, we looked at a time early in Jesus’ life, when Jesus was only 12 or 13 years old. He and his family went up to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. And somehow, in all the noise and crowds, Jesus slipped away from his folks.

They searched all over town, for three days. And they finally found him – where? In the Temple, sitting with all the famous rabbis and teachers. Instead of sitting out on the edge of the crowd, Jesus was right in the midst of them. Jesus was asking them questions, and he was giving them answers, and everybody was amazed at what Jesus said.

That was last week. Today, we move forward a few years. Jesus is grown up physically, and he’s grown up spiritually.

And about this time, the only way to put it is that Jesus went to a revival. The preacher was Jesus’ cousin, who was – who? John the Baptist.

Why did they call him that? He baptized people. It was a symbol, that people wanted to turn their lives around. They wanted to be better. They wanted to be different. They wanted a complete change for the better.

And Jesus joined that crowd, too. John told Jesus, “I don’t need to baptize you – you need to baptize me!”

But Jesus said, “No, go ahead. It’s better this way.” And it says that a dove came fluttering down, and landed on him. And the Holy Spirit filled Jesus. And according to most of the gospels, there was a voice from heaven that said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him. . .”

So, what happened after that? That’s what today’s story is all about.

After Jesus was baptized, he was full of the Holy Spirit. He left the Jordan River and he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. For forty days he was tempted by the devil. Jesus ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Human beings shall not live on bread alone.’” (That’s a quote from Deuteronomy, chapter 8)

The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (That’s a quote from Deuteronomy, chapter 6)

The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” the devil said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
(That’s a quote from Psalm 91)

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (That’s another quote from Deuteronomy, chapter 6)

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Luke 4:1-13

Have most of you heard this story before? I thought so. Anybody never heard this story before?
There’s a lot going on here.

Jesus goes off into the wilderness. Not because he was trying to get away from the crowds. Not because he was being pursued by the soldiers of Herod, as he was when he was a baby. It wasn’t even a kind of a biblical survival course — you know, go and learn to live off the land, eating nuts and berries, locusts and wild honey, and stuff like that.

Jesus went up into the wilderness, because he was led by the Holy Spirit.

It was a time of listening and reflection for Jesus. It was a time to be immersed in the Spirit and to be immersed in the presence of God. And it was also a time for Jesus to be tested, to be challenged, to see the evil side of power clearly, and to understand what twisting the religious impulse could lead to.

It’s important for us to study this story, because we need to know this territory of temptation. If we’re ever in unfamiliar territory, we need to know how to act.

This Bible story is important, because most of us go through wilderness experiences. We experience dark nights of the soul. We go through depression, sometimes for long periods. And we all have times when we’re tested, and tempted.

Jesus went up into the wilderness, led by the Holy Spirit, and it says he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. I’ll bet he was hungry, afterwards.

In a way, Jesus was echoing the “wilderness experience” of the people of Israel, who wandered for 40 years out in that very same wilderness, learning how to trust God from day to day. Any time you see that number 40 in the Bible, it’s a symbol that something really important is going on.

So Jesus fasted. And he prayed. He looked for vision. He listened and waited for the voice of God. He searched himself. And in addition to whatever moments of exaltation Jesus experienced, from the beauty of the desert wilderness, and the presence of God, Jesus also experienced temptation.

I think the content of Jesus’ temptations is worth looking at for a moment.

First, Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread. That temptation was partly aimed at Jesus’ own personal hunger. But I think it was also aimed at Jesus’ deeper desire, to feed the hungry.
Everywhere Jesus went, later in life, he was surrounded by hungry people. The poor and the hungry are always with us.

And Jesus did feed them. He fed thousands of people at one time, with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and some dried fish.

But the point of doing that, wasn’t to impress people. The point was to draw people to God. The temptation, was for Jesus to turn the power that he had, and turn it into a sideshow. It was to twist a very real power away from God’s purpose.

That’s what temptation is. It’s very seldom a temptation to do evil. It’s to twist good.

“People don’t live by bread alone…” That’s the truth. We need more than food and water. We need more than clothing and shelter. We go out into the wilderness to learn that.

All of our possessions, and all our conveniences, could be lost or taken away. And we would survive. But we would still need the living Word, the word that brings life. We can’t live without God.

The second temptation was different. “The devil took Jesus up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said, ‘To you I will give all this authority and glory; if only you will worship me’…”

Look at what’s going on here. Again, the temptation was to twist something good, something that really existed, to twist it into a wrong purpose.

Jesus had authority and power. He had those things, all along. But he refused to let them be twisted.

Over and over again, later on in the gospels, Jesus rejected the kind of kingship which he was tempted by in the desert.

He refused to be made king. He taught that in order to be the greatest, we have to become the least. He said that whoever would save their own life, must lose it. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world…”

In our world, power and authority often come in the form of money. Money talks. And it walks. And it gets up on the table and tap-dances. Money makes things happen.

And Jesus said, “You can’t worship both God and money. It has to be one, or the other. Choose…” When Jesus was tempted, he chose. A temptation is a choice point. Choose God, said Jesus. ‘Cause otherwise you’ve chosen the tempter.

In the third temptation in this morning’s story, the devil took Jesus back to Jerusalem, and carried him up to the tippy-top of the Temple, and said, “Go on. Jump. I double-dog dare you. You’re such hot stuff. God cares so much about you. Jump!…”

That’s not one that I’ve ever tried. Maybe I don’t think God loves me that much. I don’t jump off temples. I don’t walk on water. I don’t even go too far out on a limb.

Actually, what Jesus said was, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God…”

That’s an interesting thought. Can God really be tempted, or tested? Jesus didn’t say that if he jumped, that God couldn’t save him. If God can move mountains, and if God can calm tempests, God could probably catch one person. That’s not the point, though. Jesus said that it was wrong to test God.

I wonder how often we really do that? I wonder how many times the human race has tested or tempted God, and dared God to let us fall flat on our faces and then rescue us? I wonder how much we have tested God’s love, by the things that we have done?

Remember, temptation is usually a twist. It may not be an invitation to do evil. It’s usually an invitation to take something good, and twist it.

For example: we have a moral sense. We have a sense of right and wrong, and justice. We have legitimate needs. And we have strength.

The temptation is to take all these things, and to give in to violence. We are tempted to respond violently, to try to achieve good ends by violent means. Almost every violent action, seeks to justify itself, either by saying, “He hit me first!”, or by saying, “I was only trying to make the other person behave better!”

And so, we’re violent in our families. We’re violent in our society. We have massive, organized, violence between nations. And all because we don’t recognize the temptation at its source, and reject it.

The Quakers have a very important statement on violence:

“We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world. The spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us [away] from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and [we] testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.”

Declaration of Friends to Charles II, 1661

That’s the rejection of temptation, in a classic statement made by Friends more than 350 years ago.

There are temptations to self-righteousness, to pride and arrogance, and many more things. There’s a temptation to nurse our anger turn into uncontrollable rage.

There’s a temptation to despair, and there is a temptation to self-indulgence and personal comfort. Almost anything can be twisted out of its original, proper place, and temptation can wind up bringing disaster on us.

When you’re tempted — whether it’s in the desert, or in your day-to-day life — think about Jesus. Pause for a while, like Jesus did, to see what’s really going on. That’s what prayer is about.

Don’t be afraid of your own weakness. Don’t be afraid, even if you’ve given in, even if you’ve already failed. God understands that. That’s what mercy is all about. God forgives us when we fail and fall. And God lifts us up, and gives us another chance.

A lot of the time, the way to deal with temptation is to wait it out. That’s what prayer is sometimes – just waiting till you see things clearly, counting to 10, waiting till you calm down.

When you’ve waited a while, then give in to God. Not all your questions may be answered. But if you hear what God wants, give in to God. Because that’s where the real power comes from. It comes from obedience and acceptance.

If we wait quietly, if we “stand still”, as the early Quakers said, we will find God beside us and within us. When we pray, God shows us the truth of things. And then God gives us the strength to deal with them.

Temptation tries to short-circuit that process. The tempter tries to mislead us into taking the wrong action.

Jesus was tempted, just the same as we are. Jesus showed us, in the desert, and in the push and shove of daily life, how to resist temptation, how to wait through it, and how to listen to God.

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