Monday, March 10, 2014

The Temptation of Christ

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Mat 4:1-11)
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” This happens just after Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist. It is the beginning of his ministry. It’s natural at this point for a man to take some time to contemplate what he is doing, to take time and count the cost. Jesus knows where his ministry is going to lead him. John has called him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He knows he is a sacrifice. The cross looms large. The tempter offers him the ways of glory.
And this is who we are. Jesus says that if anyone would come after me he must deny himself and pick up his cross. This is what Jesus is doing for us, here. Denying himself and picking up his cross for us. It isn’t an easy thing for us to do, to deny ourselves and pick up our cross. Some people think it is an easy enough thing, they think they get to pick their cross. This is one of the great dangers of Lent. They associate picking up their cross with giving up chocolate for Christ. See the cross I’m carrying?! 40 days without chocolate. Whatever their personal fast might be. And I don’ mean to make light of a person’s fast. I’ve done quite severe fasts in the past for many and various reasons going so far as to put myself on bread and water rations. But that isn’t a cross. You don’t get to pick your own cross.
Crosses come with vocation, with your calling and callings in life. Crosses are the sufferings that go along with doing the right thing rather than the easy thing. Crosses are bearing the pain of relationships and forgiving and talking it out. Seven times seventy our Lord says we are supposed to forgive our brother. Not an easy thing to do, but the right thing to do. It’s a cross. Our Old Adam would like to hide, and hold a grudge, write a person off and never deal with them again. And often this is nothing more than a defense mechanism that seeks to maintain one’s own innocence in a fiasco rather than probing to see where perhaps a person has gone wrong themselves in contributing to the fiasco. But the cross says forgive because that is what our Lord did for us from the cross.
The temptation is to avoid the cross, do the easy thing and go for glory. These are two concepts that mark Lutheran theology, the idea of a theology of glory and a theology of the cross. The theology of glory tries to avoid the crosses and suffering associating it with evil. If we are doing the right thing the theology of Glory says we will not suffer, rather we will be rewarded with glory. But being Christian isn’t about earthly glory. It is about the cross and heavenly glory. It is about Christ and him crucified. And it is a hard thing to realize that we can expect the same treatment from the world as the world gave Christ. And it isn’t to say that your whole life will be one of misery without any joy if you become Christian, or do the right thing. Jesus enjoyed his life on earth. The disciples enjoyed life immensely. It is a mere recognition that the cross cannot be avoided. That we lose our life for Christ. And it is in the midst of suffering Luther says that a person really becomes a theologian, really begins to understand God. Perhaps because it was our God who chose suffering and death over glory. He chose it when he came down from heaven to be found in the form of a servant. He chose it when his feet waded into the Jordan. He chose it when the Tempter offered him all the easy ways out, make bread from these stones, rather than living on the word of God. Take the easy way, and be more concerned with yourself than with others. Put God to the test and throw yourself from the tower, see if you have faith? And how many of us don’t feel the temptation to test God? Don’t feel the temptation to put our faith on the line and make a deal with God, saying, God if you do this I will do this? Some think it is the true test of faith to see if you can successfully manipulate God into doing what you want him to do, and thereby avoid suffering and avoid the cross. But Jesus chooses the cross, even when he is offered the power and the glory everyone expected the Messiah to have, all the riches of the nations, a reign more glorious than that of Solomon, Alexander the Great, or the current Caesar of Rome. And Jesus writes such earthly glory off as Satanic. His kingdom will not be of this world. He will not worship Satan for it. Instead he chooses the cross and suffering for us, that when all the glory of this world fades away and becomes nothing, we would have eternal life of glory that knows no suffering.
Jesus he chose the cross, because in this world the cross is imposed upon us. He chose the cross because we could not. Jesus had a choice. Crosses are imposed upon us. Suffering is part and parcel of this world. For all our efforts to avoid it, suffering follows us. And it isn’t like we can avoid it for denying Christ either. Christians aren’t the only ones who suffer. But then we know that this world is not the end of everything, and we have a future to look forward to without suffering, with greater glory than this world has ever imagined, because we have Christ our God who chose to suffer for us, chose to reject the glory of this world and choose the cross instead, that we would be forgiven our failures, forgiven our sins, forgiven our propensity to fall to temptation, and in that forgiveness given comfort and peace amidst affliction, because the world will give us tribulation but our Lord and savior, he chose the cross and through it overcame the world.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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