We are continuously tempted to betray Jesus’s vision of GOD for the devil’s.
The Temptation’s distorted view of GOD
Lent 1C | Luke 4:1-13
Son of GOD
This story which we call The Temptation is one of the most important stories in the gospel of Luke. It reveals the character and recurring themes of the whole gospel. It offers a story of division and temptation, of power and revelation. And it comes through conflict.Ours can be a vision of a GOD worth loving. Click To Tweet
But the story doesn’t start here. It starts earlier in chapter 3 of this gospel we call Luke. It starts with what all of the introductory chapters lead us to see about Jesus: that he is the Son of GOD.
That great birth story, the miracles, the coming of John the Baptizer, the baptism in the Jordan, and then coming out of the water, the booming voice of GOD saying “You are my Son, the Beloved”. GOD calls Jesus “son” and “beloved” like David. Jesus is being anointed the new king, the heir to the kingship of David, the next in the line. Only we know this is a different kind of king.
And then Luke gives us a genealogy, which is told in reverse: that Jesus is “the son of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat…” going back, including “son of David, son of Jesse…” going all the way back to “son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.”
GOD says “You are my son” and the evangelist shows us in a genealogy that Jesus is the son of God.
And then the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days and puts him in the place to be tempted by the devil. And here enters the specter of a vision of GOD as blesser and condemner: the micromanager and the judge/jury/executioner. That GOD is responsible for this temptation the way GOD was (seemingly) responsible for the testing of Job.
And this tempter gives Jesus the chance to gain and express power, to prove his sonship. He says “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Use your godly powers to show GOD’s blessing.
But Jesus instead evokes the desert wandering of Exodus, of being liberated from Egypt and fed in the desert by Manna. That we aren’t sustained by food or our own ingenuity, but by the giving of food to us by GOD. Moses and the people didn’t make the food appear: GOD did. And it came when it was promised to come; not by their will, but GOD’s.
Then the tempter offers earthly power and authority to command the forces of the world: to wield the power of GOD’s blessing like Solomon, accumulating wealth and arms to overtake our people’s enemies. Worship me he suggests, and this will be yours.
You may have seen the picture passed around on Facebook a while back of this Christian page-a-day calendar full of Biblical quotes: and this one is there: taken totally out of context:
If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.
This isn’t Jesus or GOD who says this, but the devil, trying to tempt Jesus! Quoted on a page-a-day calendar as if it were GOD!
That quote in that calendar is so revealing. Revealing about the way we often depict GOD: that those words of the devil’s may as well be GOD’s to us.
That this really happens (even now!) demonstrates the very nature of what Jesus is being tempted by: not something purely evil: something actually revealed in Scripture. That GOD demands fealty and in response, grants blessing.
We can all read about GOD’s blessing the people who worship “right”. The judgment and punishment meted out upon those who fail to follow in the ways of GOD. This view is a consistent strain in Scripture.
As is the strain typified in the book of Isaiah, where the festivals and offerings have become an abomination because the people have failed to do justice and mercy. That GOD doesn’t bless us for who we are or what we do.
And this division is present in our conflicts today: not just in the prosperity gospel which tells us that GOD wants us to be rich but also in the fire and brimstone fundamentalism which blames GOD for natural disasters (and even human-made disasters) as punishments for our lack of faith. These theologies reveal not only a micromanaging GOD, but an emotionally unhinged and spiteful GOD as well. One who is entirely unrecognizable to me.
The third temptation is at the Temple and reveals that the devil, like anyone else, can quote scripture, that he wants to show off this micromanaging GOD to Jesus. Here he seems to insist prove your sonship! GOD has promised to protect your physical body from any harm. Make GOD reveal that promise as true!
When Jesus says that we don’t put GOD to the test, and these temptations come to an end, we see, not merely that Jesus is unwilling to do as the devil suggests, but that Jesus doesn’t believe in that vision of GOD at all.
Jesus’s vision of GOD is a god who liberates and provides for the people. It is a vision that is not exclusive to the people who were chosen in that one time, but to all people in the place that they are. It reveals a vision of a GOD whose love does not come in the form of material wealth and power, but through love and freedom.
Which vision do we hear Jesus proclaim throughout the rest of the gospel? GOD the spiteful or GOD the liberator? GOD the giver of human authority or GOD the giver of a different authority.
We see Jesus proclaim a vision of the upside down kingdom and the way of being different in the world. We see Jesus remind us that our treasures aren’t to be stored up on earth but may be found in heaven.
These temptations of Jesus, these attempts to persuade him to grab power that isn’t his and to reflect a demonic GOD toward the people of earth will return and keep returning throughout the gospel. And we’ll particularly see them return in Holy Week.
We’ll see the temptation of providing the bread of life for ourselves at our time, rather than provided for us on GOD’s schedule. We’ll see the offer of human power and the temptation to build an army on earth, rather than walk the way of the cross. We’ll see Jesus at the Temple, where he could be surrounded by angels, but instead, the authorities will throw him off and onto a cross. And even there, he’ll be mocked and tempted to free himself. Don’t trust GOD to love you or protect you they mock.
The Temptation leitmotif returns again and again.
And each time, we are given the chance to see the vision of GOD that Jesus sees.
Jesus’s vision of GOD
We are continuously tempted to betray Jesus’s vision of GOD for the devil’s. It’s everywhere. It’s in our civil religion which argues that our GOD blesses our country above other countries. It’s in our Hallmark greeting cards as we wish the blessings of GOD to shower upon one another. It’s in our Bible; it’s in our tradition; it’s in our prayer book.
Jesus’s vision of GOD is different from those preachers with their ugly or hypocritical Gods and that bad page-a-day calendar attributing the devil’s words to GOD. His is the upside-down kingdom of the first being last and powerful serving the powerless. His upends that notion of GOD-ordained power and speaks to GOD-commanded humility.
And we, as the followers of a Christ who professes a GOD of not only glory but of love and tenderness, willing to let the rains fall on the wealthy and the poor alike are invited not to test GOD or be the victims of tests by GOD, but to love one another and be beneficiaries of a grace that is abundant, not scarce; given, not purchased; offered, not begged for.
We present this vision to one another in our lives, in our stories, in our service. We present the vision of a Jesus who loves generously by sharing our love generously. We can take on his vision of a GOD of hope and inclusion rather than the vision of a GOD of power and overwhelming might.
Ours can be a vision of a GOD worth loving. Not one worth fearing or one of which we can take advantage.
And we cast that vision of an upside down kingdom, resisting the temptation to be a powerful church for a powerful people. In which our might is supreme and our ways are followed with trembling. And the resistance rises to do battle with us.
Instead, may we follow the way of Christ in service and humility, in love and building community, in hope and making justice. May we find through Christ a true GOD of worship, true savior of a lost people, true hope in the midst of darkness. And may all of our seeking and searching lead us to the most promising of lands: where the devil’s temptation stirs only pity and Christ’s strength kindles a righteous fire for love and mercy in our hearts.