“Enticed: By Less Than the Best”
Michael F. Bailey
February 14, 2016
Luke 4:1-13 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said toLu him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’ Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’ Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
At some level, the Super Bowl disappointed many of us last week. Even those who don’t particularly follow the NFL were excited that our own state’s team was playing. Alas, as you probably know, they lost mightily! I came home immediately after the game and threw my lucky, un-washed jersey into the hamper. I scraped off my lucky beard and washed it down the drain. Lauralee, my wife, had wanted me to shave for some time, but I feared the Panther’s would lose if I cut it off prematurely! As many of you know, she works a few days a week in Raleigh. She saw me sans beard for the first time at Welcome Wednesday in our Fellowship Center. As she walked up, prior to our hug, I put a finger on my bare chin. She looked at me with a highly puzzled look and asked, “What? Do I have something on my chin?” Perhaps that was a bit of a reversal of what happens when a wife comes home with a new outfit, hairstyle or jewelry and asks her puzzled, clueless husband, “Well, how do you like it?” We husbands can panic at such words wondering which “it” we’re supposed to notice! My favorite response to my shaving occurred this week when someone said to me, “It’s good to see your CHINS again!”
In another way, last week was a winning week, especially for the compassion of Christ. Most of you know the North Carolina United Methodists under the team moniker of “#UnitedMethodistsKeepPounding” engaged in a challenge with the Colorado United Methodists (who had the yawner name, “United Methodist Orange”) regarding which state could collect the most items for any food bank a local church chose to donate toward. Christ Church is a remarkable, missions-minded church! You donated nearly 2,500 items, just short of a ton of food to Greensboro Urban Ministry. The North Carolina United Methodists collected more than our brothers and sisters in Colorado–650,000 items to their 350,000 items! Now, that was a super Sunday! The compassion of Christ won! The hungry received a victory. Wouldn’t it be something if every First Food Sunday were like that? I suspect none of us missed the items we donated.
Today, along with celebrating Scouting Sunday, we are worshiping on the first Sunday in the season of Lent. Throughout Lent we’re focusing on the ways the world, culture and society pressures us away from God’s loving desires for our lives. Our series title is “Enticed.” And if we were honest with ourselves, we’re all enticed by the world, culture and society to not live as those baptized in Christ. In the weeks to come, we’ll look at how we’re enticed by hurry, half-truths, legalism and greed.
Today, we will consider how we’re enticed by and to do and choose the “less than the best,” even though such a choice may be described as “good.” God, our loving parent, desires the best for us as God’s children and yet, we often choose a different course. Our passage today teaches and guides us well. It is the story of the Temptation of the Christ.
You recall, I’m sure, that Christ’s temptation occurred after his baptism. When Christ was raised from the waters of the Jordan, the Spirit descended as a dove and the voice of God spoke from heaven, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Soon after that divine revealing and confirmation of Jesus’ identity, Jesus was in the wilderness for a time of testing.
A pause in our narrative is important here. The very sequence of Jesus’ life reminds us of how much Jesus understands our lives. Just as the wilderness tested Jesus following His baptism, we too often find ourselves in the wilderness and tempted after our great spiritual events. Think of it: a young person is confirmed and shortly finds themselves in the wilderness of choices which come from living away from home at college. A marriage is blissfully made, but soon the challenges of life come rapidly and quickly. A baby is born, but soon, hard, sleepless and sometimes frustrating nights follow. A new job is obtained, which seems to match God’s gifting of a person, and yet the honey luster quickly fades. Retirement is reached full of plans and a health crisis with a partner ensues. Our great comfort; our hope; our very life, in such wilderness times, Christ understands; Christ has experienced the wilderness; Christ who loves us and knows our needs is with us in such times.
Now, back to the text. After 40 days of fasting, the devil appeared before Christ at a time when the text tells us he was hungry and presumably weak. This tells us something of the devilish ways doesn’t it; we are confronted during vulnerable times. The devil began the conversation in a small word, challenging what God had just spoken at Christ’s baptism. The word is “if.” It’s a word of challenge and doubt all wrapped into one. “If you are the Son of God, turn this stone to bread.” Jesus, we have no doubt, could have done so as the Sovereign of the Universe. Christ could have fulfilled his hunger in an instant. More, it takes no leap of imagination to understand that Christ would have seen stones everywhere and the temptation would have been to turn them all to bread. In an era where most people didn’t know where their daily food was coming from, think of the effect! If he had changed one stone to bread for himself, it would open the door to changing all of the stones to bread! All of the hungry people would be fed. Think how widely and wildly he’d be acclaimed and followed! Christ would be their leader easily with no betrayal, pain, suffering and no death on the cross.
And to feed hungry people is a good act. To avoid pain, suffering and death is, it seems, is a good choice – and yet, neither of these were the best choice.
Jesus teaches well in his response to the devil. He refuses to take the action. You see, the best is not always the easiest course; the best is not always the most expedient way; the best is not always to most popular route. The best way, is the way of God. Jesus states such by reminding us that we humans don’t live by bread alone. The rest of the verse he quoted is that we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. You see, bread alone doesn’t save a soul. Bread alone is temporary. We truly are alive, not just biologically functioning; we’re truly alive and remain alive for eternity when we live by the word of God.
And how we need to be reminded of this! Often, we're in such hot pursuit of the “good life” for our loved ones and ourselves that we easily forget what the “best life” is about. We are enticed by thinking life is only about it’s material dimensions and neglect our souls. We easily and blithely add to and confuse needs and wants. We do this to the extent that the best life of living by every word from God gets subtly moved down our priority list until the norm is for the most faithful among us to give God a nod by coming to worship a couple of times a month for a couple of hours. We do good things with the time we don’t give to God. We enjoy family and recreation. But it’s not the best. When we aren’t alive in Christ, we've been enticed by choosing the good over the best.
Lent is our chance for change. Lent is God’s gift to us for going deeper by reflecting on our priorities and where God is and by God’s grace, correcting the course of our lives.
Then, the devil took Jesus to a place where he could see all of the Kingdoms of the world in an instant, the devil claimed he owned it all and could give it to whomever he chose.
Now, we know who the ruler of all is God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The devil lies; another lesson for us about devilish ways.The crux of the text for Christ was to bow down and worship the devil in exchange, ostensibly, for power over the Kingdoms of the world.
Again, if the devil weren’t lying, for Christ that would mean no suffering, no betrayal, no torture, no cross and no death––just an enticingly easy path. Jesus refused and quoted scripture to the affect that humanity is to worship and serve the Lord our God only.
Think of the “good” of the devil’s offer; in contrast to living under the boot heel of Rome, what a fine world leader Christ would have been! But also consider the cost the devil would have extracted if Christ had worshipped the devil and veered from the best, that is, worshipping and serving God only.
Again, how we need this reminder in Lent. The world, culture and times we live in are filled with enticing idols. Idols whose siren song is for us to put them first, that is, worship them and serve them. Idols who beckon us with false promises and lies that they will do for us that which only God can do.
You know these idols who come our way wearing the enticing clothing of “good” instead of the best: “pursue wealth and life will be near perfect”––the idol of materialism calls; “acquire the right house, spouse, car, appearance or position”––the idol of consumerism beckons and you’re life will be royal; elect the right politician and everything will suddenly change for the better; get a degree from the right school and you’ll be set for life. All of these have some quality of goodness, but aren’t the very best.
So, how about you? Again, will you use the gift of the season of Lent to examine who or what is on the throne of your heart? Will you seek to worship and serve God alone, first and foremost with your time, talent and treasure?
The devil then took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and challenged Christ to prove He was the Son of God by flinging himself off. Quoting the Bible (and there is a lesson there about how the Bible can be abused) the devil said, “the angels will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Again, Jesus was enticed to go the route of the sensational and the popular instead of the Cross. He refused, telling the devil and reminding us, that we are in no position to test God!
Again, we need to hear this! We live in a time of a shallow, gossamer, cultural theology that often takes the “good” of faith practices (prayer, Scripture study, giving and worship) and subtlety teaches us that if we check these off our list regularly, God has to keep us healthy, un-scathed by life, and (some even teach) wealthy. We’re often enticed by this cultural understanding of the ways of God, who this falsehood teaches, must respond to us rather than vice-verse. This is, in essence, testing God. And for those who buy into this, when tragedy comes their way, the results are tragic.
They’re left wondering why, saying, “I checked all the boxes. I pray, worship, give and serve. Maybe I need to do it all harder.” Or, “Maybe I missed something.” Or, maybe God isn’t loving or even real. Such are the hare consequences of testing God.
The best is trusting God. Trusting that God loves you and responding to that love in bright and dark times. The best is putting faith in God’s faithfulness, love and grace even in the wilderness and tough times of life.
Let’s close with what I consider to be that very promise of God’s faithfulness in the wilderness. It comes from the very beginning of our passage. Did you catch it? It’s a small but significant clause. The first verse says Jesus was “led in the wilderness.”
This means the whole time Jesus was in the wilderness, the Spirit never left him and more, even led him. And the Spirit never abandons us no matter what wilderness we’re in; whether it’s the enticing wilderness of the days we live in or a relational, spiritual, emotional or vocational wilderness. The promise here, the Good Livable News, is that God’s presence; the Spirit is with us and will to lead us.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Share with your group any superstitions you’ve heard about practiced by athletes or sports fans.
Share with your group about a time when you were enticed to substitute the “good” for the best”.
Share with your group what you believe Jesus meant when he said we don’t live by bread alone.
Share with your group what you believe some of our modern idols are.
Share with your group how you try to deeply trust in God even during your wilderness times.
Share with your group about how, reflecting on a wilderness time in life, you can now see that God was with you.