Enticed: By Less Than the Best

Enticed: By Less Than the Best
Luke 4:1-13
Louis Timberlake
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. 

When I was in college, I took some sculpting classes. Now, no one confused me with an art major, but I enjoy using power tools, so I had fun with it. So, the class was basically me and a bunch of art majors. And, what I learned from hanging out with art majors is that everyone has their creative process. For example, when writing a sermon, I have to listen to music. I cannot write in silence. I get distracted, I can’t focus. When I work on a sermon, I have to listen to music. It helps keep me focused. It gets the creative juices flowing. Now, the music I listen to varies each week. It ranges from Chris Stapleton to Needtobreathe to Macklemore to Ed Sheeran to David Crowder to Avett Brothers--it’s all over the place. This past week, I was actually listening to Robert Johnson, the blues musician from the first half of the 20th century. He’s one of those that wasn’t overly successful during his life, partly because he died at age 27. But, he ended up influencing some of the greatest musicians of the past century, including Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, and Robert Plant. That’s quite a legacy.

But, it was fitting that I was listening to Robert Johnson this past week, while working with this passage about Jesus and the Devil. It’s fitting because the legend is that Johnson made a deal with the devil to gain his guitar prowess. Apparently, Johnson wasn’t all that great of a guitarist, until he disappeared for a little while as a teenager and returned a guitar master. That started the rumors that he had sold his soul to gain this skill. If you’ve seen the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? and remember the guitarist in the movie, Tommy Johnson, that made a deal with the Devil--he was based partly on Robert Johnson.

It’s interesting. There’s a collection of stories and legends throughout history of people making deals with the Devil. One of the earliest ones involves a clergyman in the sixth century, Theophilus, in modern day Turkey. He apparently declined being made a Bishop, out of humility. But, the man who got the position demoted Theophilus, which made him regret his decision. So, as the story goes, he made a deal with the Devil to become Bishop. You’d think he’d ask for something better than that.

Being from Georgia, I have to mention that great Charlie Daniels’ song, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” about the deal between the Devil and Johnny. You know the song. They have a fiddle duel and, if Johnny wins, he gets a fiddle of gold. If the Devil wins, he gets Johnny’s soul. Johnny wins, of course. But, it’s interesting, maybe just to me, that there are all of these stories about a deal with the Devil.

The story we read this morning is the deal with the Devil that never was. You see what’s happening here, right? The devil goes through three rounds of offering Jesus something, in exchange for something else. He’s trying to make a deal. But, it’s like the deals that my high school track coach used to make with us, it sounds really good, but somehow you always end up running more. It’s not a good deal. And Jesus doesn’t bite.

I wonder if we get a little hung up on the Devil? We tend to approach the Devil in scripture in one of two ways. Either, we take it very seriously and see ourselves as caught in the middle of this cosmic battle between God and the Devil. Or, we just ignore it. We chalk it up to an outdated worldview. Now, I’m not going to tell you which approach to take, but I want to complicate it for you a little bit. For us, living in the 21st century, our understanding of “the Devil” is heavily influenced by literature, art, theater, etc produced well after the books of the Bible were written. So, the red, horned guy with the pointy tail? Not in the Bible.

And, if you look closely, you actually see the portrayal of the Devil (or Satan) change between the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, we see Satan, which is Hebrew for “adversary” or “accuser,” in two books--Job and Zechariah. And, in both cases, Satan is a part of the heavenly court. He’s not some leader of evil forces opposed to God. He’s more like the prosecutor in a courtroom. His job is to test the righteous. It’s not until the New Testamentthat Satan is portrayed as some sort of being opposed to the will of God. And, this is likely flavored by the influences of other religious groups on the Jewish people, leading to more of a view of the world as caught up in this great struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

So, this Satan or Devil (which is just a difference between Hebrew and Greek) figure isn’t all that simple. It’s hard to know what to make of him. It is interesting, though, to see what the Devil offers Jesus.

First, it’s bread. But, you know it’s not only about bread, it’s about needs. The offer is for sustenance on demand. And, gosh, wouldn’t that be great? If we could meet our essential needs on command? Wouldn’t that be great in a world where we’re always worried whether we have enough? Wouldn’t it be great to not have to depend on anyone or anything for our needs?

Second, it’s power. It’s authority and glory beyond what we could imagine. The power to command others, to have anything you want, to pursue your desires without limits. Wouldn’t it be great to not be subject to anyone? Anything? Any limits?

Third, it’s security. It’s the assurance that nothing can harm you or affect you. Wouldn’t that be great in world full of so many threats? To not fear anyone or anything? To know that your security is guaranteed?

Do you hear the underlying thread? To meet your needs without relying on anyone? Power over everyone and everything? Absolute security? The Devil is offering control. Control. Don’t we all want more control? For nothing to be unpredictable, for us never to be subject to the whims of others, for us to having absolute power over the direction of our lives? To never fear? To never worry?

There’s a line in chapter one of the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” It’s not original to Shakespeare; Old Will stole it from the Bible. “There is nothing new under the sun.” It’s true. More true than we’d like to admit.

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, starts with a couple of stories about the beginning of things. Then, we hear about Adam and Eve. They’re the first people and all is good. All is as it was intended to be between God and humanity. People are people and God is God. Until, Adam and Eve make a choice to renegotiate the relationship between God and humanity. They seek greater control and autonomy.

Over the past month or so, we’ve been introducing Felder to solid foods. It’s been pretty cool--and pretty comical. We always feed him solid food at dinner time, so that we can roll straight into bath time. It gets everywhere. But, we’re starting to see a little more of an independent streak. I’ll be feeding him and it’s going great, until he decides he wants to do it himself. His little hand will shoot out and, if I’m not paying attention, he’ll grab the spoon and butternut squash will go everywhere. He’s trying to renegotiate the relationship. He’s seeking more autonomy. But, for him to actually get any food into his mouth, for him to actually get the sustenance, he still needs our help. He has to continue to trust us.

Now, this Adam & Eve story isn’t about history. It’s not about trying to say, if you took a ride in the TARDIS (any Doctor Who fans?) back to the very beginning of humanity, here’s what you’d see. No, it’s trying to say, this is the original sin. This is the source of all of the discord and brokenness in our world. It all goes back to control and our desire to have it. It all goes back to trading trust in God for the false belief that we can control it all ourselves. If we can just have more control over our needs. If we can just gain more power. If we can just ensure our security, then all will be well. If we can just control everything, then we can make it right.

That’s the beginning of every deal with the devil story--a quest for power, for possessions, for ability, for something that will grant you more control. And, with the exception of Johnny and his golden fiddle, every story ends with the poor fool realizing that control, ultimately, isn’t the answer.

We think we need control, but what we truly need is trust. Faith. Hope in something beyond ourselves.

Did you pay attention to the words of the Serenity Prayer we watched earlier?

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change; 

Courage to change the things I can; 

And wisdom to know the difference. 

Living one day at a time; 

Enjoying one moment at a time; 

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 

Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it; 

Trusting that He will make all things right

If I surrender to His Will; 

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him

Forever and ever in the next.  

Amen.

That’s one of the most difficult prayers you can pray: God, help me recognize that there are some things I can control, but there are more I cannot. And, above all, help me to trust you. To follow you. To obey.

Where in your life do you seek to control what you cannot control? Where do you fall victim to the temptation to depend on yourself, rather than trust in God? The hardest call we receive as followers of Christ is the call to trust. To trust that our needs will be met. To trust in a power greater than our own. To trust that the only security we can truly know is that God is with us.

The incredible thing about God is that God doesn’t try to cut us a deal. God offers us grace, freely. May we trust enough to receive that grace and allow it to shape our hearts and our lives after Christ.

Discussion Questions

  • The passages mentions the Devil, which is a difficult topic for many of us. How do you tend to approach mentions of the Devil (or Satan) in scripture? Did you learn anything new from the sermon about this topic?
  • Why do you think Jesus was tempted with the ability to meet all needs, with power, and with security? Why these three things, above all others?
  • Where do you face the temptation to control (or try to control) in your life?
  • What makes it tempting to control? What makes it difficult to trust in God?
  • What helps you to deepen your trust in God?