Love and Testing, in the Wilderness

“Love and Testing, in the Wilderness”

heart - conversation, be mine

Luke 4:1-13 – February 14, 2016

Today is Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, cards, chocolates, romantic meals, all the things! Almost anywhere you go this weekend, many stores, restaurants, and other public places are full of reminders that love is in the air. My husband and I went out for lunch yesterday at a small diner, and had a wonderful time. Good food, and excellent company. I also received a dozen pink roses from my sweetheart. Sound familiar? The giving and receiving of gifts, of hearts, and of love.

At first glance, we might consider today’s Gospel reading to be considerably off-topic. No mention of hearts and love at all. Luke 4 opens with our Lord Jesus, fresh from His baptism at the very beginning of His public ministry. We are told that the Holy Spirit leads Him into the wilderness, where Jesus fasts and prays for forty days.

We will come back to the topic of love, and how it ties into Jesus and the temptation. But first, Luke says Jesus went into the wilderness. Willingly! He was led there, and chose to go there. Not dragged unwillingly or half-heartedly.

The Gospels don’t tell us so, but other religious leaders went away to prepare themselves, to get ready for leadership. I suggest that that is exactly why Jesus withdrew to a private, far-away place. Just like several other situations, and other people in the Bible. I am thinking especially of Moses, on the mountain, when he received the tablets of the Ten Commandments. He, too, fasted. And, prepared himself for leadership of the people of Israel. I suggest that Jesus is doing the same.

This period of preparation involved fasting. Luke does not mention prayer here, but I cannot imagine Jesus going for days, much less weeks, without praying to His Heavenly Father. I’ve fasted a number of times, and fasting often sharpens the spiritual ears and sensitivities.

At the end of the fasting time, Jesus was hungry. The Gospel account says so! And, who shows up at that precise time? The Devil.

A pertinent illustration from a pastor? “In confirmation classes … at Grace Lutheran Church, [the pastor] teaches the students to take the letter, d, off the word, “devil,” and you get the word, “evil.” Evil is part of our lives and we face evil every day.” [1]

You might ask whether this really is a physical Devil, or whether it was a spiritual manifestation of evil. My answer? I do not know for sure.

However, I tend to stick with the actual physical Devil. The word used here, diabolos, implies the chief of the fallen angels. According to a well-respected commentary, “Luke consistently uses diabolos while Matthew mingles “Satan” and “devil” in his version of the story. Evil was conceived as a personal will actively hostile to God. (see Luke 13:16). The devil was in conflict with God’s purpose of salvation; he is the concern of Jesus’ saving activity.” [2]

I am going to go with the actual, physical Devil, the ruler of this fallen world. At the time that Jesus is physically very weak, the Devil shows up. And, he tempts Jesus, big time!

What on earth does this Gospel reading have to do with Valentine’s Day? What does it have to do with hearts, and with love? Stay tuned.

Here in my hands is a heart. A Valentine’s Day heart. I mentioned that my husband gave me a dozen lovely pink roses yesterday. I gave him a Valentine card that mentioned my heart. It said my heart belonged to my husband, my sweetheart.

Let’s go back to Jesus, and the Devil. The Devil was tempting Jesus in several important ways! First, he mentions Jesus’s hunger. How much more obvious could you get? “Come on, Son of God. You’re so hungry. You can do it. No one will ever see—You can turn these stones to bread. With just a snap of Your fingers or a wave of Your hand. You know You want to…”

What did the Devil want Jesus to do? To put His stomach first! Not God first, but Jesus’s own needs, wants and desires. The Devil was tempting Jesus with hunger.

What was Jesus’s response? He did not even waver: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Jesus was in the wilderness to prepare for leadership, and to do the will of God—not to be selfish and self-centered.

I suspect the Devil did not leave Jesus alone for a minute. Immediately after tempting Him with bread (or the possibility of bread), the Devil turns to another seductive temptation. Reading, starting at verse 5: “The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Jesus, “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.”

Wow! Such a temptation! Jesus could take a big, huge short-cut. He could be king of the world immediately! He didn’t have to go through any unpleasant, uncomfortable pain and anguish. No unpleasantness, for years. No tramping through Israel, followed by a rag-tag bunch of disciples. Plus, Jesus knew He would make an absolutely wonderful King. How tempting!

But, no. No! Jesus knew that He would be forcing people to do things against their will. Jesus knew that many, many people would either be slaves or robots to Him. “I – love – you – because – I – am – programmed – to say – I – love – you.” No! Jesus didn’t want us to be slaves. He wanted our love – freely!

And, more, besides. How did Jesus answer the Devil? “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

The last temptation? “The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” (With the understanding that God’s angels would save Jesus at the last second.)

Whoa! What a spectacle! What a publicity stunt that would be! Can you imagine? Except with Jesus, it would be for real. His answer to the Devil? Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

This Valentine I’m holding represents Jesus’s heart. What did the Devil want Him to do, in all three of these temptations? The Devil wanted Jesus to put His heart somewhere else. Wanted Jesus to give His heart not to God the Father, but instead to stuff. To the cheers of the crowd. To food and satisfying His stomach. But, Jesus knew where His heart belonged. Jesus knew that His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, just like His love. .

As for us today, the Devil and the power of evil still keeps trying to pull us away from God. Evil wants to destroy us! Destroy our faith in God, our love for each other, and the goodness of God living in our hearts. But, if evil can cause us to be miserable and unhappy, if evil can make us forget God, that is the next best thing.

The Devil wants us to take our hearts away from God, and instead just give them to him. Or his minions. Or, to power, or money, or things. Just as long as our hearts and love are not directed to God! That is the Devil’s worst nightmare.

While He was here on earth, Jesus made sure His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, And, He advised us on where our hearts ought to be, too. Loving God.

This giant Valentine heart I’m holding is a conversation heart. Can we think of it as a Valentine from Jesus? On one side, it says “Be mine.” On the other, it says “I’m yours.”

Who—or what—do we give our hearts to?

 

[1] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_the_tempation_GA.htm Rev. Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church Des Moines, Washington 98198

[2] Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Study Hardback edition. London: Geoffrey Chapman 1995

I’d like to give a big thank you to Carolyn C. Brown for her wonderful worship ideas from Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey. Pursuing PEACE. And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

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