The Message (MSG)
Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry.
The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.”
Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to really live.”
For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, “They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.”
Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”
For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone’?”
“Yes,” said Jesus, “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’”
That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.
Since most of us are unlikely to spent 40 days fasting in a desert, let’s re-imagine Jesus’ situation.
You have been out of work for over a month. It’s August in Arkansas and the air conditioning unit in your home isbroken, and you can’t afford to fix it. All that is left in your refrigerator is some ketchup, a jar of pickles and a carton of yogurt that expired two weeks ago. You want to Google if yogurt can ever really spoil and how to tell if it actually has spoiled when you realize that you haven’t paid your cell/internet/tv bundle bill, and you have no internet access or phone service.
And that’s when he walks in.
While you’re sweating bullets in a wrinkled, dirty t-shirt, he looks cool as a cucumber in a crisp white shirt with no pit stains and pants with a crease so sharp, you feel like they might cut you if you got too close.
He says he’s got a deal for you. All you gotta do is stop wearing the white hat and pick up a black one. Stop playing for team Almighty God and join team Already Gone.
The slick man opens the door of the refrigerator, and it’s magically filled with all of your favorite things to eat and drink. “Stick with me,” he says. “And this box will never be empty.” And he hands you a letter from your bank giving you the deed to your house.
“Or,’ he says “How would like to be protected from all harm for the rest of your life? No more worrying about a drunk driver swerving in to your lane, or a diagnosis of cancer or a gunman shooting up your church. I can fix it so that you will never be in danger.
“Or maybe,” he continues, “what you may want is power. Power over the kid who bullied you in elementary school, power over everyone who has ever laughed at you, power to set your own agenda and make it all happen. Power to make more money than you have ever dreamed of.
And all you have to do is ditch God and follow me.”
Could you resist? You’re tired and hot and hungry and broke and alienated, and the man with all the answers shows up. Which would be the offer that tempted you the most—the guarantee of daily necessities, the protection from danger or the promise of success?
At this point, you may be thinking that I titled the sermon incorrectly. This isn’t a story about pride and humility. It’s about temptation and resisting it.
But when we get down to the heart of the matter, it is our pride that causes us to succumb to temptation. To paraphrase the Avett Brothers, I’m not talking about the kind of pride your momma had, this actually IS the kind of pride the Bible says will turn you bad. And it’s not just the Bible that says it. The ancients came up with the seven deadly sins, but said that pride was at the root of them all. Thomas Aquinas said that the inordinate love of self is at the cause of every sin.
Just take a moment to think about the times you have been tempted to do something you knew was unethical, illegal, immoral or simply unwise. Chances are you were not tempted to do something you knew was wrong because it would benefit someone else. Sure, you might come up with a Jean Valjean story of stealing bread to feed the hungry or a John Q narrative that involves holding a hospital hostage until your son gets the medical treatment he needs, but day to day, our temptations lie in those things that benefit us. That we think will make our lives easier. That make us feel better or, more likely, look better, smarter, cooler, richer or more powerful in the eyes of others.
When temptation comes knocking, it is our own pride that tells us:
- I can manage this without really crossing any lines
- I can do this and nothing bad will happen
- I’m smart enough not to get caught, so what will it matter?
And my favorite:
- I know this is wrong, but I deserve it.
A friend of mine says that pride is knowing exactly what God wants us to do, but believing that we know better. Humility is just the opposite of that.
But when we practice humility, when we live life knowing that we, in fact, do not know more than God, then the devil has little power over us. We simply don’t need the things he/she has to offer.
Because following Jesus Christ isn’t about magic tricks that turn stones in to bread or create self-stocking refrigerators. It isn’t about counting on the angels to catch you when you fall or to block a bullet of an out of control car. It isn’t about achieving great wealth and success.
Jesus didn’t come so that we could have easy answers, safety nets and power trips. He came as a servant. A humble servant to show us the way to the life God intends for us all.
Our own journey in to the desert during these days of Lent serves to remind us that, no matter how much the devil might tempt us to believe it, no amount of retirement planning, food stockpiles, armed guards, locked gates or bullet proof doors will give us complete control over our lives.
Our lives belong to God. And when we find ourselves out of work, in a sweltering apartment with no food in the house, that last thing we want to do is make a deal with the devil. What we want to do, what we need to do, what we HOPE we will be able to do is say, “Dear God! Please get me out of this because I can’t do it on my own. And, by the way, while I’m waiting, how might I serve You while I’m here?”
So let us say no to pride and yes to humility as we walk the Lenten Road. Let us say no to living a life of pride that gives the Devil and his emissaries easy entrée into our lives, and say yes to humbly following Jesus Christ. Living a humble life will not change the devils at work in this world, but it will keep their work from changing us.
–Rev. Anne Russ