Sunday, February 17, 2013

Temptation (Luke 4:1-13)

When the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was like us in that he was tempted, but was without sin, this story probably comes to mind. We can be sure that Jesus faced many temptations during his life -- not Gibbs-slapping the disciples every waking moment comes to mind -- but these are three that we know in detail.

And interestingly enough, they share a similarity at their core, even though there are three of them. They share that same core with the temptation that Adam and Eve faced as well, and by now you might not be surprised that they share the same core with the temptations we face in our lives. Ol' Scratch turns out to be something of a one-trick pony. He's plenty good at that trick, and we fall for it often enough he doesn't have to try many others, but it's still just the one trick.

Satan makes three runs at Jesus -- turn stones into bread, jump off a building and prove his divinity and acknowledge Satan as lord in order to receive power over the kingdoms of the earth. In each of those, what Satan wants Jesus to do is to define for himself what kind of Messiah he will be. Jesus fasts from physical food so God can fill him spiritually. He undergoes the hardships of human existence, including the humiliating agony of the cross, rather than only pretend to be human and gain fame through fantastic stunts. And he will accept only what God gives him, rather than seek his own way or some imitation offered by someone else.

In each refusal, Jesus abides by what God calls his Messiah to be rather than what he or someone else thinks the Messiah should be. He will not act as though he knows better than God what he should be doing.

Adam and Eve faced the same temptation. Remember what the serpent says to Eve when she tells him they can't eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge? She says if they eat it they'll die, but the serpent says they won't die. God doesn't want them eating of it because if they do they'll know what God knows and they can be their own Gods. They won't need him or depend on him and he doesn't want that. They can know better than God what's best for their own lives.

I imagine if we look at the temptations we face we will find a similar idea at their roots. We know right from wrong and we know we're told not to do wrong, but we come up with all kinds of reasons as to why what's "wrong" isn't really wrong for us. We know better than God does what we should be doing. We can be God for ourselves.

And we know how well that works, if by "well" we mean "incredibly poorly." When we buy the lie that we can give ourselves an identity better than the identity God gave us, we found ourselves instead the owners of an identity that's much worse. We though we could make ourselves God, but we found out we only made ourselves losers. Having tempted us, Satan now takes his pleasure at reminding us we bought a lie, and rejoices at every chance to remind us that we are sinners, impure and unclean in the face of a pure and holy God.

You may have been given a name of some kind when you were younger, or maybe even still, that sticks with you. Rather than uplift you or give you an identity to aspire to, it just drags you down and reminds you of some failure or characterstic that embarasses you.

Jesus resisted temptation because he knew that God had already defined him. He didn't need to redefine himself or to allow Satan to offer some other picture of who he was. He knew who he was, and he rooted his identity in God and God's picture of him. He didn't seek a name for himself, but allowed God to name him.

Because he did, we have our knowledge and assurance that God will define us too. We can ignore the names that weigh us down or cause us to think God wouldn't bother with us because God has already named us. We don't have to try to boost our own identity in some artificial way because God has given us an identity.

He calls us forgiven sons and daughters. And that, indeed, sounds like good news to me.

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