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Identity Theft

March 10, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation on this first weekend in the solemn season of Lent is our Gospel lesson, specifically where Luke records, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.” This quote is taken from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel that’s over 125 years old at this point, and the line, spoken by one of the antagonists, the hedonistic Lord Henry, epitomizes what we usually think of as temptation. Often, we think of it as the desire to do something we know we ought not to do, usually because it is wrong or unwise or evil, but something we want to do nonetheless. Usually, we think of temptation as something we are tempted toward, an evil that our sinful flesh craves and desires. However, there is temptation of another sort: one that we see here in our Gospel text. It’s the temptation away from what is good.

In order to understand why we’re considering our text in this light, we need to look at the context of our Gospel lesson. See, immediately before out text is, surprisingly, not Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River. Unlike Matthew and Mark, who both record Jesus’s baptism rolling right into His war in the wilderness, Luke takes a brief aside in his account right after Jesus’s baptism to introduce us to the Messiah’s heritage – going backwards. The evangelist starts with His earthly father, Joseph, and traces all the way back to the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. And in His baptism in the Jordan, we hear the voice of God the Father booming, “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” Luke is emphasizing for us just Who Jesus is, what His identity is: the Son of God, the only One Who actually does the Father’s will perfectly. And that’s precisely what Satan wants to tempt Jesus away from. If you will, he wants to steal Jesus identity away from Him, just like he did with the first Adam.

Now, our text picks up after Luke’s genealogical aside, and he tells us that Jesus has been led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He’s been out here for forty days, and He’s been fasting from food the entire time. Understandably, He’s hungry. And it is at this point that the devil launches his first assault.

“If you are the Son of God,” he says, “command this stone to become bread.” Food isn’t a bad thing. And You’re hungry, right? So, if You’re the Son of God, certainly the Father wouldn’t want You to be hungry, right? You’ve certainly got the right, the authority, the ability to do this. And it’s not like the Law commands fasting, so why do it in the first place? Why suffer needlessly, especially knowing the extreme suffering You could prospectively be experiencing soon? You don’t need this; just do it. Make these stones bread. Help Yourself out; You’re not doing Yourself any favors. Show us … if You really are the Son of God, as the heavenly Father has said.

Jesus isn’t taking the bait. He retorts back at the devil, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,’” citing Deuteronomy. He turns aside this temptation by falling back upon the Word of God, the revealed will of the Father. And that’s the end of that temptation.

But the devil’s not deterred. In rather dramatic fashion, undoubtedly something incredible to behold, Luke tells us that the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to Him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If You, then, will worship me, it will all be Yours.” This is what You’re after, isn’t it, Jesus? To win all the nations to Yourself, to be the hope of the nations that the Father promised to Abraham so many years ago? Well, here they are. They are Yours for the taking. Take the easy route to redeem Your people; I know that’s what You want, right? To redeem Your people? Well, when they’re under Your authority, You can make them do whatever You want! The nations will be Yours! Make no mistake – right now, they belong to me, but I can give them to whomever I wish. And I wish to give them to You. All You gotta do… is worship me. It’s not that hard – just get down on Your knees, bow down, and give me the honor, the praise, the glory that You now give to Your Father. That’s all You gotta do, and the nations will be Yours! Think of it: no suffering, no cross, no death. It’ll all be Yours, without al that pain and sacrifice! See and worship me as God, and it’s all Yours.

Again, Jesus isn’t buying it. He simply answers, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” There is no other god aside from YHWH, so to worship something (or someone) else as God is simply unthinkable for the Son of God. And that’s the end of that temptation.

The devil ain’t done yet, though. Luke tells us that the devil then took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said 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 guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” See, I know the Scriptures too, Jesus, and the Scriptures promise that it will be well with You. The Father has promised that He will protect You. If You’re the Son of God, He won’t allow You to crash into the pavement below! If You’re His Son, there’s no way He’d let that happen! But what are You here for, Jesus? Aren’t You here to attract a following, to gather disciples? What better way to gather them than with a glorious, divine display, showing us exactly Who You think You are? That’d really show us! That’d really show us exactly what the Father thinks of You, if, in fact, You are His Son!

To this final temptation, Jesus simply answers, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” It is that simple. And with that, Jesus’s identity is still intact. Unlike our first Parents, He did not fall for the devil’s deception and cunning. Thus, the devil slinks away, having lost the battle but thinking he might salvage this situation by waiting and watching until an opportune time, which will come about three years later … in that same holy city of Jerusalem.

Try as the devil might, he could not dissuade Jesus from being Who He was (and is): the Son of God. That means that He’s not going to choose a different way, an easier way to accomplish His mission. As the Son of God, He would do things according to the Father’s will ... even if the Father’s will included beatings, scourgings, mocking, spitting, bleeding, and dying. This was the reason why He was born: to open the kingdom of God to all who believe … by suffering and dying the death that we deserve. He lives out His life as the Son of God, obedient to the Father, to the point of death … even death on a cross. Unlike Adam, who sought to be like God at the behest of the devil, Jesus would not forsake His divine identity, in spite of the promptings of the devil.

Let’s face it: in considering these temptations that Jesus faced, we’re confronted with the reality that we would fail in miserable fashion at each and every one of these points. It really didn’t take much imagination for me to think of what the devil would have been thinking as he was trying to tempt Jesus. That’s because I’m a sinner, and I cave to temptation more often than I’d care to admit. And you do too. But Jesus did not. Even in His hunger, His victory against the temptations of the devil are so complete that the devil has to retreat until an opportune time. And here’s the best part: in the waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus has given you a new identity, one defined by His righteousness. In those blessed waters, as you entered into Jesus’s death along with Him, all your sin was washed away. Thanks to His obedience unto death on Calvary’s tree, you and I are declared to be righteous! That’s our identity now, even though we still sin. As sinners, we cave to temptation all too often. Thanks be to God that Jesus did not!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Luke 4:1-13