The Temptation of Christ (Part 2)

Started by Richard Johnson, February 12, 2005, 01:26:06 PM

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Richard Johnson

(continued from previous post)

In the second temptation, the devil challenges Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple. "Throw yourself down!" he says. "God will take care of you." Here Jesus is tempted to prove himself before the world. A dramatic rescue by the angels will surely convince everyone that Jesus is, in fact, the Son of God. So why not do it? It is the thing that will convince the world!

Ah, yes, the world. We're so worried about the world, and what it will think. "We've got to behave in this way, or people will think we're foolish." "We've got to soft-pedal this teaching, or the world will be turned off." The world has all kinds of ideas, and we are so often ready to take them lock, stock and barrel.  

Yet the teaching of Scripture is, again and again, that the world is deceiving. What the world says is great and wonderful and good, is so often just exactly opposite of what God intends. Think about advertisements for alcohol or tobacco. What do they suggest? Beautiful people, having a good time, enjoying life, enjoying the wonderful creation God has made—and that alcohol or tobacco is just another part of that good life! What is not shown is the reality: lives ruined by addiction, bodies wasting away from illness, the human cost of harmless pleasures.  

And so it always is with the world. The world paints a rosy picture of what life means, but the picture is so often a lie. The world misleads us. The world is not such an honest judge. Jesus responds by refusing the invitation to prove his divinity to the world. The world doesn't matter much to him, you see; what matters is God.

The third temptation is the most blatant and the most honest. "Fall down and worship me," the devil says, "and everything will be yours!" Here we get to the heart of it all.  Our sinful self and the world—those are just fronts!  It is the devil who is behind it all—that mysterious, incredible force with whom we contend each day of our lives, whose effort it is to deceive us and draw us away from God.  It is him with whom we strive.  The stronger we become spiritually, the more difficult the struggle.

But to cling to God alone—that is what Jesus does, and what we must do. It means, Luther says, "nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely." Anytime there is something else besides God demanding your complete trust—well, it is a false god, and behind it stands the one who confronts Jesus in our story this morning.

Yes, the Christian life is a struggle. Why do we have to face these temptations? Why are we so troubled by the Devil, the world, and our sinful selves? Bonhoeffer made the very profound point that these attacks against us are in fact attacks against Christ himself. Jesus defeated the devil in his temptations in the wilderness—and so now the devil continues his battle with Jesus by tempting us. We face those same temptations that Jesus faced—the devil, the world, our sinful selves, always trying to draw us away from God. But because Christ fights with us, we can overcome.

It is, of course, not possible to do it alone; but we don't face those temptations alone. We face them with Christ. He fights by our side. And because he does, we are victorious. Again Luther put it as powerfully as anyone:  

God's word forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes who fear it;
For God himself fights by our side
With weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day.
The kingdom's ours forever.


Copyright 2005 ALPB
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

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