Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Psalm 91.1-2,9-16; Romans 10.8b-13; Luke 4.1-13
Our stories today ended with the story of Jesus in the wilderness. Right after his baptism but before he begins his ministry is a story of wilderness and temptation that for us, sheds important light on Jesus’ identity and purpose.
We too, have been to the wilderness. When we feel dry and lonely and hungry, we are in the wilderness. When we feel lost, afraid, and desperate for clarity, we are in the wilderness. Yet as much as it is a difficult place to be, the challenge of being in the wilderness it can re-focus us, help us define who we are. Some of the most difficult and trying times in our lives are the ones that have shaped us the most.
Jesus‘ purpose is clarified in his time in the wilderness. The author of the gospel of Luke, in the three chapters preceding this one, has made it abundantly clear that Jesus truly is the Son of God, the Savior. But what does that mean for him? For the world?
In Jesus’ refusal to give into Satan’s temptations, we learn that Jesus is not the Messiah people were expecting. At that time, some Jews were expecting the Messiah to re-establish the nation of Israel and therefore overthrow their Roman overlords. Some were expecting a priestly messiah who would purify the worship of Israel. Some were expecting someone who was a prophet like Moses. Many, if not all, were expecting something grand and spectacular.
And so, before Jesus’ ministry begins, the author of Luke make abundantly clear that Jesus’ purpose as the Savior and Son of God has nothing to do with theatrical demonstrations that have no purpose other than to show off or grab more power. Jesus’ identity and purpose instead will center on faithfulness to God that does not leave room for compromise with Satan or concession to popular demands.
We learn that Jesus’ faithfulness to God, God’s word, and God’s mission is paramount. None of the tests that Satan puts Jesus through ask him to do anything inherently bad. For example, turning stone to bread would meet the physical needs of a very hungry Jesus. Later in his ministry, Jesus will use his power to multiply loaves enough to feed thousands. The difference here is that failing Satan’s tests, giving in to the temptations, would be unfaithful to God’s mission. Jesus multiplies the loaves for the sake of the world, not for himself.
This story is not one of Jesus narrowly escaping Satan by trickery or stamina. Jesus passes this test because he is remaining faithful to God’s word and God’s mission. The only words he speaks aloud during his exchange with Satan are direct quotes from the book of Deuteronomy. It may seem that Satan has the upper hand in contrast to a weakened and hungry Jesus, but in reality, Jesus, who has the Holy Spirit with him, is able to draw on the strength and promise of God’s word even while wasting away in the wilderness. Three times Jesus chooses not his own deliverance, but faithfulness to God’s mission. Jesus does not use the power that comes with being the Son of God for his own relief or comfort, he uses it for the world - for us, because that is God’s mission for him - to use his power in unexpected, counter-cultural ways for the sake of all God’s creation. Jesus will always choose us before himself.
While in this story we see an example of how to live our lives, especially in the face of temptation - we must remember that we are not Jesus. No matter how hard we try, we will never live a sinless, blameless, perfect life. Jesus does, but we cannot. We should absolutely follow Jesus’ example and put others first, we should absolutely take the guidance of Scripture seriously - just because our salvation is securely in the hands of a loving God does not mean we can ignore the call to be a part of God’s mission.
But we also must let go of perfect. This story forces us to marvel at what Jesus does in the wilderness, not for himself, but for us. He resists ALL the temptations, he never wavers from God, God’s word, or God’s mission. Where Israel has failed, Jesus succeeds. Where Moses has failed, Jesus succeeds. Where we fail, Jesus succeeds.
When we find ourselves in the wilderness, we can find comfort in the fact the Jesus has been there too. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, we can find strength in the fact that no matter where we go, even in the most barren of places, God’s promise holds strong. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, we can be assured that never, not for a moment, will God stop doing all God does for the sake of the world, for us. For we are God’s beloved, and nothing - no temptation, to test, no attempt to deceive, will ever distract God from showering fervent, unstoppable love on all creation.