Faith Lutheran Church, Bagley, MN
February 21, 2010/Lent 1
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Once upon a time there was a mean mother. When her teenage son asked to borrow the family car for a hot date on Saturday night , this mean mother said “Yes, of course!”
But then, when Saturday rolled around, and the lad actually got into the car to go pick up his girlfriend for a night on the town, he discovered that his mean mother had plastered the inside of the car with a whole bunch of post-it notes. There were notes on the dashboard, notes on the rear-view mirror, notes on the passenger-side door, notes inside the glove compartment, even notes in the backseat.
And all the notes said the same thing: “Remember who you are.”
What a mean mother! All those notes simply spoiled all the fun the boy was hoping to have that Saturday night.
Remember who you are.
It’s as if Jesus has that same message, Super-Glued to his own forehead, here in this story of his temptation from Luke, chapter 4.
Remember who you are! Remember what the voice from heaven told you, when you were baptized: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
Remember who you are, Jesus…..because when the Evil One comes a-calling, he’s going to attack precisely that—your God-given, God-driven identity.
And here in this story that’s exactly what the devil does. He doesn’t sidle up to Jesus with a box of chocolates, a carton of smokes, a bottle of booze, or a fistful of Playboys. The devil doesn’t waste his time with such petty crimes or misdemeanors.
No the devil goes right after Jesus big-time. The devil heads for Jesus’ jugular, calling Jesus to account from the very center of his being.
In fact, the devil makes three attempts to knock Jesus off-kilter here. Breezing right by the little temptations that beset us, the devil makes a beeline for the Big Question, launching each of his assaults on Jesus with the same phrase: “If you are the Son of God…”
Please notice that word, “if.” It’s the devil’s favorite word. Because whenever an opponent hurls an “if” at us—it’s meant to get us off-balance, to make us wonder, to stir up doubt about ourselves and doubt about our God.
“If you are the Son of God…” the devil starts out, and then he just keeps coming at Jesus, like waves of attack by an enemy army--always with an “if” on his lips, always trying to throw Jesus off-kilter at the center of his being.
So, Jesus is hungry—beyond hungry, actually. Jesus is famished. And the devil offers a quick fix: “Just rustle up some bread, Jesus! Here are stones—you can snap your fingers and produce bread, Jesus. Why not?”
But Jesus doesn’t fall for that. If he is the Son of the one true God…he serves others before self. He is the Son of the God who gives freely, with an open hand, satisfying the needs of others first—always looking to others, not to himself. “Feed your face first” is never the starting point for Jesus, the Son of the one true God.
The devil has a Plan B ready to go, though. He rockets up into the stratosphere with Jesus, revealing to Jesus an easy way to reach his goal right now—to have authority over all the kingdoms of the world with one small bow, one simple act of submission to the Tempter. “If you are the Son of God, Jesus, the way of the Cross need not be your only way. You can improvise. Surely you can get to the goal sooner, easier, safer.”
But once again Jesus is not bamboozled. He says “No” to the option of mutiny--even if it eventually will cost him his life. Jesus will not falter or take any detours on the only path to the Kingdom that God his Father has set out for him. Jesus will reign over all—but only by way of the Cross.
“Never mind,” mutters the devil, who’s on to Plan C. “If you are the Son of God, do something that will knock their socks off! Put yourself at risk. Hand yourself over to the angels. Dazzle the people with a death-defying show that will compel them to follow you.”
But Jesus once more refuses the devil’s offer. Jesus knows who he is—the Son of the one true God who relies not on brute force…but who relies solely on self-emptying love, to win the hearts of his people. Jesus will do something amazing and awe-inspiring…something not death-defying but death-embracing!
Jesus will stretch out his arms at the Cross and wrap himself around sinners, offering them—offering us!--God’s fierce freedom and full forgiveness. Jesus will place himself into the hands of the angels and he will go down—down to the grave, that is, “for us and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed). By his saving work Jesus will declare to us—loud and clear—that “if God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)
So the devil tosses in the towel, at least for the time being.
Here’s where St. Luke’s version of this story is unique, though. Unlike the versions of the temptation story in Matthew’s or Mark’s gospel…Luke’s story concludes on this ominous note: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time” (v. 13).
Testing….testing of Jesus….would continue, throughout his short life. Testing would intensify in the final week of Jesus’ earthly sojourn. That’s the kind of Savior we have, dear friends, a Savior who (according to the Book of Hebrews) “in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus was tested “in every respect…as we are, yet without sin.” What does that mean? If Jesus’ temptation reflects the temptations you and I also face—what does this story tell us?
First, we can count on being tested in our lives of faith. If you imagine, even for a second, that being Christian makes everything easier and better—guess again! When we are baptized, when we believe the gospel, when we’re joined to Jesus Christ for life….we find ourselves in the devil’s cross-hairs.
And the deeper we’re drawn into the life of faith, the worse it will probably get. I think that’s because the devil likes a challenge…and he doesn’t really need to waste his time on persons who are already in his hip pocket.
Second, expect to be tested not mainly on the easy stuff, the small sins—but expect to be tested at the core of your being. What makes you tick? Where do you hang your hope? Who is the One to whom you’ve entrusted yourself? What are you counting on from God?
There, right there, is where the devil aims his slings and arrows. That’s why our watchword must be NOT “obey all the rules” BUT RATHER: “Remember who you are.” Remember who God has called you to be. Remember your baptism into Jesus Christ. Remember who has saved and freed you. Remember who stands at the end of the road—remember who the future belongs to.
In one of the parishes I served there was a man dying of cancer. He had led sort of a rough life. In his younger years he drank too much and didn’t always treat his wife and children well. As the cancer overwhelmed him, he was beset by guilt and doubt. He even had vivid dreams of the devil coming to get him when he died. “I can see him—he’s pointing at me, saying that he’s coming for me,” the man told me toward the end.
And so I told this man the truth. I proclaimed to him the devil had no claim on him. The devil is a liar and a cheat and a goner. Jesus, not the devil was coming for him. Jesus had sunk his hooks into this man when he was baptized, and Jesus was not going to lose him to the devil—Jesus was never going to let him go.
Third, and finally, we can lay claim to a whole arsenal of defenses against the lies and temptations of the Evil One. We have the same Word that Jesus hurled at the devil three times. We have Jesus himself—the Word made flesh. We have the Word that has been proclaimed to us—the hope of the gospel. And we have the written Word, the same written Word of God that our Lord quoted three times here—the same Word that sent Satan scurrying.
This past week, on Ash Wednesday, we heard one of the most honest things the Bible tells us: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
But in that same act, with the sooty smudge on our foreheads, we also heard the most hopeful thing the Bible tells us: “Remember who you are—sons and daughters of God, sisters and brothers of Christ who has his hooks into you and who will not, absolutely will not let you go.”
Lawrence Robert Wohlrabe was born in Mankato, MN. He graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and Luther Seminary, St. Paul. Luther Seminary awarded him a Doctor of Ministry degree with distinction.
Ordained in 1981, he served parishes in Willmar, MN; St. James, MN; and Moorhead, MN. He was also on the staff of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, and the SW MN Synod ELCA, Redwood Falls, MN. Larry was elected bishop of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod on June 10, 2007. He was re-elected bishop of the synod, to a second 6-year term on June 7, 2013.
Larry's wife, Joy, is retired after working many years as a hospital and hospice social worker. They have two young adult children, Erik and Kristen (married to Aaron) and two grandchildren, Olivia and Micah. Note: the views expressed here are Bishop Wohlrabe's views--not those of the NW MN Synod.