First Sunday of Lent – March 10, 2019
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 and Luke 4:1-13
Harry Houdini (who lived from 1874-1926) was an expert at sleight of hand. He was best known for his ability to escape from what seemed to be impossible situations. Straitjackets, chains, ropes, jail cells, every time he managed to escape from the situation in full view of his audience.
What did him in, however, was the blow he never saw coming. While reclining on a couch backstage after a performance he was asked by a couple of college students if he could withstand a punch to the stomach. When he answered that he could for sure, one of the students surprised him by actually punching him several times. These blows caught him off guard, and seem to have ruptured an already aggravated appendix. Houdini died a week later.
The blow you never see coming is the one that can be the most dangerous. We might rightly be afraid of such blows.
The Holy Spirit led Jesus was led into the desert to fast for forty days, and after this He was tempted by none other than the devil, it was a diabolical attack on Jesus’ integrity. Couldn’t the temptation come at a time when He was stronger? Shouldn’t Jesus get a break? 1)
The devil certainly tried to test Jesus at a weak point, much like Houdini was tested at a weak point. What we read about here, is a contest between the forces of good and evil, between the heavenly and the evil underworld. This is looking at it from the side of Jesus.
Turning to the devil in this confrontation, we can look at it from that perspective as well. In baseball we also have the phrase “strike three you’re out!” The batter dreads this being said the most. Not only does it mean that you didn’t perform the way you were expected, it also means that you have just taken one chance off your team to score a run in an inning. Simply put, you failed.
Such was the case when the devil tempted Jesus three times. As in baseball, he had three chances of scoring a victory run. In all three times he failed. Like a struck out batter, all he can do is admit defeat and walk the slow agonizing walk of shame back to the dugout.
Does this mean the devil has been defeated? Absolutely not! In baseball, a batter could have three or more chances of redeeming himself after being struck out. A game has nine innings before defeat or victory is declared. But unlike baseball, the devil is not limited to nine innings in the game of life. He can, and will, continue to come back time and time again to try to hit a homerun and claim victory over Jesus.
The three temptations that Jesus experienced were undeniably dangerous and all out to contest his power. Clearly, the two of them, Jesus and the devil were of two totally different categories.
The temptations directed towards Jesus were however, in a totally different realm than the ones we experience. It was completely different, not in a single way to be compared to our earthly temptations. We are often so quick in switching the focus from Jesus’ trials to ours. It is as if we pretend we could hold our own against the kind of troublesome trials that Jesus faced. As if we would be able to pass these three enticements and shape-up as much as our Lord. Of course, the liturgical timing for Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness tends to accentuate this comparison. Lent has its history of suggesting that the next five weeks should be about examining those things in our lives that tempt us — and to give them up for this very same reason. And, if you don’t give up something for Lent, well, just what kind of Christian are you?
But, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is Jesus’ temptation alone, not ours. This is a drama unfolding in Luke’s gospel. It is about powers that are at play, yes, Satanic powers that are mysteriously making full-blown efforts to push back Jesus’ ministry from happening. This is where we see God’ incursion into Satan’s territory. There just is no compromise. There is no power-sharing solution that is going to happen. Humanity is being redeemed from all the brokenness that there is in this world. This is what Jesus is about in Luke chapter four. The stage is being set that the evil forces will have literally no say in the drama that is unfolding. We are mere human beings, we can not even begin to replicate something of this temptation fighting thing. We can give up what we want for Lent, but we just won’t get to use Jesus as a reason for doing so. 2)
How does this help us? Our identity might indeed be something to focus on. Who we are as children of God, might actually be the real discernment. Perhaps there is this one parallel between Jesus’ testing in the wilderness and the tests of our own lives. It may in fact be the identity test — that who you are, who you have chosen to be, who God has called you to be, seems to be a truth that is tested often. In fact, every, single, day.
Others seem to have a better perspective on who you are. Others seem quite eager to comment on who you need to be. Others seem to have answers for or advice about who you should be. And we have a tendency to put our faith in those others rather than ourselves, rather than God.
Being a saved child of God, one that may have many shortcomings that has once and for all been redeemed by the work of God that happened in Christ.
Nobody has the right to take your peace away. Be it a sibling, a coworker, an employer, a landlord, or a spouse. God sent God’s own Son to give you a brand-new identity, to be a new creation.
Who is going to strike us? Yes, the blows might indeed come, but they have been conquered. Evil may want to disturb your inner peace.
It is easy doubting our identity as people claimed by God; wondering if God really meant what God said, “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” To claim to be a Christian means that a significant component of your identity is that you are a child of God. Do you believe it? Does it make a difference for your life? Or, do you allow the strings of others to pull you away from living your identity, this identity that is determined not by the intentions of others but by God’s love?
Don’t give in. Don’t fall for it. Instead, trust that you have already passed the identity test and decide that this Lent your life will be different because of it.
1) From a sermon by Frank Ramirez on sermons.com “Hit me with your best shot”
2) Karoline Lewis, “Identity test” on workingpreacher.org
Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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