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Wed, Apr 03, 2019

Lifted by Angels

Duration:16 mins 31 secs

Our theme for these Wednesday night Lenten services is “In the Wilderness” and this evening we complete our slow walk through the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness as we encounter it in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, verses 1-13. We have considered our own place in the wilderness and the delusions and corrupting of our desires by the devil. We have faced the first two temptations - what we feed ourselves and our faith and where we look for power and worship. Tonight, we hear the last of three temptations Jesus faced; temptations that perhaps we face as well as we seek to be children of God. Let us hear this Word of God in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, verses 9-13.

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’
11 and
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

It is amazing how scripture continually reveals new insights to us, especially as we read familiar passages again and again. So perhaps because of our “In the Wilderness” theme for these Lenten services or maybe because today is the final service in this series or perhaps because I have read Luke 4:1-13 so many times over the last several months, but as I was preparing for this homily something hit me.

The last temptation is not in the wilderness.

Have you noticed that before?

In the first temptation, the devil tells Jesus he should turn a stone into bread. Obviously in the wilderness.

For the second temptation, the devil leads Jesus up and in an instant shows him all the kingdoms of the world. It is a vision, but still obviously in the wilderness.

But the last temptation is not just a vision. They leave the wilderness. “The devil took Jesus to Jerusalem.” He places him on the pinnacle of the temple, before all the crowds, before all the religious leaders, maybe even before Pilate and the Romans soldiers. The devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem and says something like:

So you’re not going to be the kind of Messiah who gets people to like him with bribes and gifts, like free food. And you’re not going to be the kind of Messiah who takes and uses power to accomplish what he wants either. Well, then what about this? We’re up here in Jerusalem, the center of the religious universe, “Since you are the Son the God, throw yourself down for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” See, Jesus, I can quote from the Bible too.

Now, since you are the Son of God, you know this is the age of entertainment. People want to see something spectacular or they will go looking elsewhere. The important thing is to get people’s attention right? Because if they’re not there, they’ll never hear what you have to say. If you throw yourself off the temple and the angels come and lift you up, you can bet that everyone will be talking. You’ll have to speak on mountains and in fields because there won’t be room for everyone who comes to hear you. This temple thing, it’s just a little stunt to get you started. Remember, even the Bible says it’s ok. What could possibly be wrong with that? ...

No, the temptations do not stay in the wilderness. We are tempted not just in moments of trial or great fantasy. No, temptation is perhaps most seductive in the midst of everyday life. The church is supposed to get as many people as possible to hear about Jesus, right? Shouldn’t we do everything we can possibly think of to bring people in the door? We have to compete with the glitz and the glamor all around us, right?

We live in an instant gratification world; a visual image driven world; a new is always better world.

And we have an old, old story about the Son of God on the pinnacle of a temple that was knocked down almost two thousand years ago.

And it’s not just churches facing this kind of temptation. Do you ever feel the pressure in your own life? Pressure, as someone posted the other day, “to make your life as good as it looks on Facebook and Instagram.” Do you feel it? Pressure to grow your business by whatever means necessary? Pressure to ensure your kids are excellent in all things by helicopter parenting or snow plow parenting if necessary? Pressure to get your house cleaned before Masters so that it looks like no one actually lives there the entire rest of the year?

Surely in the midst of our crazy, everyday life, we could use a Messiah with a little razzle dazzle, right? A few stunts to lift our eyes toward the heavens.

But in the midst of the city, with all eyes on him, Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Yes, my friends, the tests do not come just in the wilderness; not only when we are we weak and weary. The test also comes when we are busy and overwhelmed with regular everyday life. That is the real test of our faithfulness. That is when we need the light of the world to break into our darkness. That is when we need the peace that passes all understanding to guard our hearts and minds. That is when we need the love that never fails to gather us up and carry us home.

And that is the kind of Messiah that God sent us in Jesus Christ. Not with razzle dazzle, not with angels lifting him up from the cross, but with all encompassing, self-giving love our Messiah saves the world. In the wilderness and as we emerge back to everyday life, I pray that we will ignore the spectacle and keep our eyes firmly on Him.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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