(Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Psalm 32, Romans 5:12-19)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/jX-Sc_Fv3pM)
4Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ 7Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’ 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
What an interesting encounter Jesus has out in the wilderness! As if he wasn’t going through absolute misery starving himself for forty days, he must endure this great temptation from Satan at the end of it. The starvation is horrible enough but then to have food and power dangled in front of you…who among us could withstand such agony?! I’ve been some pretty hardened people in my time but the suffering that Jesus goes through from the very start of his ministry to the end of it on the cross is tenfold. I imagine few among us could say we have endured the amount of suffering that Jesus did in those short 3 years. And his temptation in the wilderness was only the start of his suffering. Time and time again Jesus was tested by both the situations he found himself in and the people he was surrounded by. Surely it wasn’t an easy ministry! From the moment he was publicly revealed as God’s beloved Son, Jesus was thrown into situations with people that worked to tear him down and destroy him. The world didn’t know what to do with Jesus. The world wouldn’t accept that Jesus just might be better than it. Jesus was in the world but he wasn’t of the world, as we as Christians are called to be.
As agonizing an encounter this must have been for Jesus, it also was an essential encounter that needed to happen right at the start of his ministry. Jesus needed to go out into the wilderness immediately after his baptism to wrap his mind around what had just happened. Jesus could no longer live a life of relative obscurity. He could no longer lay low in his father’s carpentry shop, pretending to be someone he wasn’t. Jesus was much too big of a person to stay in the shadows. It was only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, would have thrust him into the public’s eye. But even so, his dramatic entrance called for a not-so-dramatic time of reflection in wilderness. Perhaps Jesus needed some alone time to connect or re-connect with his heavenly Father before setting out on his 3-year ministry. Perhaps Jesus needed some more time of being unknown and the only way he could get it was in the wilderness. Whatever his reasoning, Jesus’ trip into the wilderness was an important first step if only to experience the wilderness that so many of us find ourselves in at some point in life. Jesus went into the wilderness, not because he wanted to but because he had to. But who among us wants to go into the various wildernesses of this world? Who among us likes going into the unknown? I can’t imagine too many of us wants to or likes going into the wilderness.
Jesus goes into the wilderness and has this encounter with Satan that, in its own way, also reveals qualities of Jesus that were relatively unknown by most people. The encounter reveals a character and integrity in Jesus that is not easily swayed. The encounter reveals an endurance that is not easily broken. Perhaps most importantly, the encounter reveals a discipline and obedience that is not easily ignored. Forty days in the wilderness is a long time for any person to endure with little or no food. Satan’s three temptations are especially difficult to resist in such deprivation and fatigue. Yet Jesus endures and resists, in part due to strong integrity and character but primarily because of strong discipline and obedience. Jesus could endure his great suffering because he was disciplined and obeyed his Father. No doubt his Father called him into the wilderness. Jesus only did what his Father commanded him to do. Jesus, not unlike you or me, would have resisted going into the wilderness had anyone else asked him to go into it. But his discipline and obedience allowed him to go into that wilderness and suffer.
Indeed, it is Jesus’ obedience that sets him apart from Adam as we heard from our first lesson. Adam had a similar encounter with Satan and temptation yet somehow was unable to resist. Why? Did Adam not have the same character or integrity as Jesus? Was Adam any less loved by God than Jesus was by the Father? Well, judging by the shame he felt for having eaten from the tree we are left to deduce that Adam had strong character and integrity. Of course, his blaming of Eve doesn’t say much about his loyalty! But at least his character and integrity seem relatively strong. And though Jesus is the Father’s beloved Son, God seemed to love Adam like a son so any sense of favoritism is unwarranted. No, what distinguished Jesus from Adam was a stronger discipline and obedience. Jesus simply obeyed better! It’s just that simple! We are all children of God yet some of us simply obey better! We listen and respond the way God wants us to listen and respond. We might have terrible character or integrity but because we listen and obey, we are set apart for a different relationship with the Father. Life seems to reward those who obey more than those who disobey. Life seems a little easier, a little smoother, a little more fruitful for those who not only listen to God but heed his will. God has blessed each of us with a free will. We can choose to do right from wrong, good from bad. God’s way is always the right way, always the good way, but we don’t have to choose his way. We can choose the wrong way, the bad way, and God won’t love us any less. It grieves God to see us choose the wrong way though. God only wants the best for each of us. God doesn’t want us harmed by the forces of this world. God is not unlike any loving parent—He only wants the best with little to no harm. Just because He wants the best for us doesn’t mean He won’t allow us to choose to listen and heed his will.
Mind you, life in this world is hard. There’s no getting around this reality. Life was hard for Adam after he ate from the tree and life was hard for Jesus after he was baptized. Yet somehow there is a joy that is found in choosing to obey God’s will. There is a peace that allows us to endure the hardships of this world. There is an acceptance of suffering as a necessary means for bringing us closer to God. It isn’t the only means but it certainly serves this purpose–to bring us closer to God. Obedience opens the doors to joy and peace and acceptance. Obedience frees us from the senseless agony of this world. Obedience gives answers. Obedience gives purpose.
Peter T. Forsythe once remarked, “The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master.” I especially like his remark because it acknowledges both the gift of free will and the gift of having a master. Believe it or not, we ALL serve a master in life but we also have the gift of choosing which master we serve. We can choose to serve our bosses, our spouses, our children, our bodies, our health, our money, our time, or any number of things. And we all can choose to serve God or not to serve God, to obey or not to obey. It is important to choose which master you want to serve as we heard in that quote. In making that choice, keep in mind that all those masters I just mentioned (i.e. bosses, spouses, children, bodies, health, money, and time) have the potential for not always looking out for what’s best for you. They all serve their own masters as well. However, God is always looking out for what’s best for you! God doesn’t serve any other master so He won’t ever be compelled to not look out for what’s best for you. God has always got your back!
As we set about our Lenten pilgrimage, let us remember Forsythe’s wisdom and seek out the right master for our lives. Once we find Him, let us set about the task of offering our completely disciplined obedience. This season of Lent is a perfect time to assess who our masters are. Are we serving God in our daily living? If not, then how do we go about making Him our master? I highly recommend God as your only master! God will never let you down. Let us allow Jesus to guide our lives, for he is…a man of obedience.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.