The First Sunday in Lent
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
March 10, 2019
When I was in high school, I was active in the youth group at a Southern Baptist church in Texas. The Baptists are big into memorizing Scripture, which I still think is a generally helpful exercise. However, I was taught the one of the main reasons one should memorize passages from the Bible was to have something on hand, or at top of mind, when you’re tempted. In other words, recalling the biblical passage you’ve memorized was supposed to be some sort of magic bullet that would slay the devil right in his tracks and make the temptation go away.
Likewise, I’ve heard many-a-sermon on the first Sunday in Lent that goes something like this: Jesus was tempted in the desert and was able to resist temptation. Let’s all be like Jesus was and use these three helpful methods to resist temptation during Lent.
The problem with this approach is that it completely misses the mark about what this passage is all about. It’s not a magic formula of how we can resist temptation on our own. It’s instead pointing us to the One who suffered, resisted temptation, and ultimately died for us. This passage isn’t about you and me resisting temptation at all, it’s about who Jesus is, and what it means for him to be the Son of God.
When we think of temptation in our own lives, we often think of the temptation to eat chocolate or to engage in some sort of unhealthy sexual behavior. Jesus’s temptations after being in the wilderness for 40 days are quite different.
First, the devil tempts Jesus to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing in and of itself, but the devil is playing on Jesus’s weakness – he’s famished after having no food for forty days. He’s tempting Jesus to use his power for instant gratification. This temptation, along with the third one, begins with the devil saying, “If you are the Son of God.” The word “if” in Greek in the first and third temptations isn’t a hypothetical, nor is it a kind of short-hand for “whether,” but more like “since” or “given that.” “Given that you are the Son of God.” The devil isn’t questioning Jesus’s identity or trying to make him doubt that he’s the Son of God, he’s trying to get him to use his power in a way that isn’t in line with his actual mission as the Son of God. Instant gratification results in a reward, but the reward is temporary and smaller than the ultimate prize. Winning the ultimate prize requires patience and endurance, but all of that is well worth the wait. The devil offered Jesus instant glory without the suffering of the cross.
In the second temptation, the devil tempts Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world if he will only worship him. The word “if” here is hypothetical. If Jesus will only worship the devil, he’ll give him authority over the kingdoms of this world, and their glory. The devil actually had the authority to do this, but again, the gratification would have been temporary. Jesus knew how things would shake out at the end – that ultimately, he would rule over the kingdoms of the world at the last day. But it wasn’t his time yet. The devil offered Jesus instant glory without the suffering of the cross.
The devil then tempts Jesus a third time by taking him to the roof of the Temple in Jerusalem, the place where Jesus’ ministry culminates in his passion and resurrection appearances, and where the church will begin. Now the devil returns to “if” in the first sense: given that you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here and show me and all of Jerusalem what you got. Provoke God’s action in your own interest at the Temple -- as the Psalms themselves intimate that you are God’s own precious concern. Jesus, however, is not interested in being Son of God in a way that vindicates him here and now in the presence of the Temple and of Jerusalem itself. Like the first two temptations, the devil offered Jesus instant glory without the suffering of the cross.
This passage isn’t a magic formula for you and me on how to resist temptation, it’s about who Jesus is.
The collect for the First Sunday in Lent helps frame this text in a very helpful way: “Make speed to help thy servants who are assaulted by manifold temptations; and, as thou knowest their several infirmities, let each one find thee mighty to save.”
You and I are indeed assaulted by manifold temptations. God knows our temptations, and He knows that we cannot possibly resist temptation in the way that Jesus did. But in spite of our unworthiness, God offers us his unconditional grace in his Son Jesus Christ, the only One who has ever been able to resist temptation.
The Devil and you and I all know that Jesus is the Son of God. But what kind of Son of God is he? According to Luke’s account of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, this one is unlike Adam (and therefore unlike us). The powers of evil will have no sway over this one, in whom God’s saving purpose is made plain. Our Lord resisted the temptation to avoid the horrible death on that tree that he knew awaited him and choose instant gratification instead. As Paul said,
being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
When you are tempted during Lent, and tempted you will be, repent and return to the Lord…the Lord who by the mighty power of God resisted temptation as only God can do…the Lord who then died a horrible death for your sake despite your unworthiness. Repent and return to the Lord. For he knows our temptations and infirmities. As we repent and return to the Lord, let each of us find him mighty to save. Amen.
 This theme is from. Same Old Song podcast, Mockingbird ministries. https://www.mbird.com/podcasts/
 David Lyon Bartlett, and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. Kindle edition, location 1696..
 Working Preacher.
 BCP collect for the First Sunday in Lent.
 Feasting 1743.
 Philippians 2:8-11
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!