Baptism, temptation, respite. Did you notice the order? That’s the movement of Jesus’ experience in Luke 3 and 4. He was baptized in the Jordan (Luke 3:21-22), tempted in the desert (Luke 4:1-12), and then found a (brief) period of respite (Luke 4:13). It was the beginning of his ministry. It is also the movement of the Christian life. Baptism, temptation, respite.
This Sunday begins the season of Lent. Changes in liturgical seasons offer preachers a good opportunity to address the Christian life from higher elevation. That is, they offer times to step back from the details of life and look at the big picture. Doing this periodically can help us reimagine the shape of our lives, and then reengage the daily grind with a renewed perspective and vigor. I suggest you use the movement of this text – baptism, temptation, respite—to do just that.
*In terms of structure for this sermon, you have a number of organizational options. Among them is the Comparison/Contrast structure by which you might compare and contrast Jesus’ experience of these three movements with ours. Another option would be to use a narrative approach and tell the story of Jesus, the story of the church, and the story of your particular hearers using the Multiple Story structure. A third option would be the Process structure by which you would help your hearers locate themselves in the process from baptism, to a life of struggle (tentatio), to the eternal respite we long to experience at the return of Jesus.
Whichever structure you choose for the sermon, there are certain concepts and ideas that you would want to emphasize.
Baptism. Most of your hearers are baptized. Remind them of it. Not only as to comfort and encourage them with the promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation. But remind them also of the new identity and the new life that began in their baptism. What kind of identity and life is this?
- Their baptismal identity is a corporate identity. That is, they belong to one another as members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Their baptism is the end of isolation and individualism.
- Their baptismal identity is characterized by newness of life. This new life is free from the punishment of sin, but also from the bondage of sin. Shall they go on sinning that grace may about? By no means! They are baptized! (Romans 6:1-4).
- In short, their identity is now caught up with Jesus. He lives in them (Galatians 2:20). His Spirit works in them and through them to live in loving unity with other believers and loving service to all.
His Spirit works in them and through them to live in loving unity with other believers and loving service to all.
Temptation. Led by the Spirit in the wilderness, Jesus was being tempted (πειραζόμενος) over a period of 40 days. The connection to Israel’s wandering in the desert is obvious. As the greater and more faithful Son of God, Jesus did what the Israelites could not do.
Neither can we. Life in a world beset by sin (within and without) is filled with temptation. As we face temptation we should not imagine Jesus primarily as example to follow. Sermons on this text often become “how to deal with temptation” instructions. Know and quote the Bible, the preacher says, and the devil will flee. While knowing the Scriptures is good, this focus for a sermon turns the hearers toward themselves and their abilities.
Instead, I would suggest making a connection to Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Prayer as he gives it in Luke 11:4, which concludes with the petition: “Lead us not into temptation (πειρασμόν).” Why not? Because we can’t handle it. Not even with an arsenal of memorized Bible verses on hand. Jesus, the faithful Son who has conquered sin and the devil for us, is our only hope in time of temptation. We deal with temptations by turning to him for strength and protection.
As you reflect on temptation in your congregation, don’t settle for speaking in general terms. General temptation is not the problem. We deal with specific temptations and need specific help to expose and address them. Use discretion, of course. But don’t let them off the hook with generalities and platitudes.
Jesus, the faithful Son who has conquered sin and the devil for us, is our only hope in time of temptation.
Respite. The respite is almost hidden in Luke 4. That’s okay. In fact, that’s how it often goes in this life. Because of the sin that clings so closely, we are never entirely free of temptation. The respite we experience in this life is always like a halt in enemy fire as we hunker down in the trenches. But we’re still in the trenches.
This is where proclamation of the promise of Christ must dominate. The only respite we have on this side of eternity is the promise of forgiveness and life in Christ. Despite our inability to withstand temptation, God is gracious and forgiving. He provides rest to the weary and strength for the weak. He forgives those who have faltered and offers life to those who are dying. Proclaim this promise clearly and directly to your hearers—especially to those for whom temptation is pressing.
Part of this promise—indeed, the fullness of this promise—will only be realized at the return of Jesus. Which is why your proclamation today (as every Sunday) must have an eschatological accent. The day is coming when Christ will return to bring eternal rest and joy and peace for his people. Every instance of rest here and now is, at best, only a glimpse of that eternal rest.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 4:1-13.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 4:1-13.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 4:1-13.