I was recently at a wedding reception where the bride and groom told the story of how they met. Brooke and Kendal went to the same university but did not know one another. It was not until they both enrolled in a study abroad program in Italy that they met.
Brooke told how they visited Rome, Florence and Capri. Kendal described their course work in materials science, architecture, art, and history. As they talked about these different places and various activities, something interesting happened. I began to see how the places they visited and the subjects they studied faded into the background. Instead, what was important was the relationship that developed between them.
Rome was where they first shared a bit of their family history. Florence was where they discovered they just did not get art. A visit to Saint Peter’s Basilica became a place to talk about church and struggling with faith. While their study abroad took them to many different places, the true value of the trip was discovering a love between them which deepened wherever they went.
I thought about Brooke and Kendal as I read of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and thought about Lent.
In the temptation of Jesus, He is taken to many places. He is tempted in the wilderness, then taken to the pinnacle of the Temple, and then brought to a mountain from which he can see all the kingdoms of the world. It would be easy to focus on the various places or to reflect on the far-reaches of Satan’s power. But the real story here is not the breadth of places but the depth of love developing between Jesus, the Spirit, and his Father.
But the real story here is not the breadth of places but the depth of love developing between Jesus, the Spirit, and his Father.
At the baptism in the Jordan River, the Spirit descends upon Jesus and the Father declares Jesus to be His, “Beloved Son.” Now, the Spirit leads Him into the wilderness, and it seems as if the Father and the Spirit disappear. Satan takes center stage. Jesus is whisked from the wilderness to the Temple and from the Temple to the mountain. Each place holds a new temptation.
But this is not a story of Jesus being taken many places. This is a story of Jesus remaining in one place and deepening in His love of the Spirit and the Father. Throughout all of these temptations, Jesus turns to God’s word for spiritual discernment. Jesus remains in relationship with the Father through the Spirit working through the word. The wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel become a source of inspiration for Jesus. He sees how God, the Father, calls His children to deepen their relationship with Him in the midst of struggle. The word of God becomes the way in which Jesus is drawn deeper by the Spirit into a loving and obedient relationship with the Father.
In the wilderness, Satan tempts Jesus to use God’s power to serve Himself. Human hunger is natural, a necessity. Certainly, God would not deny His Son the use of His powers to serve Himself. At the Temple, Satan tempts Jesus to reveal God’s favor in a public way. Certainly, God would approve of His Son revealing His Father’s favor to gain a following among the people of Israel. On the mountain, Satan tempts Jesus to harness the power of the nations in service to His mission. Certainly, God would not deny His Son the human means to extend His kingdom.
Yet, Jesus remains faithful to His Father. He lives in suffering and humility. He will not use His relationship with God to accomplish things for Himself, for Israel, or for the world. Instead, Jesus will deny Himself and rely on His Father. That relationship is key. From this humble obedience, all of God’s saving work will be accomplished. The self-denial and suffering of Jesus reveal God’s power over Satan. Here is the beloved Son, the new Israel, who humbles Himself, takes up His cross, and, by bearing the sins of the world, will take them away.
Lent is a time of introspection. The people of God engage in acts of spiritual discipline. They draw deeper into meditation. The hymnody and practices call us to follow Jesus more closely.
This walk with Jesus can be filled with moments of bewildering suffering. It may seem, at times, as if you are alone with Satan. The Father once claimed you as His own in baptism. The Spirit once led you to places of spiritual nourishment. But now, those days are gone. It seems as if Satan is in control, leading you deeper and deeper into suffering. Tempting you to serve yourself, to see if you still have God’s favor, or to use the things of this world to accomplish your mission.
When that occurs, remember this: Jesus has defeated Satan. He has wandered that wilderness for you. Satan may take you to many places in this world, but Jesus draws you closer to Himself in each of them.
Satan’s power is limited. Jesus rules over all things for all time. There is no place where Satan can take you that Jesus is not already there. He has promised to remain with you, to never leave you nor forsake you. Lent is a time to deepen that relationship. To see how, in the breadth of life’s suffering, God’s love grows deeper and, in the brevity of life, God’s love lasts an eternity.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 4:1-11.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 4:1-11.
Lectionary at Lunch-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 4:1-11.