This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the First Sunday in Lent. The gospel text was Luke 4:1-13.
When I think about this gospel story, I often picture Jesus sitting in the desert, and then the devil arrives, walking close to him, whispering temptation after temptation in his ear. And I picture Jesus brushing them off easily, like so many gnats. I don’t need to worry about this, Satan. I’m the Son of God, and I know everything. Talk to the hand.
But Luke tells us that Jesus was tempted by the devil. And to say he’s tempted means to me that he really did consider these temptations. So what if my picture were wrong? What if the temptations were actually not coming from outside, but from within Jesus? After all, when we are tempted to do something we know is wrong, don’t we usually experience that from within? It’s only human. And after all, Jesus was fully human as well as fully God. So imagine it this way:
Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where he did not eat for forty days. He was starving, and a voice deep inside him said, “I am hungry. So hungry. And I am God’s Son. I could simply command this stone to become bread. But no, it is written, ‘People won’t live only by bread.’”
Then Jesus imagined himself in a high place, and looked out and saw all the kingdoms of the world. A voice deep inside said to him, “I could rule all these kingdoms, and I would do a good job. I could fix their problems like that. It’s God’s will that I do so eventually, so why not now? Don’t the ends justify the means? I’d be breaking God’s will right now, but think of the good I could do. But no, it is written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then Jesus imagined himself on the top of the temple, and a voice deep within him wondered, “If I jumped from here, would God save me? Isn’t it worth trying? If I’m going to do this thing that God wants me to do, to give my life for the salvation of the world, don’t I deserve a sign from God? But no, for it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
And Jesus thus withstood all the temptations for now.
Jesus was truly tempted – tempted just as we are. Tempted to just get what he needed, instead of trusting God to provide for his physical needs. Tempted to do whatever he thought was right in the moment, because the ends would justify the means. Tempted to demand that God prove something to him. Jesus was tempted to question God’s faithfulness. Will God really provide? Will God really fulfill the promises of salvation? Will God really save me? Does God really love me? Can I really trust God?
That’s what these temptations come down to. Can I really trust God? Perhaps that’s what all temptations really come down to. Can I really trust God, or should I take care of myself, because God won’t? They all come down to whether or not God is trustworthy. Or perhaps even more –
Perhaps all our temptations aren’t even about God, but about us. About our identity. Are we truly what God says we are? Are we truly worthy of God’s love? Maybe God should prove that to us. After all, we are told all the time that we are not worthy. So much of the advertising that we see is based on this: you are not complete, but if you buy our product you will be. So much of the politics that we see is based on this: you are not secure, but if you vote the right way, you will be. And what kinds of things do we hear from our co-workers, our classmates, our bosses and teachers, even our families? Some good things, yes, but also so many negative messages. This is the world we’re immersed in. Messages come from all directions, telling us that we’re not good enough.
And when we hear them so often, we start to internalize them, start to tell them to ourselves. We tell ourselves, “I am not worthy.” We tell ourselves, “God doesn’t really love me.” We tell ourselves, “I am not enough.”
So it’s no wonder that we are tempted to believe it. It’s no wonder that we are tempted to think God’s the one who’s been lying to us all this time. But that’s not the case. God speaks the truth. You are enough. God loves you. You are God’s beloved child. Because God says so.
I’m going to tell you this again:
You are enough. God loves you. You are God’s beloved child.
I’ve told you this before, and it’s okay that you need to hear it again. I know I do. The temptations are so strong. I think we need to say this more often to each other.
You are enough.
God loves you.
You are God’s beloved child.
It’s normal to be tempted that that isn’t true. It’s normal to expect, or demand, that God give us a sign to remind us. Even Jesus was tempted to do that. He was able to withstand that temptation, but he was Jesus! Of course we can’t withstand it as he did. It’s normal for us to sometimes give in to that temptation.
But maybe reminding one another can help. So let’s try that during the Peace today. When we share the peace, instead of saying, “Peace be with you,” let’s say, “God loves you.” It’s a simple change. You’re still sharing a sign of Christ’ peace in those words. But sometimes simple changes can make a huge difference.
God loves you. You are God’s beloved child. And you are enough. And you can trust God that those things are true.
Featured image, The Temptations of Christ, 12th-century mosaic at St Mark’s Basilica, Venice.