Friday, February 5, 2016

Sunday 14 February 2016 - Lent 1

Theme                  When we are tempted

Sentence             Lord be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning; our          salvation in time of distress. (Isaiah 33:2) [NZPB, p. 574]         

Collect                  Almighty God,
                                Your Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness;
                                Give us grace to direct our lives in obedience to your Spirit;
                                And as you know our weakness
                                So may we know your power to save;
                                Through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen. [NZPB, p. 574]         
        Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 God's protection
        Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Offering of first fruits
        Romans 10:8b-13 Who will be saved
                                  Luke 4:1-13 Temptation of Jesus

Jesus is tempted, Luke 4:1-13, at the beginning of his ministry. A kind of initiation trial tests his resolve and intention as God's Messiah. After this, Jesus' resolve to obey God's will is not further tested until the last night of his life (the 'opportune time' in 4:13 is found in Luke 22:3, 28, 53 and 22:39-46). 

Observe that the trial is a combination of deprivation (he does not eat for forty days) and temptations (actually, likely more than the three we are told about since it was 'for forty days he was tempted by the devil', v. 2)

Of what character are the temptations? What is offered is the slightest of deviations from the will of God for Jesus' Messiahship. 

The first and third temptations (if succumbed to) would involve miracles with strong similarity to what actually occurs in Jesus' ministry (he feeds people bread, he is protected from harm until his trial and crucifixion). 

The second temptation offers Jesus a vast kingdom in the world over which he will rule, that is, a kingdom to all intents and purposes like the kingdom of God, but it would be the kingdom of the devil, not of God. As disciples of Jesus the strongest temptations we will experience are those that give the impression that what the devil wants is the same as what God wants. 

The way Jesus responds to the temptations is a model for how disciples should respond when tempted: to the devil's perverse, twisted 'theology', Jesus responds with a Scripture-based theology: one does not live by bread alone, only God is to be worshipped, and God is not to be tested. 

To the third temptation with its subtle development that the devil himself quotes from Scripture (from our Psalm reading), Jesus replies as previously by citing from Scripture. How does one Scripture trump another Scripture? The implication on this occasion is that a general promise of God that he will protect his servants applies to the servants living their lives in the usual way. They are not instructed to deliberately provoke God to fulfil this promise. Rather they are to live their lives trusting that God sees their need and will respond in God's time.

Interestingly, when Jesus' citations of Scripture all come from Deuteronomy, our Old Testament reading is yet another passage from Deuteronomy, 26:1-11, a passage which speaks of the offering of first fruits of the harvest to God as a sign of thanksgiving for God's gracious care of Israel. Nevertheless there is a connection between that passage and our gospel passage: Israel can offer the first fruits because it has come into its inheritance of the promised land only after experiencing the trials and tribulations of life in Egypt. The kingdom of God which Jesus proclaims, and which disciples enter, is only going to be experienced in its fullness once Jesus' experience of death and resurrection has been completed and once disciples also have walked with Jesus and shared also in his sufferings (see Luke 22:28).

In the context of these readings, Romans 10:8b-13 is a mirror to Psalm 91. Through the psalmist God promises salvation to those who make their shelter in the Almighty; through the apostle Paul declares that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. The difference lies in the scope of salvation envisaged. The psalmist has Israel (i.e. the Jews) in mind; Paul explicitly preaches that salvation is for 'Jew and Greek'. In this way, the victory of Jesus over the devil's temptations has been important: the true rule of God over every part of the earth, that is, over all nations has come by strict obedience to God's plan for salvation and not by succumbing to the devil's lookalike plan.

Finally, we should observe the role of the Holy Spirit in the temptation of Jesus. The Spirit leads Jesus to the wilderness, that is, what is going to happen there is part of God's plan. While not said explicitly, the implication of Jesus being 'full of the Holy Spirit' is that this power within him was vital to the battle which followed. The Holy Spirit both strengthens Jesus and brings to his mind the truth of God as expressed in the Scriptures he cites. Dare we engage in Lenten disciplines without the filling of the Holy Spirit?

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