Clippesby: Romans 10:8b-13 / Luke 4:1-13
Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you. - It’s a familiar phrase. It is also, of course utter nonsense. Our words matter and they have the power to hurt they have the power to heal & soothe. They have the power to bring discouragement and death or encouragement and life.
They are a significant part of the way we communicate and tell our story. That is why the bible has a lot to say about words.
Our readings today are no different - they are about words. We have Paul writing to the Romans about using their mouths to declare their faith and Jesus locked in a battle of words and wits with the devil.
We always have a reading about the Temptation of Jesus on the first Sunday of Lent to set the scene for remembering Jesus time of fasting and prayer in the wilderness as we also fast and pray in preparation for Holy Week and Easter. In Luke’s account which we heard today we get quite a lot of detail about that encounter with the devil.
The devil places three temptations in front of Jesus. The first is turning stones into bread showing that Jesus has supernatural power. The second is to worship the devil in exchange for earthly power and the third is for Jesus to throw himself from the biggest building around to prove that as the God will send his angels as he won’t let his son die.
These three temptations are interesting because they are actually about trying to get Jesus to conform to what not only how the devil would like to see the Messiah but actually how many Jewish people at the time of Jesus would like to see the Messiah: supernaturally powerful for his own benefit and for the benefit of Israel, politically powerful and immortal.
Jesus doesn’t give into the temptation. He argues back to the Devil showing why the earthly view of the Messiah is wrong.
Yes, Jesus performs supernatural signs, we read about his miracles throughout the gospels but have you noticed he never does them for his own physical benefit? When Jesus does a miracle it is always for someone else.
He heals them, he provides what the need or he teaches his disciples something and the glory goes to God. So Jesus refuses to use his gifts to feed his own hunger and tells the devil that we don’t live by bread alone quoting Deuteronomy 8.
The people of Israel were looking for their Messiah to free them from the Romans. The Romans were the largest most powerful political authority that the Jewish people, who had been repeatedly occupied, have ever experienced. It is abundantly clear that Jesus as a vagrant preacher from Galilee has no political power - he isn’t going to overthrow the Romans and rebuild the nation of Israel by force.
So Jesus refuses the Devil’s offer of that kind of power and tells him that he worships God alone. This commandment is found throughout the Old Testament- most notably it is the effect of the first of the 10 commandments “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods before me.”
The devil is clearly smart enough to learn a bit of what has been going on in this exchange (although not smart enough to realise he isn’t going to win it) Jesus has quoted scripture in his first two answers so the Devil decides to do the same - he’s learnt psalm 91 at least which is where those 2 promises about the Angels protection come from. It just goes to show that just quoting a verse from the bible doesn’t automatically make you right!
The third temptation is for Jesus to test whether God will save his life is repeated when Jesus is on the cross - the soldiers and one of those crucified at the same time challenge Jesus to save himself. Jesus again quotes Deuteronomy and says that God is not to be put to the test.
And in the end, when it came to it he chooses to give up his life at the hands of sinners for the sake of sinners all the while praying that God will forgive them.
Jesus doesn’t fit into what the world at the time expected a Messiah to be like and in the Gospel today the Devil would much rather he did conform because if Jesus conforms then nobody is saved. Jesus has to argue his case with the devil in the desert and with people throughout his ministry
What temptations surround us this Lent (and the rest of the time) when it comes to conforming and fitting in? For many of us it is the temptation to keep quiet about our faith and unlike Jesus, just go along with how other people would like Christians to be. Timid, private about our faith, doing good but not talking so much about God, pillars of the community &very respectable.
How often have I heard that “we don’t talk about politics or religion in polite company”. Instead we are called to follow Jesus and become more like him. He was bold, public about who he was, didn’t stop talking about his Heavenly Father, and spent enough time with those who society rejected to ruin his reputation in polite society.
And that is where Paul’s statement in Romans comes in. That in order to be saved we must both declare with our lips that Jesus is Lord as well as believing in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. It isn’t an either or....
Some of you may know that I work for Church Army. Our mission statement is this: “For everyone, everywhere to encounter God's love and be empowered to transform their communities through faith shared in words and action.”
This Lent think about where you choose to fit in rather than stand out or where your faith is something you believe but not something you talk about. Where can you share faith in words as well as action?