Matthew 4:1-11 Sermon delivered 3/16/11
by the Rev. Dr. Marty Stevens
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the fourth chapter.
(Translation by Marty Stevens)
Then Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tested by the Enticer. And because he had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, afterwards he was hungry.
After the Tester had come near, he said to him, “Since you are the Son of God, speak, in order that these stones may become bread.” But he answered and said, “It is written, ‘Not by bread alone will a person live, but rather by every word going out from the mouth of God.’”
Then the Enticer took him along into the holy city and he stood him on the precipice of the temple and he says to him, “Since you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘His angels he will command concerning you’ and ‘on their hands they will raise you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus spoke to him, “Again it is written, ‘You will not test the Lord your God.’”
Again the Enticer took him along to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and said to him, “All these to you I will give, if only you fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus says to him, “Get away, Satan; for it is written, ‘The Lord your God you will worship and him alone you will serve.’”
Then the Enticer let him go, and imagine! angels came near and waited upon him.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Seminary Chapel 3/16/11
Julie Andrews was right, I suppose. The beginning is a very good place to start.
The beginning of Lent just a week ago – Ash Wednesday –
marked with a cross of ashes,
reminded, ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return.’
The beginning of a journey to the cross,
a journey marked with the disciplines of study, prayer, service, fasting.
Marked with a cross, journeying to the cross.
The beginning of Lent has traditionally included the so-called temptation story,
the narrative at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry
the story of his 40 days in the wilderness.
Now you know the beginning is always a dangerous time.
The path ahead is not always clear...
dangers lurk in the future which haven’t been even imagined,
much less addressed... the outcome is uncertain.
The beginning of anything is always a dangerous time.
The beginning of a trip into the wilderness is a dangerous time,
even when it follows immediately after Jesus’s baptism.
Just two verses before our reading for today, the heavens were opened,
with the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him,
and a voice from heaven announcing,
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew has spent three chapters so far convincing us that this Jesus is
the fulfillment of OT prophecy, the promised Messiah from the line of David,
the new King of the Jews, foretold by angels and worshiped by wise men.
And now, God's Son, the Beloved, the Messiah,
is immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tested.
Given a choice, we would certainly opt for a Spirit
who would lead us as far away from testing as possible.
So this is a dangerous time.
Even as Matthew has connected the birth of Jesus with events of the OT,
surely Matthew intends that his narrative of Jesus in the wilderness
will call to mind the narrative of the Israelites in the wilderness.
And you remember how that turned out!
The testing of the Israelites in the wilderness would have to be called an utter failure.
Murmuring and complaining, hunger and thirst, first one thing and then another,
even talk of choosing another leader and going back to Egypt.
Trust in God non-existent, evaporated in the desert heat
like some dried-up wadi in the wilderness.
This time, the testing in the wilderness will be different.
This time, testing will prove the faithfulness of the one being tested,
the one announced by the heavenly voice.
No murmuring, no retreat, no failure.
For the Israelites, the tests came from their own physical circumstances.
They were hungry and couldn’t imagine how the desert could provide food.
They were thirsty and couldn’t imagine finding fresh water.
They were set upon by the military forces of Amalek
and couldn’t imagine winning the battle.
Whereas physical hardship in the wilderness was the setting
for the testing of the Israelites,
and even serves as the setting for the first test of Jesus,
something more is going on here, something more momentous,
something greater is at stake.
Here Jesus is tested by an opponent known by several names in the text.
Four times Matthew names the adversary as the Diabolos,
a word I chose to translate as the Enticer in my reading earlier.
Once Matthew calls the opponent the Tester,
a rather neutral term for the one doing the testing.
Jesus himself addresses the opponent as Satan, the Hebrew word for adversary.
First, the Tester suggests that Jesus remedy his hunger by his own power.
Jesus quotes part of a verse in Deut 8, a section in Deut
that warns against the pride of self-sufficiency.
In Deut 8 the Israelites are reminded that God tested them with hunger
and satisfied them with manna,
so that they would know the abundant generosity of God.
The second test is a test of dueling Scripture, the Enticer quoting part of Psalm 91,
inferring that the psalmist’s confidence in God’s protection
is actually an assurance of personal safety no matter what.
Jesus quotes part of a verse from Deut 6, where Moses reminds the Israelites
that they tested God at Massah, complaining about the lack of water.
God provided water by instructing Moses to strike the rock with his staff.
Such testing of God’s ability to provide is forbidden.
The third test really does up the ante
with the Enticer offering Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world,
if only Jesus will bow down and worship.
Jesus affirms the oft-repeated commandment in Deut
that God alone is to be worshiped and served.
What are we to make of this testing of Jesus in the wilderness by the Enticer?
One obvious response is that the story of Jesus's testing
encourages us in our own wildernesses when tests come our way.
Jesus resisted self-sufficiency and trusted in God –
we should resist and trust as well.
After all, we have some of the same resources that Jesus had.
We have been baptized, sealed with the Holy Spirit.
We have Scripture, although quoting by heart may be problematic.
But we have BibleWorks – we can quickly find Scripture to quote.
We can resist self-sufficiency and trust in God.
Certainly, that’s one interpretation.
But I was captivated in this text by Jesus himself naming the adversary
in the third test when he says, “Get away, Satan!”
Jesus will speak these same words later to Peter at Caesarea Philippi.
When Jesus told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem
and suffer many things and be killed, Peter rebuked him with the words,
“God forbid! This must never happen to you!”
And Jesus said to Peter, “Get away Satan!”
So that got me thinking… If Peter can be called Satan, then so can we.
Perhaps another way to read this story is to identify with Jesus’s opponent.
Aren’t we sometimes like the Enticer, luring Jesus to do what we want,
to be the kind of Messiah who uses his power to do something?
Since Jesus is the Son of God, why doesn't he act like it and do something?
Why is the Messiah just standing there quoting Scripture,
giving us neither bread nor a sign of personal safety,
grasping no political power to change the world?
Aren’t we sometimes like the Enticer, saying to Jesus,
Since you are the Son of God... what? Heal my husband...
keep my daughter in the straight and narrow...
Since you are the Son of God, make my life free from struggle...
send someone to love me... hurry up and bring spring weather...
eliminate earthquakes and tsunamis…
Since you are the Son of God... what? Fill in the blank.
What good is a Messiah who will suffer and be killed?
Peter’s words are ours as well – God forbid!
And Jesus’s words to Peter (and to the Enticer) are also words to us:
Get away, Satan!
Sometimes we want to entice Jesus into a journey away from the cross,
into a journey of easy satisfaction and instant gratification,
into a journey it would be easy for us to follow.
Sometimes rather than following Jesus on his own terms,
we want to make him over into our own image
of who and what a Messiah ought to be and do.
Remember, I said the beginning is always a dangerous time.
Here at the beginning of our Lenten journey,
in this story of testing in the wilderness,
we are encouraged in our own struggles in our wildernesses,
and we are warned of the danger of enticing Jesus
into being the kind of Messiah we can easily follow.
But, thank God – Jesus remains faithful to God’s mission
in the face of any and all opponents.
Jesus is able to resist being the Messiah we would create.
This Messiah is not going to be manipulated or enticed.
This Messiah will be the God of the cross,
the God of the cross who marked each of us
and now beckons us to follow on the journey to the cross.
God provides what we need for the journey –
the new life of Baptism, the seal of the Spirit,
the rich resources of Scripture,
the encouragement and accountability of community.
This Lent, marked with the cross on our brows, we follow our Lord to the cross,
confident that on this journey, God is leading us where we need to go,
to the place of a cross, and a grave, … and an empty tomb.
Thanks be to God.