MATTHEW 4:1-11

Sometimes I wish I had some sort of magic 8 ball that I could shake up and when I turned it over it would give me all the answers and understanding necessary to know everything about a bible passage. Do you ever feel that way?  A little unsure what it all means? There are certainly Commentaries and material available to aid in our understanding, these are helpful. And through the power of the Holy Spirit we are often given insight. But I usually feel as though we only touch the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the meaning in a particular passage, especially a passage such as we just read. This temptation of Christ is familiar because we read it nearly every year either from Matthew, Mark, or Luke on the first Sunday of Lent. That’s where we are today – the first Sunday of Lent which began on Ash Wednesday and leads us all the way to Holy Week and to Easter. It is symbolically 40 days long (excluding Sundays) which are each considered special – kind of like mini-Easters. (a little like advent)

And in case you were unaware the number 40 is hugely symbolic in scripture. The nation of Israel wandered in the desert 40 years before entering the Promised Land ( Ex 16:25; Deut 2:7). Moses fasted on Mount Sinai forty days and nights as he received God’s covenant commandments for the Israelites (Ex 24:18; Deut 9:9). Forty days and nights Elijah fasted before encountering God in the cave at Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). It features in Noah’s story, Jonah’s escapades, David and Goliath and we find it here in Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. The number 40 is often thought to express a time of wilderness and challenge followed by victory, change, a call to a new place.

So here Jesus is, fresh from his glorious baptism where the Spirit of God has descended from the heavens to declare, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). There is no time to bask in all that glory, as the Spirit then leads Jesus straight out into the wilderness to be tempted. Why? Isn’t that a question we would like to ask our holy magic 8 ball? God has already declared: This is my Son! The Beloved! So why? I am not sure I have all the answer to that, but it has been my experience that faith often requires following the Spirit into uncertain places. (Perhaps you have experienced this too. Just before a break-through in your faith you find yourself feeling a little lost.) Then too, I think it is for us so that we see that in Jesus we have a savior who has been tried and tested as we are also.

After 40 days and 40 nights there, Matthew tells us, the “tempter” comes. These temptations bear a really close look on our part. Jesus has been identified as the beloved Son of God at this baptism. The devil wants to bring this into question. Some translations say, “if you are the Son of God,” some translations say, “since you are the Son of God,” but no matter how it is put it is an attempt to throw Jesus off course – to cause him to question who he is and whose he is and what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God.[1] His very identity is questioned by the tempter – “If you are the Son of God, command the stones to become bread…If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…If you want all of this, fall down and worship me.” (Matt 4:3,6,9)

Have you ever had someone question you or your authority? How do we usually react to that? Not well, right? Our first instinct might be to try to prove them wrong. Oh, you don’t believe I’m the Son of God, you don’t think I can’t …. You just wait, I’ll show you! We get our hackles up and do stupid things to prove the naysayers wrong. Especially, when we feel that our identity is under question.

We may not have a show down in the desert with the devil but isn’t it true that in our own struggles we sometimes feel our identity questioned, too? Am I really Christ’s beloved? Am I really a child of God? Who am I really?

For Jesus, the first temptation goes like this: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Now this action, in an of itself isn’t inherently wrong for Jesus to do. We see Jesus perform miracles with bread when he feeds the thousands. This is not about food but in this case something different is happening. The tempter is inviting Jesus to use power for power’s sake. To become just like those who use their power just to prove they can.  And to further question God’s trustworthiness, to instill a little mistrust. Insecurity and mistrust. These are the tools of the devil – that “great deceiver” and the father of all lies, the distorter of the truth and this plays upon our insecurities. He is the Sower of mistrust, “Jesus, you might go hungry, you don’t have enough, how do you know God is trustworthy.” Jesus responds to the attack with Scripture, expressing his trust in God.

The second temptation is also an attempt undermine Jesus’ relationship with God by suggesting it is not secure, that he should test it by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple. And in the third temptation to seek the protection and patronage of the devil rather than trust God’s provision.[2]  Dr. David Lose points out that at each point Jesus resists, not simply by quoting Scripture in general but by quoting Scripture that reminds him of God’s trustworthiness, the need to depend on God for all good things, and consequently of God’s promise to care for him and all God’s children.[3] I wonder if that is a reminder that we may also be in need of. To be reminded of God’s trustworthiness. To know that God is the giver of all good things. To hear again and again that we are beloved, also. To declare again who we are and whose we are. To affirm in whom we place our trust. There is an important link between trust and temptation. If we are able to trust God for our daily needs, for a sense of purpose, for our identity as a child of God, then temptation holds little appeal. However, our natural insecurity and our human nature often lead us to mistrust God, opening us to all kinds of temptation. We begin to think it’s up to us. We believe the lie that God is not able to provide so we better take matters into our own hands.

Satan, the tempter, the liar attempts to turn Jesus away from trust in God. He attacks the very core of Jesus’ identity calling into question his relationship with God. “If you are the son of God!” The same is often true in our own temptations –“ If you are the beloved child of God.” Then we begin to wonder, am I really? Can I really trust God? Jesus invites us to replace our insecurity and mistrust with the security of who we are in Christ and trust in God’s care.

So, now let’s take out the little 3X5 card you were given when you came in and there should be pencils in the pew racks for you to share. Let’s take a moment and on one side of the card, write down something that is important to you for which you feel confident of God’s support. Maybe it’s the love of your family or your living situation, your relationship with God or something else. It could be something that you may worry a little about yet you are able to trust in God’s care and faithfulness. Label this side of the card “Trust”. (give around 30 seconds)

We start with something that is working – We are all under the pressure of the temptation to mistrust, we all have areas of insecurity and it’s easy to forget what trust feels like. It’s important to remind ourselves that we Can trust God.

On the other side of the card write down something that you find difficult to trust God with right now. Maybe it’s a particular relationship, maybe it’s health, your own insecurity. Write that down and label this side “Mistrust”. (give 30 seconds)

Take a moment to compare these two things. Why is it easier to trust God with one of them and not the other? What makes the challenging one different? Take this card with you this week and put it somewhere where you can look at it. Offer thanks for what you have written on the trust side and Pray for a stronger ability to trust God with the thing you are struggling with right now. Then above all, remind yourself this week of your identity in Christ – who you are and whose you are – recognizing how powerful this is in your relationship with God. And how powerful this is in defense against all those things that would tell you otherwise.  Let that knowledge of who you are and whose you are fill you and be your own first thought when you are faced with a situation of insecurity or mistrust. There may be a lot of things that are uncertain, and truly no magic 8 ball in the world holds the answers – but one thing you can be absolutely certain of: the love of God that is yours through Christ, a love that you can stake your life upon.

[1] M. Eugene Boring. “New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol VII.” P 163.

[2] David Lose. https://www.davidlose.net/2017/02/lent-1-a-identity-as-gift-and-promise/

[3] IBID.