Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Luke 4:1-13
at Batesville Presbyterian Church on the
The wilderness is not somewhere we want to be. The very word, wilderness, conjures us negative synonyms such as waste, badlands, barren, desert, wasteland, wild, wild land, wildness. The wilderness is not a nice place and it is not a safe place. In the scripture, the wilderness is a place of chaos haunted by the devil. The wilderness is not a place that ordinarily comes to mind when we think of places the Holy Spirit may lead us. Yet, we see in our text today that is was the Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness.
And sure enough, right off the bat, Jesus encounters the devil in the wilderness and for forty days the devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness. The devil came at Jesus through his appetites which is the same way he comes after us. Jesus was fasting in the wilderness and when his fast was over he was famished. The devil approaches Jesus and gently puts an innocent thought into his head. The devil merely suggests that if Jesus is really the Son of God he could command a stone to become a loaf of bread. Just an idea. Something to think about. It sounds like a great idea to someone who hasn't eaten in forty days.
Yet, even in his starving state, Jesus controls his appetite, for he knows his mission as Son of God is not to serve himself but serve others. Jesus knows he is on the earth not to make bread for his physical body to eat but to give his physical body as bread for the world to eat. Jesus first temptation is the devil's attempt to twist his mission from being bread to making bread. Jesus answers the devil, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'" Later, on Maundy Thursday, Jesus will serve bread to his disciples and tell them, "This is my body, broken for you." Score one for Jesus.
But of course the devil is not finished. He's not even discouraged. He is simply relentless and continues the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness by taking him up and showing him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world, saying: "They're yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I'm in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they're yours, the whole works." Jesus does not question the devil's authority over the world for Jesus knows in his heart he will one day break the devil's stranglehold over planet earth. And that, Jesus knows, is his mission. Again, he is not here to be served but to pour himself out in service to others. So Jesus refuses the devil's offer, again backing his refusal with a quote from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy: "Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness." (Luke 4:8, MSG) Jesus now has the momentum against the devil. He's resisted his temptations twice in a row. But the devil comes back again as if nothing has happened.
For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, "If you are God's Son, jump. It's written, isn't it, that 'he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won't so much as stub your toe on a stone'?" (Luke 4:9-11, MSG) Jesus, full of insight, realizes the problem with this suggestion, for by acting on the devil's suggestion Jesus would confront God with the indignity of being put to a test by his own beloved Son. Jesus rebukes the devil, saying, "Yes, and scripture also says, 'Don't you dare tempt the Lord your God.'" (Luke 4:12, MSG)
That completed the testing in the wildnerness. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity. That opportunity comes later in the form of Judas Iscariot, whom the devil uses to coordinate the crucifixion of Jesus. But there in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he faces the cross, Jesus bests the devil again by resisting the temptation to take the easy way out. Jesus faces the horror of the cross, stares it down, and submits to God's will, knowing that in doing so he will face not only shame and the death of his body but the even more excruciating pain of separation from God when he descends into hell on behalf of us and all humanity.
Thus ends the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus passes the test. He keeps the faith. He resists temptation. He thwarts the devil. Jesus has been in the wilderness. Jesus has faced temptation. So when we find ourselves retreating into the wilderness of addiction, sex, or violence, we can know that we are not there in that hellish place alone. For Jesus Christ our Lord has been in that wilderness before. He has faced whatever it is we face. And the best good news of today on this First Sunday of Lent is this: Jesus is with us in the wildnerness. We are not alone.
Perhaps you've heard this anonymous story but it bears repeating as we begin our Lenten Journey.
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints.
Other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life
When I was suffering from anguish, sorrow, or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord, "You promised me, Lord,
That if I followed you, you would walk with me always.
But I noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
There have only been one set of prints in the sand.
Why, When I have needed you most, you have not been there for me?"
The Lord replied,
"The times when you have seen only one set of footprints
Is when I carried you."
As the great spiritual song says, "Jesus walked this lonesome valley. He had to walk it by himself. Oh, nobody else, could walk it for him. He had to walk it by himself." Jesus had to walk it by himself so that we will never walk alone. Jesus passed his test in the wilderness so he can help us with ours. Jesus knows how to find us in the wilderness because he's been there himself. Jesus walks with us through the wilderness experiences of our lives.