Monday, 20 March 2017

A story of the temptation

I preached the following as a third person narrative story last night at church. I thought it could be a good reflection to read through as well.

From Matthew 4:1-11

Hunger, a hunger he had never experienced before.  30 years spent on this earth, 30 incredibly humbling years limited to this human form, humbled to have to deal with things like hunger, and thirst, and tiredness… but this hunger… this was intense.

Jesus sat in the wilderness, this desolate mountainous region of Israel… nothing around him lived… none of the palms that gave shade along the coast, no bushes with berries, no fig trees, and certainly no animals.  Jesus looked around… there wasn’t anything living in miles.  As far as any earthly companion went… he was completely alone.

But as he sat there he knew he wasn’t alone.  He hadn’t mindlessly wandered out into this forsaken place and hopelessly gotten himself lost. No he had been led here. 40 days ago in fact.  Jesus had felt the Holy Spirit within Him guide him to come to this place. To pray, to fast, to be away from everyone else. But not to be alone.

As Jesus watched the sunrise he remember the sunrise 40 days earlier that he had seen appearing over the Jordan River, walking down to where John had been baptising people – calling them to repent, to turn away, from their sins. He’d walked right into the water – right up to his cousin – and John had recognised him. Actually His mother had always said that his cousin John had recognised him from even before each of them were born, Aunty Elizabeth saying John had leapt for joy in her womb when his mother had first come to visit while she was pregnant.  John leapt again this time.  Looking up from the water and seeing Jesus there. He hadn’t wanted to Baptise Jesus.  Saying his baptism was one of repentance, and if anything John should be baptised by Jesus, because John himself had sins to repent of… unlike his cousin.

But Jesus remembered the understanding in his cousin’s eyes when Jesus had said that this was the right thing to do, that it was proper for John to baptise Jesus now, to fulfil the righteous life Jesus was to live, that he had been living for 30 years, and was now bringing to the people as he began his ministry.

He’d closed his eyes as the cool water of the Jordan had swept over his face and John had plunged him beneath the surface… but things were so so much brighter when he’d come back up and opened his eyes.  Heaven itself had torn a hole in the sky, and the Holy Spirit had descended… like a dove… down onto him – John wasn’t leaping now, he was staring, awestruck.  Then a voice Jesus knew so well came rolling down from the glory shining in the sky. “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased”.

Jesus closed his eyes remembering the completeness of that moment.  God all together, complete in their different responsibilities, Him serving and submitting to the Father, Holy Spirit dwelling, empowering and bringing glory to the Son, and the Father, loving and ruling from the throne… sitting in glory.  It was the completeness his divine nature new, and he needed nothing else.  But these last 30 years he had experience a different nature, a human nature – which seemed to pull away from that completeness, to not be completely satisfied.

And it was that human nature that was tormenting him right now.  His belly felt tight, twisted even – no food had been in there for 40 days and it was crying out in pain.  Jesus had been sustaining himself with the divine… with Holy Spirit who had led him here, who had empowered him to pray, who had sustained him encouraging him with the relationship he had with his Father.  But now he knew his human nature was standing up and demanding to be heard… feed me it cried. But even if he’d wanted too… nothing lived out here… there was no food.

Immediately he felt a breath over his left shoulder… a voice whispering in his ear. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus’ body lurched, his stomach twisted even more, bread, his mind cried out, yes bread would be perfect.

But Jesus knew this voice as well.  The deceiver, the tempter, Satan, that devil who’s desire was to turn people from his father, from Him… to take that glory for himself.  As much as Jesus felt the need for food, as much as his body cried out to receive nourishment, and as much as he knew that yes he was the Son of God – and yes he created those very stones so could totally turn them into the food he so desperately needed – as much as he knew this. He knew that the Spirit had led him here, that his role in this entire plan God had laid out for humankind was for him to depend on the Father, to submit to the Father.  Not to take the power and glory for his own advantage. God would provide for him, and he need not take matters into his own hands

Turning Jesus faced his tempter – turning away from the stones which his nose was already telling him smelt like the freshest loaf, straight from the oven – and quoting the Word of God to His people squashed the temptation saying; “Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”

God had promised to provide… he didn’t need this deceiver telling him to act on his own.

Within a haze Jesus realises that he’s not in the wilderness anymore… Satan steps up beside him and Jesus realises they are standing right on the edge of a large drop.  Looking around Jesus sees Jerusalem, and knows that he is on the highest point of the temple.  The place God dwells with his people, and the place the people come to worship and make themselves clean before God.  Looking down Jesus sees that the work of the temple for the day has begun in earnest.  People are bringing in livestock and birds… there is music playing… some have even set up vender stalls. There are so many people going about their normal days, entering and leaving the temple.

That whisper comes again in his ear… “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, For it is written – He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

Jesus shudders, hearing the true words of God glides so easily from the lips of the one who hates him so much.  But even as he shudders the thought crosses his mind that this would certainly be the case.  If he leapt from this spot God would most definitely save him – angels would come and protect him, for he was the Son of God, he was here for a purpose that had not yet been fulfilled. And wouldn’t it create a scene.  A man plunging to certain death, stopped mid fall, by angels, sent from God – everyone would see – no one could deny – when he spoke up about being Messiah they would all believe so easily.

But that was not God’s plan.  Holy Spirit was certainly not leading him to this, it was only the warped words of the deceiver… taking the truth of God’s word so horribly out of context to tempt him to yet again act for his own desires and purposes.

Through determined gritted teeth Jesus, looking down at the people he loves so much, rebukes Satan once again “It is also written do not put the Lord you God to the test”

God’s word is true – he didn’t need the deceiver to trick him with misunderstood segments used for his own pleasure.

The wilderness suddenly surround him again… looking out Jesus can see for miles – yes so much desert, but towns, and people – all below him. This earth was an incredibly beautiful place, the mountains rolled to the sea, trees and plants of every description were visible as far as he could see.  Looking Jesus could see that by creating humankind in their own image they had allowed them to become master designers and creators themselves – he could see all the kingdoms of the world, sitting in the splendour of their design.

Satan steps in front of him, obscuring his view and looking directly at Jesus says “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me”

The obnoxious obscenity of this statement is like a slap across Jesus face.  There’s not moment of time that Jesus’ divine nature could ever be tempted to turn away from that completeness it has in bringing glory to themself. In an instant Jesus is sure of the truth, that He is the very Word of God in flesh, that in the beginning was only the Word of God and that Word of God, Himself, had created this entire world that Satan now so spitefully claims to be able to give him.

Pushing Satan out of the way of his view of his creation Jesus declares “Away from me Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only”.

Immediately Jesus feels himself sitting, back in the spot he’d watched the sunrise… but the sun now high in the sky.  Completely sustained in his divine nature, feeling the very same joy he had felt as he’d risen from those baptismal waters in the Jordan.  But his body was wasted.  Tired, exhausted actually.  Still starving… still crying out for respite. And suddenly it was there. God kept the promise he had made.  He sent angels who were concerned for Jesus’ welfare, they fed him, refreshed him, and encouraged him to go and complete this mission he had just begun.

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