March 6, 2022
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. ****
This passage about Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by devil reminds me of taking piano lessons as a young child. Somewhere about age 6 my mom arranged for me to begin learning the piano. Through the years to high school graduation, I had weekly piano lessons from Lila Byng in her home on the hill overlooking the city of Rice Lake. I have such fond memories of her. Every Tuesday afternoon I would sit at her Story and Clark piano and play through the pieces that she had listed on the little notebook she kept for me. I suppose I had 4 or 5 pieces that I was to have practiced throughout the week.
When a child enrolls in music lessons, parents are signing on to something as well. One of the responsibilities they have is making sure the budding musician practices. Another is making sure the fledging pianist practices all the assigned pieces and not just the favorite, familiar ones. I know my mom had to encourage me to work on the new music and not just take the easy way out and practice the pieces I liked.
Taking the easy way is true not just for kids taking piano lessons. All of us face days filled with the temptation to take the easy way out. This applies in so many aspects of life. Do we do get some form of exercise every day or do we watch more tv? Do we face the issue we have been avoiding with our spouse or let the kids interrupt again so that the avoidance can continue? Do we engage in daily devotions and prayer to grow our spiritual well-being, or do we just expect the preacher to provide engagement with the Word on Sunday morning?
We face situations every day in which we can take the easy way out. The choice is often not between good and evil, but between what is hard and what is easy. The temptation we face each day, is to take the easy way out, and then to rationalize it away with a thousand excuses.
Is this a serious issue? It would appear not. My illustrations all seem fairly insignificant and the rationalizations sound reasonable. Who really cares if I choose to nap rather than exercise, or watch TV rather than read something to feed my soul? Is what I have labeled a temptation (to take the easy way out) really a big deal?
Helmut Thielicke, a German author and theologian who stood at odds with the Nazis in the 1930’s and 40’s wrote a sermon titled: “How Evil Came Into the World,” and he reminds us that “all temptations in life begin in sugared form.”
The beginning of Lent presents us the story of Jesus and the devil. In this account, the devil offers Jesus temptations, which on the surface seem harmless. They are not temptations to do evil. The temptations Jesus faces are aimed to get him to take the easy way out. The devil puts the temptations before Jesus in hopes of being affirmed as god.
The bible is not shy about referring to the devil or the evil one. There are many labels in the Bible when referring to the devil. Yet we are not told where the devil came from. It does not make much difference because the reality is there is evil in the world. We have seen it throughout our lifetime. From Hitler’s concentration camps to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — evil is not difficult to see in this world.
But what of evil closer to us? In our own minds and hearts? Every time we hurt someone intentionally, every time we try to make ourselves better than others, every time we allow others to be hurt — we know a more personal evil.
The devil presents three temptations and they all offer us some insight into how Jesus handled them.
Temptation #1: The devil says to Jesus: “Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Not a bad idea, really. Think about it. A lot of good could come from such a move. Changing stones to bread could help billions of people starving in this world. If stones could be turned into bread, we would never have to see those pictures of emaciated children or mothers too weak to nurse their babies. Stones to bread — temptation #1 the devil put before Jesus. Making bread from stones could feed the world.
Temptation #2: “Worship me,” says the devil, “and to you I will give you authority over all earthly kingdoms.”
There are some real possibilities here. Think about what it would mean if Jesus really were in charge around the world. If Jesus had control, there would be no wars and no threats of violence. We would have no need for nuclear weapons and massive military might. The $1.99 trillion the world spends on military protection every year could go to make sure everyone has shelter and medical care and a quality public education. If Jesus had all authority over the world, wealth and resources would be shared more equitably so there would be no poverty and people in need. This temptation to give Jesus authority over all deserves some thought.
Temptation #3 “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”
In other words, the temptation is to see if God will perform a dramatic rescue upon request. Again, think of the consequences. If Jesus did this, it would show that God can be manipulated to do what we want and what we need. It would show us finally that God really is here for us.
Every time the devil offered him something more — bread, power, protection — Jesus turned him down. No to the bread, Jesus says. No to the kingdoms, no to the angelic bodyguards. He is full up, Jesus says, on worshipping God and serving only him. So, by the end of the story, the devil still has all his bribes in his bag and Jesus is free to go.
The temptations the devil puts before Jesus were so subtle. One could easily rationalize the outcomes. These “harmless” temptations could lead to Jesus being Savior of the World immediately and easily. Jesus would not have had to spend a few years preaching and teaching; he would not have had to stop and heal the sick, and, most important of all, there would have been no betrayal and no cross to bear. No dying, suffering, or death. Jesus could have given into the devil’s temptation. It would have been the easy way out for Jesus. But it would not have been faithful. For the easy way out would have led away from the cross and death — and Easter and an empty tomb, and the powerful reality that God has the final word about life that conquers evil, sin and death.
The real temptation of Jesus by the devil was to choose another way than the cross Maybe … that is our temptation too.
The cross. It is a reminder to us of Jesus’ faithfulness in the face of temptation. The cross, the symbol of suffering and death in the time of Jesus, was changed dramatically by God in raising Jesus from death.
In our lives and in the world today, we know the cross and we feel it often. If you know physical, emotional or relational suffering, you know the cross. The people of Ukraine, fleeing war, taking shelter in metro stations and building sandbag barricades to try and stop Russian tanks know the cross. If you have experienced pain and the agony of death’s aftermath, you know the cross.
The story of Jesus temptation by the devil is a reminder to us. For in every instance, we wish we could avoid the cross, avoid those hard aspects of life — every time we think that God should give us an easier way in life, we are tempted as Jesus was tempted.
Discipleship, living out faithfulness to God is sometimes incredibly difficult because at times we are tempted to think our faith should shield us from the pain and agonies of this life. Being children of God does not come with a promise that life is going to be sweet and easy.
Jesus shows us clearly that discipleship demands something of us. There is evil in this world that we must stand against and sometimes confront. The crosses that we may have to bear will hurt us, or drag us down, and we, too, are tempted to run from them, to take the easy way out. We are tempted to look away from those pictures of Ukrainian mothers and children boarding crowded trains, leaving husbands and fathers behind to fight the goliath Russian military. We would rather not be discomforted by their plight. Then, we do not have to be unsettled. If we avoid paying the visit to the sick or dying friend, then we do not have to face our own fears of dying. Temptations arise when we do not care about injustices, where some people never have a chance to live with the basic necessities of life and we are fully comfortable all the time.
You see, we fall to the temptation to take the easy way out in so many subtle ways — in our neglect, or ignorance; in our lack of involvement; in our prejudices; in our apathy — because our discipleship, the following Jesus in the way of the cross is hard. And every day we are guilty.
The good news is that God does not leave us stranded in our guilt and stuck in the evil we create and contribute to. We do not face the cross alone. We do not carry it alone. The person who took up that cross in the first place not only has shown us how; in carrying his, he helps shoulder ours. He carried his and conquered it and because of that victory, he is with us in carrying ours too. When our faith is weak, when trust is gone and we cannot find God no matter how hard we look, God’s there with us in carrying the cross, carrying us, through our temptations and in spite of our failures. God never takes the easy way out with us.
In Death Valley there is a place known as Dante’s View. There, you can look down to the lowest spot in the United States, a depression in the earth 200 feet below sea level called Bad Water. But from that same spot, you can also look up to the west and some 85 miles away you can see the highest peak in the continental United States, Mount Whitney, rising to a height of 14,500 feet. Look down and see the way to the lowest point in the country and look up to the highest. At Dante’s View, any movement must be in one direction or the other.
The temptations that come into our lives, present choices. One choice is the easy way out taking the downhill path that doesn’t demand much of us. The other choice is uphill. This choice demands effort and discipline.
The path uphill leads to an empty cross and the One who walks beside us up that hill is the one that did not take the easy way out, but hung there for us, defeating evil, sin and death. Good news? You bet.
 How the World Began: Sermons on the Creation Story by Helmut Thielicke; Editor John W Doberstein; Publisher ISD LLC, 2016