I’ve always found it a source of comfort that we have our gospel for this morning, the temptation of Jesus, because if in his humanity he was faced with temptation, then it’s ok for me to struggle with mine.
However it wasn’t until a few years ago, when I had the opportunity to see the Judean wilderness for myself, that I came to appreciate how difficult the physical wilderness there is.
This limestone desert is well-named Jeshimon- the Wilderness of Desolation.
And it’s a warped and twisted landscape, shimmering with the heat. The rock is scorching to the touch as if there were some vast furnace beneath it. It’s hard to see how anyone, or anything could possibly survive for even one day. Let alone 40 days.
Yet it’s here that many of the Bible’s prophets, including John the Baptist sought solitude.
In today’s gospel we’ve heard how Jesus, guided by the Spirit, went into this wilderness knowing that in this raw, untamed place, he would be alone with God.
Jesus wasn’t the first, and certainly wasn’t the last, to realise that when we need to come to terms with our inner being, when we want to free ourselves from everything that crowds us in and prevents us from being still, then it’s good to withdraw for a time.
Many have been drawn to a wilderness for that very reason. And in our own day, many people still seek out retreats of solitude.
For in the wilderness we’re stripped of all the things that protect us from ourselves and from our mortality. In the wilderness we find God but we also find our demons.
Jesus went to the wilderness to be rid of all the comforts he’d known.
Standing on the brink of the start of his ministry, for forty days and nights he stayed dedicated to the task ahead, the unflinching life of self-giving, the life of obedience even unto death
When John Milton, in his epic poem, Paradise Regained, wrote about the story of Christ’s temptations in the Wilderness, he let his imagination run free.
And if you have a fancy for 17th century poetry, this is a good one for Lent.
At one stage it’s described that Satan is faced with what for him would be for him a disaster, the prospect of Jesus’s life and ministry being a success, as the beloved Son of God, so he calls together a council of demons to work out how best to stop Jesus in his tracks.
The Council rejects a whole series of possible temptations as far too easy for Jesus to detect. The best way of subverting his mission, they conclude, is to tempt Jesus into quick fixes and short cuts. We should pay heed; we’re prone to the same kind of temptations.
First Satan tempts Jesus to use his powers to turn the little limestone rocks that litter the Wilderness into bread.
That doesn’t seem an unreasonable thing to do. Surely there is no harm in using his God-given power to provide food for the hungry?
Didn’t the Lord’s own mother praise the God who “fills the hungry with good things?” and is this not the same Jesus who will transform a boy’s lunch into a meal for 5,000?
But to have done so in these circumstances, Jesus would have been taking gifts he’d been given for the service of others and using them to serve himself.
Jesus countered this by reminding us that food and possessions are not the only things we need to live our lives. ‘One does not live by bread alone’
Next, Jesus battles with the temptation of power.
Seeing all the power and wealth in the world and the enticement to pursue glory and authority, fame and wealth is still attractive today.
There must have been some temptation for Jesus to respond to the evil oppression of the Roman occupation with a show of supernatural force must have been enormous.
Jesus was very aware of the Jewish expectation that God would send his messiah to vindicate his people, to free them from tyranny & the yoke of oppression.
At his Baptism God had confirmed him as his beloved Son- he knew that he was the longed for Messiah, with all that title meant for his own people.
But he refused to use evil to overcome evil.
Instead he chose to confront both religious & state oppression with the ultimate power of His love, the cross.
Finally having been defeated on this front Satan now tries a different approach.
Let’s try a circus act; give people a bit of excitement. No need for a safety net, after all that word of God you’re so fond of quoting says if you’re the Messiah you won’t even stub your foot on one of these stones.
Jesus responds “You shall not put God to the test.”
To test God is to refuse to trust him, to fail to take the risk of true faith in response to his love.
It’s a temptation that is still around. Many want God to perform “magic” and liberate us. This is why there is a hype around certain churches and tele-evangelists who offer the high energy excitement of spectacular so-called miracles
Attracting people, yes, but what’s bringing them is what they can get out of it.
And it is very different from having true faith in God who calls us to be at service for one another.
We are only a few days into this season of wilderness. And if you haven’t started some form of discipline this Lent, it’s not too late.
Lent is a time for self examination and for re-balancing. It’s our time to enter the wilderness so we can be faced with the things that distract us, and separate us and tempt us.
It won’t be easy, facing our demons never are, but this is the task that is put before us, so that we can be strong in our own ministries, strong in our own discipleship, and strong in our own relationship with God.
How are you going to use this time of wilderness?
(Image from http://www.gracevine.com/sermon/the-temptation-of-jesus/)