First Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 4th chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 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. 3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4 Jesus answered him, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone.' " 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 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. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." 8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' " 9 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, 10 for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' 11 and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' " 12 Jesus answered him, "It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our lives are defined by the stories we hear and the stories we tell.  Stories shape our identity.  They tell us who we are, who we belong to, where we belong, and what we should be doing. 

People tell stories to get their point across, to get you to buy into their view of the world.  We live in a world of competing stories.  Everyone seems to have their own narrative about what’s happening, their own view about what’s going on.  Each story seems to be attached to the agenda of the person telling it. 

Stories help us define who we want to be when we grow up. You might have heard a story from a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a pastor, and their story helped shape your identity.  

Or perhaps you even read a story in a book and the adventures resonated with you and you wanted to be like that character.

Some stories aren’t real though, as your parents gently explained that you could only pretend to be a prince or a princess, a pirate or a dragon-slayer.  

Using stories to get your point across isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.  Jesus uses parables and stories to teach us about the Kingdom of God.  Using stories is just a tool. Stories can be useful in teaching, but they can also be used to manipulate people into agreeing with something that they really don’t believe. 

Today’s gospel lesson is about two different stories.  Those two stories are competing to claim the life and identity of Jesus.  One of the stories is true.  The Holy Spirit tells that story.

One of the stories is a lie. The devil tells that story. We must listen carefully to tell the difference because the devil is an excellent liar.

The setting of the stories is important.  These two stories both take place in the wilderness and in Jerusalem.  

The wilderness is important in the history of the Jewish people.  It is the place where God met them after rescuing them from slavery in Egypt.  It is the place where they received the 10 commandments.  The word “wilderness” means the place where God speaks.  

The city of Jerusalem is the center of Jewish power and identity. At the time of Jesus, the temple had been renovated and expanded and was the center of worship for all the Jewish people.

The two characters in these stories are the devil and Jesus.  This is the first time we see the devil in Luke’s gospel.  He is bold; he is clever; he is powerful.  That’s why he is such a good liar. 

Both stories are about the identity of Jesus. Here is some background:   Jesus’ genealogy goes all the way back to Adam.  His ancestors include important people like Noah, Abraham, and David.  

When Jesus was about 30 years old, he was baptized by John in the Jordan  River. After his baptism, he was praying and the heavens opened up.  The Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove.  A voice from heaven said, “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  Then Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to pray and fast in order to prepare for his ministry. 

Here is the devil’s story.  Remember the devil is a liar.  He’s a clever liar, though, and he hides his lies in the middle of things that really happen.  

The devil’s story begins when Jesus was tired and hungry and alone.  It was a perfect time to approach him.  Humans are especially vulnerable when they are weak.  Their bodies betray them.  Their stomachs growl.  Their heads ache.  They aren’t able to think as clearly as they would if they had a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast.  

It is best to tempt people when they are alone, especially if they have been alone for a while.  There is strength in numbers and their friends can often talk them out of bad decisions.  

So the devil appealed to Jesus’s sense of identity and power.  “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”   The devil wanted Jesus to indulge himself.  To tell himself that as God’s Son he deserves to have what he wants, deserves to reach out and take what he needs.  

Jesus resisted, and the first temptation didn’t work, but the devil had more ideas.  He led Jesus up to the top of the hill and showed him all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said, “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.”  

That is quite a temptation.  All the kingdoms and all the power and all the glory.  The kingdom and the power and the glory.  That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  And that’s how we know the devil has told a great big whopper of a lie.  Because the kingdoms and the power and the glory don’t belong to him.  They are not his to give.  

The kingdom and the power and the glory belong to God.  The devil is lying when he says they are his to give.  He is lying when he says that anything is his to give.  Anything he is offering to sell you or give you belongs to God.  He is trying to get you to take stolen property.  Everything belongs to our God who created it. 

We renounce the devil and all his empty promises as part of our baptism liturgy.  Jesus quoted Deuteronomy in response to this second temptation, but the devil had another trick up his sleeve.  

The devil had memorized a few Bible verses himself. This just goes to show that you can’t always trust someone just because they can quote scripture.  You have to read it for yourself.  You have to study it and learn the context.  You have to hear scripture from the perspective of Jesus. 

Next, the devil took Jesus to the top of the Temple and tried to get him to prove his identity.  He told Jesus to jump off and make some angels fly over and catch him quickly.  Jesus knew he didn’t have to make God prove anything.  So the devil left him, and waited for another opportunity. 

The Holy Spirit has a different story.  You see the Holy Spirit was there with Jesus the whole time.  It was the Spirit who led him into the wilderness to fast and pray.  

The Spirit was there to remind Jesus of his true identity as the Son of God.  The Spirit prayed with him when he was alone and hungry and tired.  The Spirit gave him power in his weakness to resist the devil and his empty promises.  The Spirit gave him the power to see the truth of God. 

The Spirit was there when devil came and tried to tempt Jesus three times. 

First, the devil tried to get Jesus to use his power for selfish reasons.  The devil told him to make bread just for himself, to feed his own hunger.  Jesus resisted that temptation.  

Instead of turning a stone to bread, Jesus gave up his very life to become bread, the bread which gives us strength, the bread which gives life and salvation to the whole world. 

Next, the devil tried to get Jesus to worship him in exchange for the kingdoms and power and glory of this world.  Jesus knew that the kingdom and the power and the glory belong to God alone and he told the devil so.

Finally, the devil tried to get Jesus to prove who he was by calling in the angels to verify his identity.  Jesus knew that God doesn’t have to prove anything to the devil.  In the end, the devil cannot win.  The Holy Spirit was with Jesus in the wilderness.

Sometimes we find ourselves in the wilderness, tired, and hungry, and alone.  The devil tries to deceive us with all kinds of stories and lies.  Tempts us with empty promises of things in this world.  Tries to get us to forget who we are and who we belong to. He is a good storyteller, and an excellent liar, so sometimes we fall for it.   

When we are tired, Jesus invites us to come to him and rest.  When we are hungry, Jesus has given himself as the bread of life and forgiveness.  When we feel alone, Jesus gives us this community of believers to strengthen us in our faith.  He sends us the Holy Spirit who promises to be with us always.

Jesus’ true identity was revealed in his baptism. He is the Son of God. In our baptism we are claimed and named as children of God. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  The mark is indelible. The Holy Spirit promises to be with us forever.  

The devil lies.  He loses in the end. 

The Holy Spirit’s story is true.  Jesus is the Son of God.  

We are the children of God.  Amen.