A Reflection from March 1, 2020 on Matthew 4:1-11 | Jesus is Tempted in the Wilderness but does not Sin (passage included below)
Remember when I said that our Lenten Bible Study would focus on love? The Gospel for the first Sunday in Lent is making us work for our money with our first passage, which is about Jesus fasting in the wilderness for forty days and then being tempted by a devil when his defenses are most weakened. And, yet, he doesn’t take the bait. I have to admit, I fasted on Ash Wednesday (and humbly repent of making it so public with this statement) and by the end of the day I was surely guilty of at least five of the seven deadly sins (no comment on which ones). Had the devil offered me a loaf of bread, I’m not sure I would have done what Jesus did.
The point of this story about Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness is not to teach us that the evil one tempts us with food, safety, and power so we better be on the lookout and know how to resist them. Nor is this supposed to remind us that we’re miserable failures who don’t deserve God’s favor, but if we’re lucky God will love us anyway. In fact, the point of the passage is quite the opposite: it’s that Jesus, who was tempted by the same things we are, has resisted evil and, spoiler alert, at his resurrection, he defeats evil altogether and forever. In sum, this is the kind of Lord you can put your trust in. He’s not like us, and yet he loves us, weak and cranky as we are.
Yes, we should try to resist temptation, not be driven by our material desires, trust God even when we feel vulnerable, and should resist making idols of all the things that we mindlessly worship (fame, wealth, health, social status, physical ability, intelligence, etc.). But Jesus came to save sinners, not perfect people who can DIY their relationship with God (think 700 Club meets HGTV…or just the 700 Club…).
The good people who decide what Bible passages we read in church each week paired this passage with one from Romans 5:12-19 which says that sin and death came into the world through one person, Adam (of Adam and Eve fame), and was overcome by the love and life of one person, Jesus. That’s the message of grace: that we are good enough to be loved by God, even if we don’t think we (or others) are really that great.
So, in the words of my childhood hero, Tina Turner: What’s love got to do, got to do with it? More specifically, what does love have to do with sin? If Jesus did all that he did, and now we’re good in God’s eyes, then why do we need to worry about sin?
Because of love!
Sin, at its core, is an absence of love. You’ve seen the snarky bumper stickers that say “Jesus loves you but the rest of us think you’re a [jerk].” It’s not a very nice statement, but there’s some theological truth in it. We’re called to imitate Jesus’s reconciliation by replacing sin (especially our own) with love. This means repenting of our sins and not being jerks, because the rest of the world still has to live with us. Will Jesus love you if you’re still a jerk? Yes. (thanks be to God!) Will your spouse, kids, coworkers, fellow-drivers? If they can manage to see you as God does…then yes…but why not make it easier on everyone?
The priest and theologian, Alexander Schmemann says that it’s the Church’s job “To remind man of this personal love and vocation,” during Lent. He goes one to say, “to fill the sinful world with [Jesus’s] love–this is the true mission of the Church (Great Lent, p. 26).” If we, as faithful and caring people, want to participate in this work, then we need to start with ourselves. We ended our Bible Study with this question: How does temptation prevent us from loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves?
You can participate in the conversation, too, by adding your thoughts or questions to the comment section. Want to join us for next week’s conversation? Email me (Brin) for details or tune in for next week’s blog post, which is on John 3:1-17 – Jesus tells a pharisee that he came not to condemn the world but to save it.
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.