A Vulnerable Human Jesus
The text for this first week of Lent is Luke 4:1-13, which sees Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil. In the Gospel of Luke this interaction occurs just after Jesus’ poorly received first sermon. Jesus is also out in the wilderness on a 40-day retreat. He is hungry and tired. I know what this combination does to me at the grocery store. I can only imagine the devil taking advantage of such a situation.
The point here is that Jesus is tempted the way we are all tempted. It is utterly human to face such temptation. To be hurting, like Jesus may have been after that sermon. It is human to be tired and hungry and weakened physically, mentally, and emotionally. This underscores the total humanity of Jesus. It is a great reminder that Jesus truly is Immanuel, God with us.
Such Very Human Temptations
The devil is a wily one for certain. He tempts the vulnerable, human Jesus with those things that so tempt all of us. The devil offers three such temptations. He demands that Jesus turn a stone into bread, that Jesus bow to him in return for all the kingdoms of the world, and that he throw himself down so that angels can break his fall. In short, Jesus is offered what all humans want, food, power, and safety. There is not much more you can offer a human.
Jesus, of course turns away all of them. He outsmarts the devil at every turn. Pointing out that we do not live by bread alone; that humanity is not and should not be defined by our earthly appetites. He makes the not so obvious point (to humans anyway) that all power belongs to God, and that we are to serve only him. It is a point Jesus will make again before his death when faced with Pilate’s arrogance.
In the first two temptations Jesus turns away with scriptural references, Deuteronomy 8:3, then Deuteronomy 6:4. The third temptation sees the devil himself trying to use scripture against Jesus by quoting Psalm 91: 11-12. Jesus then turns the scriptural tables on the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. A good reminder that scripture can be used by those that mean us no good. So, Jesus comes out on top and passes the test. What could this mean?
Fulfilling the Law
This text serves to remind us of the essential humanity of Jesus. He is fully human right down to being vulnerable and tempted. Yet, this text also serves to point out Jesus’ essential divinity. As the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out, Jesus is the only one to have ever completely fulfilled the law. I used to think that fulfilling the law was simply about Jesus as Messiah completing the prophecy as it was delivered in the Old Testament. While that is true, it also as Bonhoeffer points out, that Jesus lived the law completely and perfectly as only the Son of God can do. He is tempted the way all humans are but unlike any human, Jesus can and does turn away all temptation.
This reaffirms that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. Jesus has the authority from God to complete his ministry. As Jesus makes clear to the devil, he will complete that ministry in his own way and reveal himself fully at a time of hischoosing. Jesus will not be rushed into anything by the evil one.
For us, the lesson is clear. Jesus has the authority of God, as God’s son. He shows here, as he does elsewhere that he fulfills the law completely. As Messiah and as the one who completely obeys the law, Jesus is the one who can set aside the law as necessary for our salvation. We cannot get there via the law, Jesus could, us no way. The Good News here is that we do not have to use the law. We have our faith in Jesus, as the righteousness of God himself. This saves us and sets us free.
This first week in Lent is the beginning of the end for Jesus’ earthly ministry and the completion of the tasks that the devil wants Jesus to rush. Jesus will soon reveal himself as the risen savior God sent him here to be, and we know that the empty tomb is our salvation. Let us take comfort in the knowledge that our faith in Jesus removes all obstacles to an eternal relationship with God and allows us to set aside a law that only God’s son could fulfill anyway.
Praise Be to God