Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 • Romans 5:12-19 • Matthew 4:1-11
When I was a little girl, my mother worked part-time for an accountant that went to our church. His name was Tam Church and Mr. Church was one of those saints of the church that I will always remember. Most of us have met folks like him, the ones that when they speak, you just know that wisdom is being poured forth onto the planet. One day while my mom was working in his office a man came in very upset. As mom would tell the story she could hear him yelling at Mr. Church and using language with him that was not in keeping with what was appropriate. Now bear in mind that my mother to this day has a radar for language that is not appropriate and she can hear it across an entire country, as she reminds me.
After he left, my mom went in and said, “Mr. Church, how could you let him treat you that way, he was wrong and you were right and you just let him yell at you and say terrible things to you.” And then it happened…Mr. Church, once again poured forth onto the planet great yet humble wisdom: “Yes he was slinging mud at me, wasn’t he? But you see if I went to sling it back, I would end up having to get just as dirty. I have to remember Whose I am.”
I have to remember Whose I am. In today’s gospel lesson, we find Jesus right after his baptism. Matthew tells us he fasted forty days and forty nights. The other gospel writers don’t include the forty nights but Matthew does and his audience would remember that Moses spent forty days and forty nights also fasting, while on Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy 9:9 tells us Moses did this while “he was there with the LORD.” (Fully present with God.) Matthew is giving an important clue about the nature and the heart of Jesus… he was in fact in the wilderness but he was there with the LORD, fully present.
We all know this story, it shows up every first Sunday of Lent, Jesus being tempted to somehow prove who he is…make food for yourself, jump off and let angels catch you, worship something or someone other than God.
At its basic level temptation and sin are our desire to be something more than what we are; our desire to put ourselves in the place of God and Jesus knew this. For Matthew’s audience these were not new stories of temptation… the people of Israel had been in the wilderness before. For them, learning not to put themselves in the place of God meant trusting God had them covered. They were told food would be provided and not to store it up but to trust…they failed that one, remember…they got so afraid God wouldn’t provide for them that they stored it up and it all went bad.
Matthew isn’t trying to make us feel bad here, in fact it isn’t about us at all, or even his initial listeners, he’s telling us about whom Jesus is and more importantly that Jesus knew both who he was and WHOSE he was when he faced life. Despite Jesus being fully God, our gospel writer is focused on Jesus as fully human in this passage. Jesus, the human being, was baptized and went into the wilderness as a man of God.
In this passage from Matthew, Jesus’ identity is on the line. Even though Jesus is God’s son, this story tells us a lot about Jesus the human being and what it means for us as human beings in relationship with God. In response to temptation, Jesus aligns himself not with the privileged elite but with ordinary folks, with the people to whom Matthew was speaking. He places himself with people just like you and me, ordinary people of God. Jesus accepts his humanity and depends on God to provide for him and care for him. Jesus knew whose he was.
Years ago, I remember hearing a sermon on Psalm 46. In verse 10 of that psalm is that famous verse most all of us learned at some point, “Be still and know that I am God.” The preaching pastor said he thought a better translation would have been “Be still and know that I am God…and you are not!”
Do you ever think about it like that? About how many times, like Jesus, we are tempted to either prove ourselves or try to be God for ourselves or maybe the people we love. It’s a temptation as a parent for sure…and it’s always a futile reminder of our humanity isn’t it? This has been a particular problem for me at least…just when I see my kids hurting the most I’ve been most tempted to try and fix it all and less quick to remember not only whose I am but whose they are…mine only by birth.
We are perpetually faced with temptation in this life. We worry about things we can’t change, things that are outside of our control. We get frustrated that we can’t see the future and surrendering to the advice of the psalmist to “be still” is often very, very hard.
We can’t forget, though, what was said at Jesus’ baptism…remember the voice from heaven? “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Temptation shows us who Jesus is, but more importantly, who Jesus knows himself to be, a beloved child of God, in whom God takes pleasure, in whom God delights.
What about your baptism? Or mine? We’re loved, God delights in us too. Our very existence is pleasing to God. We live in a world in which it can be pretty hard to hang on to that truth though…don’t you think? We worry a lot in this culture -- we wrorry about jobs and money, about our security in general. We’re tempted to take more than we need. It can be tempting to put more work into our resume than our character at times.
In Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis writes,”We usually know what we can do, but temptation shows us who we are.” Jesus remains himself in the midst of temptation. He doesn’t somehow prove God for us…instead he remains wholly and fully aware that he IS God’s. Jesus held tight to the knowledge that he was beloved, that he was pleasing to God.
I think that’s what Mr. Church did really well. He remembered whose he was, that he was beloved, that God literally delighted in him. And I think that’s why he didn’t need to get dirty even when he had every human reason to argue back, even when he was probably tempted to prove himself right and to win.
I want to close your eyes for a second here…get as comfortable as you can where you are…take a deep breath in slowly and now let it out slowly. Now with your eyes still closed, I want to you to feel something – the knowledge that you are a beloved child of God, that God actually and fully delights in you. You’re very existence pleases God. Now with your eyes still closed, just let yourself feel that truth. You are so pleasing to God, that God is delighted in you. Okay you can open your eyes. I think this is what Jesus’ resistance to temptation was sourced in…he knew that truth, he felt that truth, he lived that truth.
We’ve begun a journey together, you and I, it started once again the other night, with the sign of the cross and on the other end of our journey there is a glorious day where we once again celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Between here and there, we have to remember…we have to remember whose we are, the very delight of God’s heart.
Jesus’ temptations have everything to do with his identity, as do ours. Would he stay true to the person God had created him to be, called him to be, and gifted him to be? My prayer for us this Lent is that we meet Jesus again and in a new way…that we learn from him and live like him. Be still and know that God is God and we aren’t and that we don’t have to be. And together, brothers and sisters, let us remember whose we are...created by intention, loved by design and the very delight of the Holy One.