This sermon was delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor of Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia on Feb. 21, 2010.
This week, our attention is drawn to the temptation of Jesus in the desert soon after his baptism. I could not resist the sermon title, The Temptations. For those of my generation, it brings to mind the five men who became one of Motown’s greatest singing groups. They had eighteen number one hits, including their signature song, My Girl. I’ll not follow Alan Sherouse’s lead during his splendid sermon last week and break out in song. If I had a voice like his, I would be tempted to try, however.
In some ways, the sermon today is about a time that the music stopped and the silence was deafening for Jesus, or at least that is the way Patricia Farris, writing in the Christian Century, described it. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit to the desert for a time of testing.
What a contrast this must have been for Jesus. One minute he is surrounded by people affirming him with hugs and handshakes over his baptism and soon after he is alone in a wilderness grappling with what it means to love God and live for Him among people chasing after comfort, wealth, power and notoriety.
What’s going on here? What message was Luke sending his readers by relaying this story that was so significant to Jesus that he must have shared it with his disciples? Might it have been this? Every promise made among friends will be tested in a hostile environment?
I think this is a real possibility.
I am confident Luke’s readers made genuine commitments to God, just as Jesus did. I am also certain their faith was being tested in ways they never imagined, just like Jesus’ was. Perhaps Luke was trying to help them understand that this was normal. Every decision made among friends will be tested in a hostile environment, and the tests will come sooner than you think.
What promises have you made? What promises do you think Jesus made that was symbolized by his baptism? Based upon what he taught and how he lived, I think he made the commitment to love God with all his heart, seek His will when facing decisions and live for Him to the best of his ability.
I think he promised to reflect the true nature of God by the way he arranged his values and priorities, related to others, treated his enemies and handled life’s challenges.
I think he promised to take advantage of every opportunity to make the world a better place to live for all people, using his abilities and influence to pursue justice and seek peace. You recall that he voiced this commitment in his inaugural message in his hometown synagogue when he took his cue from Isaiah and said he would preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, open the eyes of the blind, release the oppressed and tell everyone about God’s transforming grace.
I think he promised to follow Micah’s advice by doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.
I think he promised God that he would not be lured into the old self-serving ways of the religious establishment and become addicted to pleasures, comfort, wealth, acclaim and power as they had. Instead, he would serve rather than be served, give rather than take, build bridges of goodwill and understanding rather than walls of intolerance and indifference, and heal wounds rather than inflict them.
I think he promised never to offer quick, easy solutions to serious problems or feed his ego rather than people’s hungry hearts.
I believe he promised to help people achieve their potential and liberate them from anything that prevented it.
I think he promised to make hope visible and trusted in God’s tender providence to help him.
What promises have you made to God? Let me encourage you during Lent to write them down.
Give them a voice and let them speak to you. If it is important to remember our wedding vows and let them guide our decisions, how much more important is it to remember what we promise God.
All of us have made other commitments, too. What are they and who is depending upon you to keep your word? Why not write these down, too.
What temptations threaten to undermine the promises you have made? Are you, like Jesus, being tempted to abandon your commitments in pursuit of physical comforts or pleasures, wealth, acclaim and power?
It is clear from Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptations that the earliest Christian community embraced the thought that personal satisfaction, the pursuit of wealth, the need for recognition and the appeal of power were dangerous challenges to the kind of life and mission that Jesus came to live and invites us to join. Is there any doubt that these same temptations threaten to undermine our mission and influence?
Perhaps you need to specifically identify the temptations that threaten to undermine your commitments. Let me encourage you to go into your personal desert, that place deep within yourself where you come face to face with God and your own humanness. Give your temptations a voice and quit living in denial. Name those things that, if not dealt with, will hurt you and everyone around you.
Whose help do you need to keep the promises you have made? Whose help did Jesus need? There is no question he needed God’s help and looked to Him. Look how Luke begins this part of his narrative.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil Luke 4:1-2a.
Our text highlights the close relationship that existed between Jesus and his heavenly Father, a theme that runs throughout Luke’s gospel. Jesus was led by the Spirit and comforted by Him during his time of testing. If Jesus relied upon the Spirit, how much more should we? Deliver us from evil, needs to be on our lips, too.
Jesus also relied upon those close by to help him remain faithful. After this wilderness experience, what did Jesus do? He called his disciples. This faith journey would require traveling companions that would listen to him, offer advice, encourage and pray for him.
Again, if Jesus needed a support group, how much more do we? All of us need friends that will hold us up and hold us accountable. We need companions that will ask tough questions. Do you really want to do this? What will the consequences be? Who will be hurt or helped by this decision? Do you need to think about this more before moving forward?
How can we keep our promises without God’s help and others who love us? I cannot and don’t see how anyone can. No one is wise or strong enough to withstand temptation alone. Overconfidence is deadly.
It’s hard to admit that I need help, Tiger Woods said in his first public appearance since his November car crash near his home in Orlando. I know I have bitterly disappointed all of you. For all I have done, I am sorry. I owe it to my family to be a better person. I owe it to those close to me to be a better man. I have a lot of work to do and intend to dedicate myself to do it. The day following this public appearance, Tiger left for an undisclosed location and an indefinite period of time to get the help he needs.
Whose help do you need in order to keep your commitments? Why not write this down in your Lenten journal, too, and seek the help that is missing in your life. Too much is at stake for you to do otherwise.
While you are at it, identify those people near and dear to you who need your help. Who needs to hear your wise counsel and encouraging words?
What if you have broken some promises you made? Must you live forever with guilt and shame? No, forgiveness is real and the gospel is transformative. Hope springs out of being loved and forgiven. Allow this church to be one place you find this kind of hope.