March 5, 2017 Matthew 4:1-11
Although the gospels have been given names: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, New Testament scholars will tell you they were written anonymously. We can only make educated guesses about who wrote them and where and for whom. They were most likely written over a 25 year span from 70 to 95 CE, well after Jesus’ death and the destruction of the Temple. They were written in this order: Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. The story we’re reading today about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, is mentioned in different forms in all but Johns’ gospel. It follows Jesus being baptized in the river Jordan by his cousin John. The first mention is in two short verses in Mark : Chapter 1 vs. 12-13:
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
About 15 years later the Gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew, by a Jew for other Jewish people, probably in Antioch of Syria. Let’s see how he describes this event in Jesus’ life: Matthew 4: 1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for 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.
Notice a difference between the two gospels? The writer has embellished the story quite a bit, and the embellishment comes from the Hebrew scriptures. With each temptation Jesus responds: “It is written…” (quoting his scriptures)This Jewish writer was using a literary form called midrashim. Rabbi Marc Gellman says “The best way to understand a story in the bible is to make up another story about it.” The Jewish name for these stories is midrash. This story, as the writer of Matthew tells it, has very little to do with historical fact. It’s a midrash having Jesus relive the experience of Moses and the Hebrew people wandering for forty years in the wilderness.
In Exodus 34:28 it says: Before Moses received the ten commandments “He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water.”
Jesus’ first temptation draws from Exodus 16, when God provides food, after the Israelites complained bitterly about being hungry in the wilderness. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3: “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
The second temptation draws from Exodus 17 where the people demand that Moses give them water to drink when they have none. Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” And Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16: “ Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”
And finally the third temptation happens later in their journey, in Exodus Chapter 32. When Moses didn’t return from the mountain soon enough. He was up there conversing with God. The people deserted God and built a calf out of their golden possessions and worshiped it and sacrificed to it. Jesus quotes once again from Deuteronomy 6:13: “The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.”
During their journey in the wilderness, the Israelites’ faith in God was being tested. How did they fare? Well, it was rocky at times. They complained to Moses and Aaron a lot. God just wasn’t providing for their basic needs. So those of little faith tested God. And later, they turned away from God and started worshiping a golden calf of their own making - that is, until Moses interceded and put them back on the right path.
We all face temptations, don’t we? Jesus was not exempt. He was about to begin his formal ministry. At his baptism, as he came up out of the water, he heard God say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
David Lose boils the heart of this passage down into one familiar saying: “You only know who you are when you realize whose you are.” Let me repeat: “You only know who you are when you realize whose you are.” God told Jesus whose he was, but Jesus, like all of us, had to make those sometimes difficult choices to discover it for himself. It’s not enough to be told. He had to have a good grasp of who and whose he was before he invited others to follow him.
All our lives we’re being pulled in two directions: toward and away from God. The devil in this story is trying to undermine Jesus relationship with God. “Go ahead, relieve your suffering. Turn those stones into bread. You don’t need God for that. Do you really believe what God said about you down by the river? Test him out. Go ahead, throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple. See what God does about that. Look at all this worldly power I can give you. God’s not going to provide that, but I can.”
“Away with you, Satan! for it is written: “Worship the Lord, your God, and serve only Him.” In this midrash, the writer was saying: Jesus knew who he was, and whose he was.
Do we? If I had had more time this week, I would have written a midrash for us today based on this story - maybe another year. When we are baptized, we are invited into the Body of Christ as beloved children of God, and I think we spend a life time discovering this for ourselves - growing to trust that it is so.
On Sunday morning we come here to be reminded that God loves us and is with us supporting us on this journey. Some weeks that’s easier to believe than others.
We’re not crossing the Arizona desert in search of a better life, our stomachs empty and no water in sight. We go to the top of the Prudential building for a drink and the view. None of us are running for high office - or even a membership at Mar a lago.
We are tested in other ways, in subtle messages that lead us to forget who and whose we are. We’re bombarded by messages that tell us we’re inadequate in some way. We’re not good enough, beautiful enough. We don’t have enough, we’re not powerful enough - and there’s plenty of fear to go around these days.
But through baptismal water, God tells us we are totally enough. There is plenty to go around, and we need not live in fear. God is with us.
Last Wednesday we began our Lenten journey. It’s a season of reflection and repentance. It invites us to look inside our hearts, seeing ourselves with compassion and truth - to see both our brokenness, and our beauty, our failings, and our faithfulness. Where are you being tested? Where are we as a church being tested? Think about that this week.
Jesus last words to his tempter remind us that we are to “Worship the Lord, our God, and serve only him.” I’ve often wondered what does it actually mean to worship God? We throw that world around a lot.What does it mean? Frederick Buechner gives me some insight:
“To worship God means to serve him. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for him that he needs to have done — run errands for him, carry messages for him, fight on his side, feed his lambs, and so on. The other way is to do things that you need to do — sing songs for him, create beautiful things for him, give up things for him, tell him what’s on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in him and make a fool of yourself for him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.”
This Lent we are invited to go deeper, to walk through our fears and live our faith in new ways. During this Lenten season we will be exploring the many ways we worship and serve God, by Being The Church - as individuals and together in community. They are listed on our sign out front: Protect the environment, Care for the poor, Forgive often, Reject racism, Fight for the powerless, Share earthly and spiritual resources, Embrace diversity. Enjoy this life. Love God.
These are the many ways we show our love of God. This is how we discover who we are and whose we are. Which one, or more - you needn’t limit yourself - will you make part of your Lenten journey?