Monday, April 02, 2007

the temptation to be spectacular (luke 4)

The devil takes Jesus to the holy city and places him at the pinnacle of the temple. If you are the Son of God”, the devil says to Jesus, “throw yourself down from here…The angels will catch you…You won’t be harmed”.

This was the third temptation of Jesus: to be spectacular. In these messages we are trying to discover how the temptations of Jesus are our temptations. The writer of Hebrews says that we have a high priest who has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4. 15). The temptations of Jesus are our temptations.

This can be said another way: as we move through the temptations, we will discover an understanding of ourselves and an understanding of God.

There is the temptation to be relevant: turn stones into bread.

There is the temptation to be powerful: worship Satan and all of this can be yours. There is the temptation to be spectacular: throw yourself from the Temple, and allow the angels to catch you.

These temptations of Jesus are our temptations. And so this morning we reflect on the temptation to be spectacular, which is the temptation to seek after the applause and the adoration. A friend calls this the “people pleasing” syndrome: much of what we do in life is simply to please others. The action may be right or wrong, the motivation may be good or bad, we are simply seeking the approval of others.

If we are honest, there is something within all of us that craves approval, the applause of others. We see it in televised courtrooms, as judges and attorneys play to the camera. We see it in March Madness, as everyone wants to be on the Sports Center highlights, having lifted that last shot into the nets for the victory. But what we notice in others is also present within ourselves. There is something within us that wants to be the hero, the center of attention, the star, the celebrity, with adoring masses and rabid throngs of admirers all around.

This was the temptation of Jesus: to be liked, to be adored, to be applauded. And it can be our temptation as well. We can become people-pleasers. The difficulty that people pleasers encounter is that they attract, almost like a magnet, people pushers. People pushers can spot

people pleasers a mile away.

This is the voice of the tempter. Will you do this one thing for me, for us, for this cause? The danger with this request is that we can be distracted from our mission in life. Jesus did not come to throw himself down from the temple. As Henri Nouwen notes,

“Jesus refused to be a stunt man. He did not come to prove himself. He did not come to walk on hot coals, swallow fire, or put his hand in the lion’s mouth to demonstrate that he had something worthwhile to say” (p. 38).

Jesus came for another reason: to announce that the kingdom of God was here! His temptation in life was to become distracted from this mission, to announce and to be the good news. On one occasion he was asked:

Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?”(Luke 7. 20). The expected answer would have been: “Go and tell John what you see and hear: the armies grow, the weapons increase, forts are being built, the boundaries are expanding, and the enemy is in retreat”.

Are you the One who is to come? Jesus says, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor receive the good news.”(Luke 7. 22)

These were the signs of the kingdom. This is what Jesus came to do. This was the mission of Jesus. What is our mission in life? Are we tempted to be distracted from our mission? The mystic Meister Eckhardt once offered this insight:

“The devil has created a device called busyness,
by which he deceives Christians into thinking
they are doing the will of God”.

We are called to a life that pleases God. If you want to give up something for Lent, I invite you to give up the desire to please other people. We are called to resist the voice and charms of the Tempter. Jesus was a God-pleaser. We are called to be God-pleasers.

In this third temptation we learn something about ourselves: that we are prone to wander from our mission in life, tempted to please other people when God might choose another path for us. And so we learn something in this temptation about God as well: God reveals himself to us, not in the spectacular, but in the ordinary, everyday, mundane stuff of life. God is often hidden in plain sight. God reveals himself to us in human flesh.

A leap off the temple would be a miraculous sign, it would compel belief, but that is not how God chooses to operate. Jesus displays his ultimate faith in God by allowing God to be God. He does not blackmail God. He does not set out a fleece for God. He does not paint God into a corner. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6. 16: Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.

A biblical scholar, Eduard Schweizer, has said it this way: “While Israel despaired of God because it did not experience a miracle, Jesus knows that faith holds even when miracles do not happen” (p. 63).

Or in the words of a country song of a few years ago: Sometimes we have to walk on faith and trust in love”.

Ultimately this temptation is about trust. Can I trust God to work in my life? Sometimes I place demands on God that God has not promised to fulfill. When I do this, am I walking on faith? Am I trusting in love? The issue is trust. I am reminded of an 18th century prayer from the Church of Scotland:

“Lord, I give myself to you,
and what I cannot give,
I invite you to take away”.

The understandings of ourselves and God come together in this temptation in a specific way: if our temptation is toward the applause and the adulation, and if our tendency is to see God in just the same way, as One who comes in extraordinary and spectacular ways, then the task for us this Lent is to resist the Tempter, to let go of our need to be people pleasers, and to believe and trust fully in the One who is worth pleasing.

The temptations of Jesus are our temptations: To be relevant—turn stones into bread; to be powerful—to have all of the kingdoms of the world; to be spectacular—to throw ourselves from the temple.

The temptations of Jesus come to us in many forms: to do the urgent rather than the important; to choose power without love over the power of God, which is love; to be people pleasers, rather than God pleasers.

And so we are left with questions: How do these temptations become real for you? As a parent? In your professional life? In your relationship to God? In your pull away from what you know to be your mission in life? Where do you experience the tensions in your own life having to do with urgency (this would be your schedule), power (this would be your relationships), and motivation (this would be your reasons for doing what you are doing)? If you sat for a moment and thought about it, do you feel those tensions within yourself? Can you hear the voice of the tempter? Can you hear another voice, perhaps the still small voice of God?

Here is the good news. If the temptations of Jesus are our temptations, the resources he used to battle temptation are ours as well. There are three resources: a baptismal identity, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the authority of the scriptures. A baptismal identity: Jesus was baptized, he was a child of God, he was claimed by God, and he had heard his Father’s voice say about him, “You are my beloved Son, I am pleased with You”. In resisting temptation we will need to remember that we have been baptized and claimed as children of God. The presence of the Holy Spirit: The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. He was full of the Holy Spirit. In the scriptures temptation and the presence of the Holy Spirit are always closely related. And when life is most difficult for us it will be helpful to remember that we are not alone. God’s spirit surrounds us, dwells within us, goes before us, a cloud by day, a fire by night. The authority of the Scriptures: Jesus was able to draw strength from the knowledge that God had always been with his people, to free them from bondage. This knowledge comes to us from the Word. When we are tempted to be relevant, powerful, spectacular, we will need something to ground us in the reality of who we are in God’s sight, and that is the Bible.

In Lent, as we walk with Jesus, we claim these resources that were a part of his faithfulness: a baptismal identity, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the authority of the Word. Lent is a time to face temptations, to ask those questions, to sort out those voices, to clarify not only what is right and wrong, but what is good and what is better, what is of God and what is not. It is the spiritual adventure of mapping out our lives and destinies, discovering who we really are and where we are going. It is the spiritual struggle from which none of us spared, but in which none of us is alone.

The good news is that we are not the first to set out on this spiritual journey. The writer of Hebrews reminds us:

We have a high priest, who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need” (Hebrews 4. 15-16).

Let us pray:

Lord, I give myself to you,
And what I cannot give,
I invite you to take away.


Sources: Kennon Callahan, for the interpretation of Luke 7; Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According To Matthew; Henri Nouwen, In The Name of Jesus.


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