Sunday, March 4, 2012
IF or BECAUSE...
The lectionary is an amazing thing. A week ago Jesus was in His glory on the mountain top and now He is whisked away into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. What the voice boomed out "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" now is the very thing that is His temptation. What God spoke out on the mountain, now Satan tries to cast doubt upon. The voice that spoke confidently "This is My beloved Son" now comes back to Jesus as "If You are the Son of God." This is always the way temptation works. It preys on fears, doubts, uncertainties, and anxieties – about the most important truths of all.
Jesus weakness is not His mind or His flesh but His heart – we are His weakness. He enters temptation not to prove something to Himself or to the Father or even to Satan (who knows full well who Jesus is). Jesus must answer for our weakness, for our hunger after things not the Kingdom, our fear of death, and our rebel wills too prone to wander.
Jesus is tempted for us – not a temptation once for all to end temptation so we might never suffer it but to answer it so that we might know its answer. This temptation is not about the little stuff but that which is the truest truth of all – what God has said – and it preys upon the greatest doubt of all – that which puts an "IF" in the front of God's Word and promise. So Jesus comes to be tempted like us but with the will and confidence not to be taken in by the great "if" and to answer that "if" with the Word of the Lord.
As mortals, we all have doubts. Doubts about the future, doubts about our leaders, doubts about our neighbors, doubts about our family, and doubts about God. And if we will admit them, we also have doubts about our own wills and our own desires. These doubts are now Jesus' concern. He faces them with the one sure and certain thing in this world – God's Word.
Jesus knew from the start what the real temptation was... that little word "IF." But it is surely a muddle for us. We forget that "IF" is born of him who sows the seed of doubt in us and we listen to him more than we listen to the Lord. We begin to agree with that big "IF" before God’s Word and promises. We trust our feelings more than His Word, trust our hearts more than the Spirit, and trust our thoughts more than His truth. Jesus knew the Word straight up and more than this, He trusts the Word and will of the Father. He will not allow that “IF” to raise doubts within Him or cast fear upon the will of the Father.
Where we find ourselves apologizing for what we believe, embarrassed about what the Word of God says, or uncertain about what it all means, Jesus speaks the Word straight up. Jesus stands firm because He does not stand on feelings or opinions. He stands on the Word, the true and unchanging Word of the Father. Satan gets no where with Jesus because Jesus knows where to stand, what to say to evil, to temptation, and to fear. He stands on the Word of God and He answers temptation with the Word of God.
The difference between Jesus and us is that Jesus trusts in the Word and will of the Father. He does not trust it most of the time or even when He can see the good of it. Jesus has absolute confidence in the Father and the Father in Him. He trusts the Word of God to do what it promises and so Jesus is not left mute and stammering before the lies and deception of Satan. He answers the devil with truth and that always stops the devil in his tracks. Temptation does not just go away, it does not answer to reason or logic, and our feelings are powerless to answer it. Only the Word of God can answer temptation. Jesus stands there for us so that we might stand there in Him.
Look at what Mark’s Gospel connects together – the voice from heaven in baptism "You are My beloved Son" and the voice of the devil in the wilderness "If you are the Son of God." It is no different for each one of us. The greatest temptation of all is the one that hits the most important truth of all – you are the children of God by baptism and faith. It is there the devil hits home. And it is there we must give answer and resist the great temptation to preface what God has done for us and declared of us "IF..."
Jesus’ temptation is in the wilderness where He faces the devil alone. Ours is in the wilderness of civilization, where we stand with others who doubt, fear, and ignore the Word and will of God. We listen to our doubts, we trust our fears more than God's promises, and we succumb to them over and over again until breaking the commandments and discounting the Word of God becomes the only norm we know.
All through Jesus ministry, He is dogged by the great "IF." "If You are the Son of God" heard right after His baptism while He is being tempted in the wilderness by Satan. "If You are the Son of God, come down from this cross" right His transfiguration on the mountain top. The most dangerous threat to our faith and the biggest entry point for Satan to undo what God has done in our lives always begins with the word "IF."
When you raise doubts about your marriage, "if my spouse really loved me..." or about the love of parents or children, "if they really loved me" or as a hurt and wounded Christian looking to heaven, "if God really loved me," the words that undo us always begin with "IF." What we need to learn is how to say "because..." Because I am a child of God, I will not give in to evil; because I am a child of God, I will trust the Lord; because I am a child of God I will not listen to the voice of the king of lies...
Jesus shows the “because” of God’s Word and saving will. Only a Savior so tempted can release us fallen... Only a King who suffers can release the suffering. That is the Word for today. Today we pray the Father to keep us firmly on the rock of His Word’s “because” so that we may not be turned to rubble by Satan’s “if”. Amen.