Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sermon: Luke 4: 1-13 The Testing of Jesus

I wonder if any of you are doing tests or exams at the minute? It's coming into the season of school tests. When it comes to tests you want to do your best, you want to pass them. It's so bad that my brother-in-law took time out of a birthday party yesterday in order to revise for his Hebrew exam tomorrow!

In our Bible reading today, we find that Jesus is being tested. Now he's not in school; it's not a written exam; but it is a testing time. Last week, we saw Jesus being baptised, and at that moment, the Holy Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove and a voice came from the Father: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'

Immediately afterwards, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert, the wilderness. Now, what do you find in the desert? There's sand, and rocks, and maybe camels and cactuses, but there's not much else. It's a barren, dry place. There's no food. And it's here that Jesus is tested, tempted by the devil.

Now I've brought along a mock exam paper, a report card for the test Jesus faces (download here) for you to follow along. How will Jesus do?

[The Bible background is that everyone else has failed the test so far. You remember in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were tempted by the devil, and they failed and fell. Far from the garden, in the wilderness, the children of Israel as they left Egypt, also failed. Each of us too gives in to temptation. Can Jesus succeed where we have all failed?]

Question One. Jesus is in the desert, he's been there forty days, with no food. He is hungry. And the devil suggests that he sort himself out. 'If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.'

Now I've brought along a stone (the biggest I could find in the garden, which isn't too big), but imagine the stones in the desert. They're big, they might look like a bap, they could be so tempting.

The devil is questioning the voice that came from heaven. The Father said 'You are my Son' but now the devil is saying Are you really? 'If you are...' Jesus has the power to do it. He could change stones into bread. After all, later in the gospel he will feed five thousand people, so he could easily feed one.

But Jesus came into the world to serve, not to be served. He came for others, not for himself or his own good. To feed himself in this way, using his power, would be selfish and sinful. Plus, it goes against what the Bible says.

Do you see how Jesus responds? 'It is written: Man does not live on bread alone.' It is written. He goes straight to the Bible, the Old Testament, to discover how he should act. You see, while it's good to have bread and not be hungry, it's not the most important thing - the verse from Deuteronomy goes on to say that we need the word of God to truly live.

Question one. Did Jesus pass or fail? Mark it down on your sheet. He has passed the first test.

Now on to question two. The devil takes Jesus to a high mountain and gives him a great view. Have you ever been to the top of a high mountain? It might have been Slieve Donard or Cuilcagh, you can see ever so far. But the devil shows Jesus even more. Not just the kingdoms around about, but all the kingdoms of the world. [Perhaps even throughout the whole of time, so he was shown the splendour of the United Kingdom in its height...] I've brought along a globe - Jesus was shown the whole world.

The devil says that he will give it all to Jesus, if he will but worship him. Now what is at stake here? Why is this a temptation? What's going on?

Let me tell you for a moment or two about my school days. There was a subject I really hated. It wasn't geography, English, or science. [Not even RE, as one boy suggested!] It was PE. I really didn't like having to get into T-shirt and shorts in weather like this with the snow and rain falling and go outside. There was one thing I dreaded above all, and that was when Mr Hill or Mr McAleese (actually, it was always Charlie McAleese) announced we were doing the 1.2. Those words struck fear into our hearts. The 1.2 was a 1.2 mile run from the school, around the park, and back via the main road, through the town to the school.

I was always one of the slowcoaches [Never hurry a McMurray was the catchphrase], who would still be running while the others were already changed back into school uniform. But there was a shortcut. After you'd left the school, and in the park, there were lots of trees, and another exit from the park. It meant you could avoid the long way round (which brought you past the sewage works in the town) and cut the distance by a half. Much easier - not that I ever took the shortcut!

It's what the devil was offering Jesus here. A shortcut, to win the world without enduring the cross. Wouldn't this be so much handier? But again, it goes against the Scriptures. Here's Jesus' answer: 'It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'

Jesus must obey and fulfil the Bible, as the word of God, and resists the devil. Question Two, has Jesus passed? Yes, of course!

Question Three, and Jesus is again on a high place. This time, though, it's the top of the temple. They reckon the highest place of the temple was about 700 feet high - roughly the height of 50 double-decker buses. Or about five times the height of the tower on the church here. High up, anyway.

The devil has heard Jesus saying 'It is written' and so he tries that himself. Psalm 91 says that Jesus will be protected from harm - his foot won't be hurt on a stone, the angels will guard and protect him. I've brought along a lifeguard hoodie to demonstrate the point. So surely if angels are going to watch over Jesus, then he could just jump off and prove the protection?

But Jesus says that you can't test it out. You can't just randomly do something to check it out. That's not how faith and God's word works. 'It says: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'

How did Jesus do on the third question? Did he pass or fail? He passed. In fact, as you'll see, he gets a pass overall. He has succeeded where we fail. He is indeed the Son of God, he is qualified to be our sinless Saviour, who can give his life in place of ours, his righteous self for our sinful selves.

More than that, Jesus is like our older brother, who knows what we're going through when we're tested. You might have an older brother or sister who has already done their 11-plus - they know what you're going through - they've already been through the revision and the stress and the practice papers and the waiting for results... Jesus is like this. He knows what it's like to be tempted - and was without sin.

So when we're being tempted, we can come to Jesus, his throne of grace, and find grace for our struggles. And when we fail, we find in him mercy for our failures. Even if we fail, Jesus has passed the test, and proven (by his obedience) that he is the Son of God, and our older brother. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

This sermon was preached at the Family Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 20th January 2013.

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