First Sunday of Lent, February 14, 2016
Jesus fed 5000 people with just a few pieces of bread. Miraculously, he multiplies the food. With one boy’s lunch, he feed the equivalent of a small town’s population. How can he do this?
Well, he can do it because he’s God in human flesh.
With his disciples, he was out on a boat on the Sea of Galilee, water in all directions. The winds beat against the men as the try to control their vessel in the face of angry waves. As the boat is tossed to and fro, the men panic. Jesus sleeps through it all until they wake him. Then he commands the storm to be silent, and it obeys. A raging storm at sea; how can he control it?
He is God in human flesh.
He had a good friend, Lazarus, and Lazarus died. He was buried. He was in the tomb for 4 days. Jesus comes and calls him back to life. It works! Lazarus walks out of the grave.
Jesus is God in human flesh.
He gives blind people their site! God in human flesh.
So, we are not really expecting it when we see him tempted in Luke 4. It’s not like you or me. We are tempted by greed or anger or by hurt or by a thirst for revenge or by lust or by any of a 100 other things that lead us to destructive behavior. Not Jesus.
In Luke, Jesus is born as all babies are. In Luke, he is a teenager who worries his mother to death. He is baptized and something happens to him when the Holy Spirit descends on him (3:22). He experiences a change with the coming of the Spirit. The Jesus we meet in Luke is very human.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, he is also led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, without provision. What fool would go on a 40-day camping trip without any supplies? Jesus. But he didn’t go of his own volition. Forty days without eating is more than fasting. That’s starvation. Imagine how badly your body would feel. Jesus’ body felt that weak. He had hunger pains. He experienced that as a human experiences things.
All the while, the devil openly tempted him. I don’t think the devil appeared as a hideous beast. That would be scary, not tempting. No, I think the devil was inviting – encouraging Jesus in ways that sounded sensible.
The devil offers food; Jesus was starving. The devil offers authority; Jesus’ mission was to announce the kingdom of God. Maybe it would be easier to announce “mission accomplished,” from the position of ruler of the world. The devil challenges Jesus’ faith. If you are the son of God, his angels will protect. Do you hear the echo of Eden? You won’t die if eat the fruit of this tree. I know God said you would, but you won’t. You’ll become like God.
Eve ate the forbidden fruit. And she did not die, not in that moment any way. Just as the serpent promised, she had vision she did not previously possess. However, the first thing she saw was that she had disobeyed the God who created her and loved her. Naked means more than unclothed. She sinned and then she could see what she had done.
Satan’s temptations are half-truths and appear attractive. Why should Jesus starve out here? It makes no sense. Why not accept the devil’s offer to rule all the kingdoms of the world? Think of the good you could do. Why not show all of Jerusalem who you are as angels carry you safely from the pinnacle of the temple to the ground? Then everyone will know who you are. Why not?
Obviously, we the readers can say “why not.” We sit in the comfort of our heated building on our cushioned chairs as we read this. We worship in a nice place and as we do, we make plans for lunch in nice restaurants. There is a certain ease and from this luxury we form our opinions and draw our conclusions. I say without judgment on us. This is merely an observation. From where we are it is easy to gaze into a story and with hindsight declare how clear and simple the ethical and moral choices are.
What if we read it in a place that’s not so nice?
Starting right now, don’t eat again until Easter Sunday. Not a bite. Don’t go indoors. From now until March 27, fast and pray. Jesus was tempted. The urge to turn those stones to bread was real and strong. He had emptied himself of his divinity. How did this human being resist? It is surprising, when we think about it, to imagine that Jesus truly was as human as your or I are.
Another surprising thing is the paradox displayed in Jesus in this story. By paradox, I do not mean “fully God and fully human at the same time.” But, I do mean two things were going on in Jesus. Two very different dynamics were at work in him. I think a similar paradox exists for us when we want to follow Jesus, but we do this in a world that is lost and is in the late stages of corruption because of sin. Sin has built up over the generations and the world is on the verge collapse. In this place, that is not so nice, we are witnesses and we are disciples.
Jesus ate nothing for 40 days and true to his habit of understatement, Luke grandiloquent method of portraying this is to write he was hungry. No kidding.
Jesus was starving. At the same time, he was full. Luke begins this passage about temptation in the desert by telling us Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit. He begins the next passage where Jesus is back in Jerusalem, again declaring Jesus to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus was filled and hungry at the same time.
Why could he calm storms at sea, restore the sight of the blind, and miraculously feed multitudes with a few loaves and fish? You know what I said a moment ago. He could do it because he was God in human flesh. But what if that’s not the answer? What if incarnation means he really did step out of his divinity? What if the miracles happened because he was Spirit-filled?
He didn’t just flip a switch and turn on his godself whenever that was needed. Jesus is God, but he related to God from the standpoint of being human. He depended on the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. He moved at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. He submitted to the authority of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a paradox, Jesus (God) relating to God as a human relates to God. And it leads to another paradox. Jesus is starving and filled at the same time. We get caught off guard by Jesus’ humanity. This idea of starving and fulfillment together in the same person – and the two conditions, starvation and satisfaction relating directly to the other – also surprises us.
Maybe the most surprising thing is that we can be filled as Jesus was.
The writer of this Gospel, Luke, is also the author of the book of Acts. There we read about baptism in the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit takes hold of a few 1000 of Jesus’ followers who are in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. Spirit-filled, they preach the Gospel, and that day 1000’s turn to faith in Jesus Christ.
In both the Gospel and in Acts, Luke tells the story of Jesus and the early church, but he did not simply write this to show what happened. He tells us that he shares this so that we, the readers, will know the truth (Luke 1:3). And he ends his writing at the end Acts with Paul under house arrest in Rome. Luke’s verse says, Paul live in Rome for two years “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:31).
It’s an odd ending; not really an ending at all. He doesn’t tell of Paul’s death. He simply tells of Paul preaching. Why could Paul, while arrested, preach without hindrance? It is not because he was God in the flesh. He wasn’t. He could do it because he was filled with the Spirit.
We, like Paul and like Jesus, can be filled with the Spirit. Does it mean we will feed 5000 with one child’s bag lunch or bring raging ocean storm to a quiet calm or raise the dead? When we are Spirit-filled like Jesus, do we do those things? I don’t know. I won’t say, No, we do not. I will say we can stand as Jesus stood: dependent on the Spirit, prompted by the Spirit, and submitted to the Spirit.
At times this means, like Jesus, we will be hungry, starving even, while we are filled. Each year during Lent, Christians focus on spiritual disciplines and that can include fasting or giving something up in order to focus on the Lord. But the hunger is more than the desire for food that comes with a fast, even one as extreme as Jesus endured. The hunger is for God’s Kingdom; they Kingdom come, they will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. We want it so badly, we pray for it over and over.
This is what Jesus meant in the Sermon in the Mount when he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:5). The devil knew Jesus hungered for this and tried to persuade him with this. The devil offered food – turn the stones to bread; and power – I will give you the glory of all the kingdoms of the earth; and spectacle – throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple so all Jerusalem will see the angels catch you.
Jesus wanted to multiply food to the hungry. Power and would enable him to show the world the ways of God. But, he knew to do these things on the devil’s timetable would amount exalting the devil as God. He was able to resist because of the power of the Spirit in Him.
Let that settle on the mind. The power in Christ during his ministry in his time on earth is available to us. I won’t say it can be ours because they power is the presence of God and God is never ours to hold. But, when we fully confess our sins and turn from them and when we open our hearts to God and when we hunger for his Kingdom and long for His presence, then we are ready to be filled the Spirit.
No the Holy Spirit is not ours. We belong to the Spirit. We are prompted by the Spirit. And in those seasons when we aren’t sure what to do the Spirit seems quiet and feels absent, then we go to prayer and other disciplines if needed. We present ourselves fully before the Lord.
This is where we end on this first Sunday of Lent. As we move into a time of singing, each of us invited to come without hesitation and holding nothing back. Come before the Lord. Come open, asking to be filled. I end with prayer.
Holy Spirit of God, in this moment, we lay ourselves before you. Remove all doubts, distractions, and obstacles. Come to us, forgive us, fill us, and lead us. This we pray in Jesus’ name.