It Has Been Said

Luke 4:1-13

Fox Valley Presbyterian Church

Temptation is not really a dirty word anymore. Think about it: it’s a word used to brand and identify: chocolates; resorts; a dating service in the UK ; there’s even a men’s deodorant line that has a scent named: “dark temptation”

Think about it: in all these cases, the implication if the word is not the the product is something t be avoided, but something to be craved. Because once you cave in and buy whatever it is being sold, it’s going to be good. CHocolatey good. Sexy and fabulous.

Temptations are not something bad…they are things that, when you finally step over, you will enjoy.

Even Tiger Woods weighs in the word this weekend….in his apology to the general public on Friday, he said this: “ I felt that I had worked hard throughout my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me.” Now, I know, taken in full context, Tiger was admitting that what he did was wrong, but do you hear it? Temptations can be something we deserve to enjoy if we’ve worked hard enough.

I’m not going to make a long argument this morning trying to undo everything the culture around us has done to the word temptation. I’m not going to battle the word, and try to point out how the true temptations around us are not things to be enjoyed, but pitfalls where we get stuck (although, Tiger Woods is an awfully good example of that…)

Reclaiming the word can wait for another day.

But for now, how about a little reframing? Leaving the idea of temptation aside for now, maybe we can look at this story about Jesus a little differently.

What if the story of Jesus in the desert is not as much about temptation, as it is about identity?

This idea of 40 days in the desert, 40 being the Biblical shorthand for “completeness”; 40 days without food, with little water; 40 days completely alone, it’s the idea that Jesus is stripped down to the most basic nature of who he is. Jesus at his most basic. No expectations from anyone about who he ought to be. Every last thing has been stripped bare, and he is his most genuine self.

And this is when the devil comes…with 3 challenges.

Turn these stones to bread; Gain power; Test God’s faithfulness

(Notice, on the surface, except for the part about worshipping Satan, that none of these temptations are things we would quickly classify as big sins…)

And, in fact, each of them has some little twist of truth…Jesus is, after all, the bread of life; Jesus is, after all, the one to whom every knee shall bow; Jesus is, after all, the firstborn of the resurrection, the one who God rescues and raises from the dead. In a strange way, by giving in to the devil, Jesus could have accomplished some version of all these things that he is called to do.

It’s not so much a matter of refusing the results the devil is promising. It’s more about the way they happen. It’s not about the ends, it’s about the means.

And Jesus’s response to these things is to go back to the most basic grounding of who he is.

So notice the foundation he takes for his response:

“It is written: One does not live by bread alone.”

“It is written: WOrship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

It has been said: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Three times, what Jesus comes back to, the most elemental thing about who he is…3 times, he quotes Torah, Scripture. 3 times he goes back to the book of Deuteronomy. Even the third time when the devil tries to match the game by quoting the Psalms, Jesus simply comes back with an unwavering answer, that the Book, SCripture, is the center of who he is, the solid place where he stands.

This is not just a matter of dry quoting, rote memorization, with no body or spirit behind it.

This is the book Jesus lives. He has lived his life, a good Jewish boy in Nazareth, immersed in this book and the story of his people. And so, by the third time he responds, he doesn’t just say, “it is written.” He packs more punch. “It has been SAID.”

Scripture is not just something written, waiting silent on the page. Scripture is alive. From the mouth of the Holy Spirit in the beginning, it was said, and What it said was so important that it was passed down, mouth to mouth, until it was written. And over and over and over again, it has been read, silently and out loud, over and over and over, it has been SAID. It is not moldy words on a page. It is the word that has been said, breathing and real and alive.

In fact, this is the Book that Jesus is. Jesus, Word made flesh, says John’s Gospel.

In fact, this the Book that we are.

Sometimes, it takes an outsider to make the most insightful points about us. And our relationship to the Bible is something that Muslims perhaps have understood better than we have. Islam refers to Jews and Christians as “people of the book” (and, traditionally, says that for this, we ought to be respected and even protected within majority Muslim societies). And did you know that the Western value placed on literacy for everyone in a society has its roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Think about it: this book is so very important and fundamental to our faith system, that Christianity truly cannot survive unless people know the text. That means either: we have to have methods for your average person to memorize this whole book; or we have to have a population that is literate enough to read the book.

And moreover, this Book is a story about us. Unlike some religions where the stories are about the gods and their doings, or one great teacher and his lessons, this book has an overarching story in it about God’s people.

And every once in awhile, the book reminds us that it’s not just a story it is our story.

What Jesus quotes back to the Devil comes from the OT book of Deuteronomy. It’s not the most exciting reading in the OT. it’s mostly laws. And, laws that are being given a second time.

But late in the book, there’s a reminder that this is story:

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
It’s a passage about religions ceremony and obligation. But notice what it does: you don’t just show up and hand over your gift. You have to set a context. And the context for everyone is this: telling the story. Here’s who I am and where I came from. This is my identity. It’s why I follow all the laws in this book. It’s who my parents and my ancestors were; and it’s who I am.

We are the people of this book, this Bible. We are people with a story. This is our identity. And without that identity, we cannot face up to temptation.

And 40 days into his desert time, this is where Jesus finds his identity, stable footing: he is a person of this book. A book that is not just written, but a book that is said.

Lent is 40 days…40 days in large part because Jesus was in the desert for 40 days. So the idea is that this is another way for us to participate in the story….to think of these 40 days as 40 days to walk alongside Jesus in fasting, in stripping away things so that we can know who we truly are. It is another way that we are encouraged to make this Book a living and breathing thing, a way that we invited to enter the story.

The truth is that the Bible is a terrible self-help book by the world’s standards. On the face of it, Jesus’ choices looks like a failure in the eyes of the world.

He chooses to preach and teach in a backwater part of the world, with backward, confused, often dense student-disciples. He chooses to keep walking toward Jerusalem even when it’s clear that this path is a death-wish.
He is killed as a common criminal, in a manner that is shameful and disgusting.
It looks like utter failure.

But in the weakness and failure is power and victory.

And maybe this is the reason that for 40 days we are called into the desert. It’s not about becoming more powerful. It’s about becoming less. It’s not about becoming who we think we should be, it’s about becoming who God thinks we should be.

And it is such an odd journey, walking with Jesus through the desert, through Galilee, and the road to inevitable death in Jerusalem, such an odd journey…but it’s the journey in which we learn who we truly are.

I’m not sure we can take that journey without the right grounding. And the only grounding is in the story, the Book.

The hymn says: “How firm a foundation you saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in his excellent Word.” It’s an old hymn, but a true one. The desert can be a rocky, uneven place.

But here is the Book…a solid place to stand

It has been written.

And it has been said.

It is who we are.