MATTHEW 4: 1-11
(The First Sunday in Lent)

The 'temptations' aren't isolated one-offs. They connect with all that follows. They're preview & overview of what Jesus will face in real-life situations as his ministry unfolds (& what those of us who try to follow him will face, too as we're tempted, tested, tried). I'll use the word 'testing' from here on in, as 'tempted' is theologically loaded. Tested is more open. Fixation on 'tempting' can lead to negative preaching & escapist attitudes in life. How often do we hear the excuse, "The devil made me do it."? Choosing between meanings of the original (?) is the stuff of editorial selection. 'Tested' can keep us open to more creative approaches to Jesus' great formative experience in his wilderness & our own wilderness experiences. MT's 'led by the Spirit' lacks the vigour of MK's 'the Spirit threw him out'. Jesus' testing is about not being thrown by being thrown!

There's no way of independently verifying the dialogue that takes place in MT's account. Is he  passing on - literally - Jesus' word by word, blow by blow description? Or seizing the opportunity for creative storytelling? Making the most of what's a good story anyway?

Before we expound on the evils of the 'devil', it pays to remember we're 21st C people, not 1st C ones. To preach a 1st C Middle Eastern world view to a largely Western (?) 21st C congregation might demonstrate & encourage an inadequate, escapist, approach to the whole question of evil. Do people the courtesy of unpacking options for understanding 'devil' today. (Maybe in a teaching session rather than a sermon?) Evil is too important an issue to be controlled by the flat earth society, & could lead to people not taking the devil seriously as he/she/it warrants! Here I have a duty of disclosure as the insurance policies say: My own prime understanding of 'devil' is of my inner, dark self as my own worst enemy. That dark side of me often tests me. I see it lurking in the depths of the mirror as I shave each morning!

Jesus' testing connects us back with Moses' [EX 3:11+, 24:18] & Elijah's [1KINGS 19:8+] testing for their ministries. Connections, connections, always connections. Jesus, a Greater One than either can expect greater testing. (Note how he refutes the devil each time with words from DEUT.) Is it inconceivable that Jesus, humanly speaking, is no more keen than either M or E to take up the cudgels on behalf of God & humanity? That would emphasize his testing as one more earthing in our humanity to prepare him for Messiahship. Do you identify at all with hesitancy, even reluctance so serve? With any or all the devil's big IF List?

Why not take short cuts to find an easier way to Messiahship? IF he is God's Son, that is. For us, might turning stones into bread symbolise a legitimate passion for social justice that gets a bit too far separated from 'every word of God'? Jumping from the Temple top stand for getting high on religion rather than God, & falling, if not jumping or being pushed from grace? The world view from high up (cleverly portrayed in the film 'Jesus of Montreal' as Jesus' followers look to the future from a high-rise...did you see it?) represent an involvement in business & political life that centres round getting to the top as the end in itself instead of centring on God? Jesus' refutation of his tests by quoting Scripture isn't an open invitation to proof texting. Scripture is in every fibre of his being. He draws on it deeply, not to be religiously correct but because he is God's Word.

The devil(s) defeated, they depart. Angels - heavenly or earth-bound messengers? - approach & care for Jesus. Can we doubt they've been in the offing the whole time, but keeping their distance till God's time has come? Why leave angels to the New Age people & their bumper stickers? The angels, visible & invisible can be a great comfort in our own time of trial. At what point does it become clear to us that we are God's designated ministering angel in someone's situation?

If Jesus had stumbled at this first hurdle & therefore shown he wasn't Messiah, we'd never have heard of him. Neither would we be preaching this sermon!