Updated: Jan 17, 2019
Narrative Lectionary Reflection
January 20, 2019
Read Matthew 4:1-17 (CEB)
In the 1980 movie Superman II, Superman disguised as Clark Kent, finally reveals to his colleague Lois Lane his love for her and when he does that, he also reveals that he is Superman. They go to the Fortress of Solitude where Superman exposes himself to red kryptonite which took away his powers and made him mortal.
At the same time, three Kryptonians led by General Zod break out of the Phantom Zone prison and come to wreak havoc on the earth. When Zod is able to take control of the United States and threatens the world, the President cries out for Superman. Clark is watching on TV and he knows that Superman can't respond because of his choice.
The temptation of Jesus is interesting because it shows Jesus facing something we face all of the time: temptation. For Jesus to be the Savior, to save us from damnation, he had to be able to face all that we face. The temptation of Jesus shows two things: first, that the devil wants to separate God from the created order and two, that Jesus was in solidarity with us. He was not some superhero that comes out of time and history to save humanity, but is with us, even in our temptations.
But the message here today is not how we can resist temptation in three easy steps. The message is not that all you have to do is just say some Bible passages and the devil will flee. The message here is that following Christ means entering into a life of the cross, a life where you will face challenges to leave a hard life behind and trade it for peace and security.
Jesus' temptation is a repeat of the temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis. In that story, the devil comes in the form of a snake using God's words to get Eve to eat from the tree (though the first clue should be don't ever trust talking animals). “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?” says the devil. He is able to sow some words of doubt and twist God's words in order to get Eve to pick the apple from the tree. Jesus' temptation shows Jesus is in solidarity with all of humanity. God understands what we go through.
The craftiness of Satan is that he is able to take scripture out of context and use it for his own purposes. The devil loves to proof-text.
The temptation of Jesus shows how human Jesus was and it also tells us where Jesus is headed: the cross.
The ministry of Jesus was shaped by the cross. The instrument of death was the shape of his work on earth. It was a life living for others, a life of sacrifice, a life of challenges. What the devil wanted to do is to have Jesus give in to the creature comforts of life to trade the life of the cross for a place of easy and secure.
The work of the church is to live a life of the cross. This is summed up in a passage from Acts that talks about life in the early church. This is what Acts 2:42-47 says:
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
Some people have thought that this passage is somehow justifying socialism or support for government programs. That is not what this passage is about. It is about life in the early church and gives an example of the cross-shaped life we are to live within our church: a life where we care for each other: to the point that we share our possessions with each other, especially those in need. Yes, we should do that outside the walls of this church, but it starts in how we treat those in our midst.
The church has and will always be tempted by the devil. Some say that Emperor Constantine becoming a Christian and elevating Christianity to the state religion of the Roman Empire is the church falling for the devil's final temptation. We are to say no to the devil's wiles, but we say "no" knowing that God through Jesus was tempted too. God understands and God is with us as we also live a cross-shaped life where temptations are real.
This time of Epiphany is one where we look for the revelation of Christ in the world. We see Christ when we see cross-shaped living in the lives of Christ followers. That doesn’t mean we are all going to end up being crucified, but it does mean that we live a life that is not bound up in self, but in living for others to the point that if it is called for we will put our own lives on the line.
We all want to escape the parts of life that are uncomfortable. But God calls us to a sacrificial life, one that starts with the local faith community and branches out into the wider world.
This is an excerpt from a Bible Study from the Chronicles of God series. You can learn more by going to the Chronicles of God website.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.