Luke 4:1-13 NRSV
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Welcome to the liturgical season of Lent, a period of 40 days where many Christians make a symbolic journey of sacrifice with Christ from Ash Wednesday to Easter. During this period, many Christians make the choice to fast in solidarity with Christ’s temptation.
Later on in this chapter, Jesus begins to teach in the Galilean temples, is rejected in his own hometown and heals those with demons. In your own devotional period, read this entire chapter. What kind of clarity is available to Jesus after his time in the wilderness? How does he emerge from the wilderness?
As a treat, you’ll find two playlists from members of our broader community in the resources list at the end of this lesson. Dr. Tony McNeill and our Sibling Joseph Reaves have both created playlists for the season of Lent.
Today’s lesson will focus on evaluating our habits. Read the scripture out loud together. What’s happening in this passage?
Jesus found himself in the wilderness at the guiding of the Spirit. For 40 days, he ate nothing and was “famished” afterwards. During this time, the Devil came to him and asked him to “command the stone to become bread.” Jesus retorts, “even the bread would not be enough.”
The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms that could be his if he surrendered. Jesus retorted again, “worship your Lord and serve only him.” A third time, the devil tempts Jesus. This time, the devil takes him to the top of the temple and says, “if you really are the son of God, jump. After all, it is written that his angels will protect you and keep you from harm.” Jesus retorts, “do not put God to the test.”
This is when the devil had finished testing Jesus.
What does Jesus use to respond to the temptation?
Jesus uses the holy scriptures to respond to the devil. He has hidden the word in his heart and discerned the appropriate scripture for the moment. The first two times, the devil accepts what Jesus says. The third, as the adage goes, “the devil quotes scripture” back to Christ.
In this passage, we see that the Word is important. We should study our holy book and tradition for the sake of resisting the violence of this world. There will be times that we will be tempted to do self-destructive things, and we have to be fluent in the wisdom of our tradition (and have common sense!) to resist.
By the third temptation, the devil catches on and quotes a scripture back to Jesus. This reminds us that it’s important not just to know the Bible, but to have the wisdom to do the right thing for a given situation.
Why was Jesus in the wilderness in the first place?
Jesus was overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This chapter does not tell us exactly why the Holy Spirit leads him to the wilderness, but we do know that God’s people often have significant spiritual, political, and emotional transformations while in the wilderness. The wilderness is not a place where God is absent; it is a place where one’s routine daily life has been paused. Especially for those of us who are from cities like Brooklyn (or Chicago, Detroit, Kingston, or Lagos), sometimes it’s important to break from the routine and enter an intentional space of reflection. We have many beaches, parks, and waterfronts that are free to visit! Connecting with nature can help us receive holy messages.
It is not clear whether Jesus enters the wilderness knowing he will be tempted. Though he appears prepared to withstand it, this seems like a series of trials he has been preparing for his entire life. This passage reminds us that our ongoing spiritual and intellectual practice of study shows up during tough times. When we are placed in positions of trial, what are the ideas we lean on?
What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?
CONNECTION TO TODAY’S WORLD
We are currently in the season of Lent, where Christians globally make the journey to Easter with Christ. Many Christians take the opportunity to “give up” something of significance to feel the temptation more earnestly.
As Black people in the United States, however, it can create an internal sense of conflict to “give something up” when you feel like you’ve already lost so much. If you have recently lost a loved one, been fired from a job, recovered from COVID, emerged from a bout of depression, or endured any other hardship, Lent might feel like loss upon loss. Particularly for people who are struggling with disordered eating, Lent can trigger old unhealthy habits that lead to dangerous spirals.
Practitioners are coming up with new ways to be in solidarity with Christ. Rather than “giving up chocolate,” can you commit to 5 minutes of prayer for the world each morning before you touch your phone? What about committing to using a reusable coffee cup and minimizing single-use plastic? Can you do 40 days of refusing gossip tabloids? Can you make a weekly trip to the water on the Promenade to pray? Taking extra funds saved from eating out and donating to a worthy cause in your community?
Rather than punishing ourselves for having bodies, what are some ways we can celebrate the bodies God gave us?
Journal: What keeps you from focusing on building a balanced life? Is this an internal responsibility to manage or an external force to resist?
Closing: Listen to “Give Me a Clean Heart,” Rev. James Cleveland
You sent your son to experience every part of human life with us. You sent Jesus to be born of a human. He starts where we start. He lives how we live. He dies how we die. Even more, he returns.
We are so in need of love, patience, and care. There will never come a day when we have received enough of these things.
In this season of Lent, teach us to be kind to ourselves and others. Show us how to refuse the power and influence that the devil promises. When we find ourselves ready to surrender to the way of selfishness and ego, surround us with the holy discernment to trust in your promises.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
From Dr. Tony McNeill
From Joseph Reaves