Meditation on Luke 4:1-13
Pastor Karen Crawford, Coshocton, OH
First Sunday in Lent: March 6, 2022
Link to recording of live-streamed worship service: https://fb.watch/bAMNWMdEP5/
We had sad news on Friday. Jim and I learned that his older sister, Mary, had gone home to be with the Lord. She was 87. Her death was sudden and caught the family by surprise. We are never ready to let go of our loved ones, are we?
Mary’s life changed quickly with the death of her husband, Chuck, of 58 years on Feb. 25, 2017. With her dementia, she couldn’t live alone. She needed others to care for her and watch over her. The house in Pelham Manor, New York, that she had lived in with Chuck since 1970 and had raised their two sons, Scott and Kenny, had to be sold. Her sons had to find a place where she could live comfortably and safely and be adequately cared for—and where they could visit her regularly with their families.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Mary—to lose her husband and her home, just like that, and her with dementia, not understanding where she was or why things were the way they were. I can imagine how hard it was for her sons and daughter-in-law, worrying about her, visiting her and comforting her in her distress.
It must have been a wilderness experience for them all, at least in the first few years of Mary getting used to living apart from Chuck—a time of testing, anxiety and uncertainty of the future, but also a time when they loved each other, showed grace for one another and learned to trust in a good and tenderhearted God.
For he is with us in every wilderness season of our lives.
Not long after Jesus begins his public ministry with his baptism by John in the Jordan River, he is led by the Spirit to go and live in the wilderness for 40 days. He is there partly to connect with the stories of God’s people, such as those who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years after fleeing captivity in Egypt. Moses says in Deut. 8:2 that the wilderness experience of wandering and testing was “to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.” The wilderness for the Israelites is a “place of salvation and confirmation of Israel’s status as God’s people,” (Shively T.J. Smith.) but also a place that stirs worry and doubt.
We hear echoes of Elijah’s story in Christ’s wilderness experience, as well. Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is weary from battle for the Lord when he fasts for 40 days in the wilderness, after being fed by an angel and before hearing the voice of God on Mount Horeb—not in the wind or the earthquake, and not in the fire, but in the stillness, in the silence.
The primary reason Jesus has come to the wilderness is to be tested and prepared for his ministry of healing and casting out demons and preaching truth to power, peace and justice for the oppressed, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom to the poor. The wilderness for Jesus, who will be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, will strengthen him to be perfectly obedient to God —all the way to the cross.
It may be difficult for those of us living in a lush, green, forested environment to envision the dry, rugged, mountain terrain of the Judean wilderness where Jesus wandered and prayed, taking shelter in caves.
He is famished after 40 days without any food, so it isn’t a surprise that the first of the devil’s temptations is the offer of a loaf of bread.
Adam Hamilton, in our Lenten study, The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus, says food is among our basic needs, “but the desire for it can at times be our undoing.” He takes us back to Adam and Eve, falling to the temptation to eat the apple from the one tree in the garden of which God told them not to eat. We remember Esau, who, when he was hungry, was willing to sell his birthright to his twin brother, Jacob, for a bowl of stew. And we recall the Israelites, who were willing to return to slavery if only they could eat cucumbers and leeks, rather than manna, the daily bread from heaven that kept them alive! We don’t always want what is good for us, do we?
It helped me to connect with the wilderness experience to learn that one of the Hebrew words for wilderness may be more literally translated a “wordless place.” Pastor Jennifer Moland-Kovash writes in Christian Century, “While maybe at times in our lives we might clamor for some peace and quiet, this wordless wilderness has a frightening landscape that whispers from the shadows, ‘You’re all alone.’” (18)
Friends, the greatest temptation of all in the wilderness for us may be the fear that we are all alone in our struggle!
Luke is the only gospel to make it clear that Jesus was NEVER alone in this time of testing. Luke portrays Jesus as being LED by the Spirit into the wilderness, while Matthew and Mark say Jesus was DRIVEN by the Spirit into the wilderness. The difference here in Luke is that the Spirit that led him into the wilderness would also stay with him and help him through it all.
This place of testing that is translated a “wordless place,” wasn’t actually wordless, at all. In response to each of the devil’s temptations, Jesus speaks the Word of God. To the temptation to turn a stone into a loaf of bread, Jesus says, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
To the temptation to bow down to the devil so that Jesus will have authority over the kingdoms of this world, he answers: “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” To the temptation to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple to prove that he is the Son of God when the angels protect and rescue him, Jesus answers, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
The passage ends with the devil leaving, for now. He’ll be back. He is waiting for an “opportune time.”
Jim and I, while grieving our loss of Mary, are looking forward to time with our extended family later this week. We are making a quick trip to New York for Mary’s wake and funeral on Wednesday and Thursday. It is easier to carry the burden of grief when it is shared by family and friends—and when we worship the Lord together, witness to the Resurrection, and give thanks for the gift of her life.
Thank you for your prayers for Jim and our family, especially Mary’s sons, Scott and Kenny, daughter-in-law, Shelagh, and grandchildren, Molly and Jack.
The account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness that is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is meant to encourage us! We are not alone in our struggles. We are never alone! We have nothing to fear, even if the accuser does come along and whisper in our ear at an opportune time—when we are vulnerable. Jesus Christ has already conquered sin and death when he rose from the grave!
Remember that the wilderness has a godly purpose, though we might not understand it at the time. This wild place of questions, fears, doubts and temptations, sorrow and pain, is part of our story. It’s part of our journey! But it’s not the end! Don’t hide your struggle from the One who is shaping and forming you for the future God has ordained. For we who were baptized in Christ are co-laborers with him in his ministry of healing, peace, and the reconciliation of the world.
Do not be afraid. We have the same Spirit that led and stayed with Jesus in and through his wilderness. And it’s never a “wordless place.” For we have the Word of God to strengthen and guide us. And the Lord is with us in every wilderness season of our lives!
Let us pray.
God of our wilderness, thank you for your Son, Jesus, your Living Word, who shows us the way to walk through times of testing and tempting as he prepared for his ministry. Thank you for the power of the Spirit that led him and stayed with him to help him in the wilderness and leads us and stays with us in our times of struggle. Help us to co-labor with Christ and be a force of goodness and light in this hurting world, working for healing, peace, and reconciliation. Grow our faith, Lord. Teach us to trust in you in every wilderness season of our lives. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.