Passing the Test

Heritage Presbyterian Church

1st Sunday in Lent
March 6, 2022

Scripture – Luke 4: 1-13

There aren’t too many things worse that working and preparing yourself for some type of major test – only to see someone else just breeze through it, almost without even trying…possibly ending up with a better score than you.

If the test you are facing doesn’t involve school or a professional degree or some type of licensing exam, then perhaps that test is one that presents a major challenge to your life; again, you watch others breeze through it, laugh in the face of trials, and actually inspire people with their grit, their determination, their positive attitude, or even their inability to show even the smallest bit of fear or doubt.

There are even those among us who suffer from “test phobia,” in which we perform well on homework or daily assignments, we demonstrate a complete mastery of the skill or knowledge that is to be tested, we help others gracefully as they battle their own condition, illness, or situation.  Yet, when our own test time arrives, we crumble like a stale piece of bread.  And the next testing opportunity is no better… made worse by the knowledge that we blew it last time and this time will probably be no better.  

This is a rotten situation!  It makes us feel helpless and powerless – especially since we know we can do this!  We just can’t pass this test!

Consider today’s story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by the devil.  It’s a weird, strange, unsettling test for Jesus.  It is done long before Jesus performed any miracles, before he cast out any demons, before he preached any wonderful sermons or taught any insightful parables, before he made the blind see or the lame walk or the deaf hear or the sick become healed.  This was Jesus 1.0, just after he had been baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.  Jesus was just beginning, so this was the perfect time for his first big test.

And as we read the story – knowing how it will come out – it inspires us and fills us with awe.  But it is difficult to relate to; Jesus is battling Satan…and some of us can’t pass a Hebrew quiz;  Jesus is taking on the Prince of Darkness…and we can’t get a 70 on the national licensing exam;  Jesus is going toe-to-toe with Lucifer himself, and we can’t face getting that root canal done, no matter how much that tooth hurts.

Oh really?  Let’s take another look at Jesus’ first big test.

Let’s all notice that Satan only dared to confront Jesus AFTER he had spent 40 days in the wilderness without food – with his resistance at the lowest point, without anyone helping him, without any tools except the newly given Holy Spirit.  Jesus 1.0 had to take on this fallen angel, and he was almost spent before Satan showed his face.

And look at how it went down:

Satan used such sweet words.  He plays on Jesus’ hunger first, but he also makes it a test: “If you are Son of God, then turn this stone into a loaf of bread.  Surely the Son of the Most High could do such a simple thing…stone into bread… then you could eat!”  Satan makes it sound so attractive, so easy, so innocent…not a sin at all.  “Go ahead…aren’t you hungry?”

Passing a Hebrew quiz pales in comparison to this test of Jesus…

That didn’t work, so Satan turns up the heat.  Now he takes Jesus to the tip top of the Temple in Jerusalem, the pinnacle of religious power in the entire world, the location of Jesus’ final stand.  “If you throw yourself down from here, your Father wouldn’t let anything happen to you.  He NEEDS you to fulfill his plan.  But if you did this, you wouldn’t have to work so hard…because you would have a crowd of witnesses who would see you land without a scratch.  Why cast out demons after that?  Why be confronted by Herod and his crowd?  Why have to deal with Romans, the High Priest, any unbelievers?  Just give them a demonstration, and they’ll fall in line.  Then you won’t have to prove anything to anybody.  Go ahead…just take that one step.”

And if that weren’t enough, Satan even quotes Scripture to make his case.

Jesus survives this test – and even responds with Scripture of his own.

Finally, Satan plays his trump card.  He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world; all Jesus has to do in order to rule them all is to take a quick bow to Satan.  “No crucifixion, no suffering, no pain, no thousands of years of trying and failing to convert the whole world to your side.  Just a little kneel and all the world will be yours.  Go ahead…nobody is looking …it won’t hurt a bit, and you can save yourself so much trouble.”

Even in Jesus’ weakened state, even with this greatest temptation right in front of him, he will not give in.  Instead, he runs Satan off and passes the test.

And we immediately forget that Jesus was a human being just like us.  We conveniently set aside our understanding that Jesus was BOTH fully human AND fully divine.  The fully human part of Jesus couldn’t possibly have passed this test.  It had to be the Heavenly Jesus doing this.  After all…he’s Jesus!

And we would be WRONG!

This terrible temptation of Jesus proves a point that is easy to overlook: If Jesus was tempted and struggled with it, then who is exempt?  Answer:  NO ONE, and certainly not us.

But in that statement, I see Jesus being even closer to us than we usually feel.  This Jesus was so tempted to give up, take the easy way, just roll over and give in for a second.  This Jesus could have rationalized his actions – and who among us would have blamed him?  Because we know that none of us could have passed this test.  

In this early moment in the early ministry of Jesus, he was struggling with what it truly means to serve God.

Will his ministry be not only personal but social too?  Turning stones into bread will fee me and others too.  Think the loaves and the fishes; that’s as far as some people want to go with Jesus.

Will his ministry be political?  Will Jesus submit to Satan in order to achieve good for the people by working with early rulers?  If given the opportunity, will we do the same?  Think “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.”  Some people want Jesus to be on their side as they battle other nations, other religions, other people, and (of course) other political parties.  “Jesus is on MY side” in other words.

Finally, will his ministry be religious?  Will Jesus win over Jerusalem, the Holy City, by coercing faith, by avoiding death by using a public display of supernatural power?  Many, many people wanted Jesus to prove who he was BEFORE they would follow him.  Some include every single religious official he ever encountered, every disciple of Herod, Pontius Pilate, and even his own apostles at times.

Or would Jesus find people who knew the great need to hunger for God, 

a God who loved them, 

a God who understood them, 

a God who was not hidden behind a cloud or only found on a mountain – but rather a God who was personal to them, 

and a God who would not abandon them – even during the greatest tests we all face?

Temptation is an indicator of strength, not weakness.  

All believers experience temptation.

So did our Savior.

He passed the test.  We can too.