Because we had a special mini-sermon last week on Ash Wednesday, we are playing catch up in the Lectionary and, so, have to mini half-sermons. #45 is about Jesus being tempted in the desert and #46 is about how the Jewish beliefs of the Messiah were quite different than our own today, two thousand years later. Enjoy! -aeb
Mini Half-Sermon #45
Sermon Lesson: Mark 1:12-15 (NRSV)
Alternate New Testament Lesson: 1 Peter 3:18-22 (NRSV)
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 9:8-17 (NRSV)
Psalm: Psalm 25:1-10 (NRSV)
Referenced Bible Lesson: Job 1-2:10 (NRSV)
I remember growing up, one of my favorite band was the Temptations. And, really, what’s not to love? As Christians, we’re conditioned to think of temptation (the earthly sort, not the blues group) as a bad a thing. But, really, it really isn’t necessarily. Instead, it’s a part of life. With the good, comes the bad. With the virtuous, comes the temptation.
When we resist, we build up our resolve and our resistance.
We need to rethink how we view temptations. If we think that they’re sent specifically to make us fail, then we’ve lost half the battle already. If we think we’ll fail, we most likely will.
If we think of them as a goalpost, as a something to test ourselves against, then we are more likely to succeed.
If we think of them as part of life, like a butterfly or a spider, we’re more likely to not realize they’re there, and less likely to assign any sort of real importance to the temptation. Just like the arachnid (who may have frightened us as a child and even still might hold sway over our nighttime imaginings), it may turn out to be something easily swept away with a broom instead of a giant tarantula of nightmarish proportions.
Why Was Jesus Tempted in the desert?
Because he was human, just like you and me. We are tempted on a daily basis, so Jesus was tempted.
For instance, I can see a DQ from my front door and can easily walk to it if I grab my coat. I need to remind myself that a Blizzard a day does not keep the doctor away, even if I think changing the words to the usual rhyme does have a nice ring to it.
Was there a reason why it was forty days of temptation? Well, yes. It wasn’t actually forty days. “Forty days” in Hebrew culture simply means “a really long time.” It could have been a week, it could have been a year. Most likely, in my opinion, the actual temptation lasted Jesus’s whole human life because, as a human, Jesus would have been tempted just as often as the rest of us.
How often are you tempted? You don’t have to tell anyone or even answer out loud, but if you an answer popped into your head, imagine Jesus being tempted just about that much, or maybe even a little more. He walked in your shoes so he could understand you—wonderful you—in all stages of your life—as a child, teenager, adult, alone, together with friends and family, in love perhaps, heartbroken, angry, at peace, tempted for that extra slice of lemon loaf, all of it.
Let’s Quickly Talk about Satan
In Mark, it says that Satan tests Jesus, which isn’t as straightforward as you would think it is.
“Satan” is a title in the God’s heavenly court. Basically, he is the one who, according to Job 2:2, says everything that can be said against humankind. He’s not necessarily a bad figure, per se. He’s controversial, certainly, but he is not pitted against humanity as our archenemy, at least not under the title of “Satan.”
I like to think of him as a really good lawyer or politician for the opposition. He’s on the other side of the argument, saying everything against the argument one would normally make for the side of humans. He’s really good at what he does, poking holes in arguments that you really wish he’d leave unexplored.
Job, who lost his livelihood and almost his entire family and ended up crying in a pile of ash, could say a thing or two against how Satan is a bit too good with an argument against humans. If you need a refresher, just read Job 1-2:10. It’s all there.
But does that make Satan bad?
No. He’s just the best devil’s advocate the world has ever seen (no reference to “the Devil” actually intended).
Let’s Quickly Talk about the Devil
Satan often gets confused with the Devil, which is the English for the Greek diabolos. I’m sure many of you recognize that word through the Spanish (and I offer you a spiritual high five).
The Devil is a very different creature from Satan, but the two often get conflated.
The Devil, or diabolos, means “slanderer” if we were to translate it. This is the thought you have in your head when you are just about to slander God or Jesus maliciously… or even semi-maliciously. The Devil, therefore, is a construct of our own thoughts. He is amorphous. You can’t get a read on him. He is the enemy of humankind, he is within our own thought processes, and he becomes the enemy of God except through our own thoughts.
He doesn’t really have a physical body. He doesn’t have horns. He probably wouldn’t have red skin and burning eyes if he had skin and eyes. He sadly doesn’t appear in a dating app commercial.
The Devil is nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. He is insidious. He isn’t even a “he”. He is all. He is nothing. He is more dangerous than Satan, the devil’s advocate, could ever be.
To bring this all together, Satan, an officer of the Lord’s court, tempted Jesus Christ because Jesus was as human as you and I for most likely his entire life as a human being. Satan did this not because he was mean or cruel or wanted Jesus to give into his worst desires, but because Jesus Christ chose to live life as a human. Being tempted is just part of life as a human. Nothing more to be said except that the “Devil” as he actually exists had no part in this.
Mini Half-Sermon #46
For this mini sermon I want you to step away and forget what you know. But what we think of as the “Messiah” didn’t necessarily translate to what the Jewish people two thousand years ago thought of when they thought about the “Messiah.”
So, deep breath, strip away what you think, and step back.
When Jesus taught about the Messiah, he was using a word that meant many things to the people he was talking about. However, it could really be stripped down to one basic concept: a hero.
Now, when you think of a hero, you think of someone great. You think of someone that cannot be beaten. You think of someone who even in death, survives in the memory of the people.
The Messiah meant that and more to the Jewish people. However, the Messiah was also unstoppable. The Messiah was potentially unbeatable because the Messiah was sent by God. The Messiah, in the minds of most if not all, was indestructible.
Then Imagine Why Peter Freaked Out
When Jesus came to earth as a human man and preached to his followers, he spoke of the Messiah and he spoke of the reality of what the Messiah—of what he—would face.
However, it didn’t quite align with the ideas that everyone had built up after generations and generations of hope and fairytales and legends.
When Jesus said that the Son of Man—that the Messiah—would suffer, that didn’t make sense to anyone. If the Messiah would suffer, surely it would only be to overcome the suffering and triumph in the end… right?
When Jesus said that the Messiah would be rejected, not only by the elders, but by the chief priests, and also by the scribes… this was unbelievable. The elders would surely recognize the Messiah! They chief priests were the representatives of God’s religion on earth, they would recognize God’s ultimate representative! The scribes had been studying, their noses pressed to their scrolls, they would know what to look for, wouldn’t they? It was unthinkable that they would not know the Son of Man when he came!
For Jesus to even suggest such a thing was madness!
Peter rightly couldn’t believe it. Jesus wasn’t thinking straight. He should know that the elders and the chief priests and the scribes would know the Messiah. Perhaps Jesus, since he was from some back water in Galilee wouldn’t have realized this?
But it only got worse—much, much worse.
Not only would leaders fail to recognize the Messiah (according to Jesus of Nazareth), but he would be killed, a man who was greater than life itself! And then… he would rise again in three days?
Let’s pause and take a breath. We know that Jesus died and rose in three days, but it had never been done before. Very few people failed to die. No one had died, been physically buried, and then come back after a substantial amount of time. This was madness. Craziness!
If you were driving down the road and a man ran across the street, started tearing off his clothes, and began to scream it was the End Times and he was going to die but come back—would you honestly believe him? Even if he was your best friend, would you believe him or wonder if you should take him for a brain scan?
Take that disbelief that you most likely felt for at least a moment and imagine it tenfold. That’s what Peter felt for his beloved teacher, Jesus Christ.
Peter Loved Jesus
We need to remember that Peter loved Jesus. Jesus was one of his closest friends and his teacher. So, he did what any good friend would do: he took Jesus aside and tried to talk some sense into him. Peter tried to explain to him why Jesus wasn’t making sense, why no one else would understand.
(After all, wouldn’t you do as much for a friend or loved one?)
Jesus Reacts Badly
I want to remind you that Satan is the devil’s advocate and the one who tempts Jesus, just as we are tempted on a daily (or maybe weekly, or sometimes hourly, it all depends) basis. It would have been so easy for Jesus to agree with his friend, to take the easy way out, to tone down his message when he went back into the next room when speaking to his potential followers.
Instead, Jesus refuses the temptation—he does not refuse Peter, his friend. Instead, he refuses the temptation—he refuses Satan. Of course, it comes out a bit harshly. (Okay, it comes out extremely harshly, and I’ve heard many sermons on the subject.). But, what’s important is that Jesus does not deny his friend, Peter, does not deny his friendship, does not deny his well-meaning advice although he does not take said well-meaning advice.
Jesus himself is in a difficult position. He’s trying to explain to everyone that they should not expect the charcoal that they are expecting but the most brilliant of diamonds instead—and yet they will never understand until Jesus is crucified and rises from the dead what a beautiful treasure they willingly sacrificed and sent to his death.
But You know How Precious Jesus Is
Following along with that allegory, you know how precious Jesus is, how precious his love is, how precious his friendship is.
I hope you realize what a true friend you have in him—how your heart and your love is all he ever desired in this world, how he sacrificed himself to save your soul.
In the upcoming weeks, we will be following Jesus’s Ministry up through the Last Supper and his Crucifixion on Good Friday, when God the Father gave his only begotten son for us. All he asks in return is our unconditional love—a small thing if you think of it, and so easy to give.
In my mind, the tune “what a friend we have in Jesus” is running through my mind. I’m sorry if it now runs nonstop through yours, but I can’t think of a better song to be stuck humming for an afternoon.