The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Refusing control: Jesus’ three temptations

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The 3rd Temptation - NinanA sermon for the first Sunday in Lent; February 25, 2007
Luke 4:1-13;Romans 10:8-13;Psalm 91:1-2,9-16;Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Come, Now Is The Time
You Are My All In All
This Is My Father’s World
Be Thou My Vision

Richard Swanson (in Provoking the Gospel of Luke) says if you were from another planet, dropped in, and listened to Christians, you might think they believed in two Gods – a good one and a bad one – whom they call God and Satan. With 1st century Jews, it wasn’t so – Satan was the tester, the accuser. His job was to travel the earth and look for things that weren’t true, weren’t sound, and expose them before God. “Aha! See, God? See?” Think of Job: “Here’s one, God. He isn’t true. He’s just happy because you give him lots of good stuff.”

But Luke’s first readers would never have seen the accuser as anything like God in power. “This is my Father’s world” would have been the attitude – and even “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler, yet.”

And so this tempter comes to find what’s unsound in Jesus.

Now again, remember the last thing that happened – what’s the context here? It was Jesus’ baptism, and a voice that said, “You are my Son…” And what’s the tester’s first phrase to Jesus? “If you are the Son of God …”

Perhaps Jesus thought, “Was the voice true? Did I even really hear it? Who am I, really?”
Can you think of a temptation that comes to us like that? How does it come to you? [Some pretty interesting things happened here!]

So, these temptations are moments in which the tester is saying, “Prove it. Prove you are the Son of God. If you’re for real, let’s see the goods. Here’s what God can do. If you’re God’s Son, you have to do it, too, or you’re not for real.”

And what does Jesus know about being Jesus? Has he a lot of experience, at this point, of ministry as the Son of God? No – it’s all new. In fact, that’s probably what he’s doing in the desert – wrestling with what life for him means, what it is he is to be doing, now that he’s heard this voice. Theologian Frederick Buechner says Jesus was out there trying to figure out “what it meant to be Jesus.”

See, after this, Luke will tell us about Jesus healing, and preaching, and loving, and dying and rising again. But it is here, in the desert, that Jesus is wrestling through who he’ll be and who he won’t be. And the tester comes to see what it’s going to be. These are temptations designed to flush out who it is Jesus will be, what his concerns will be, what he’ll give himself to, and ultimately, what God in human flesh looks like : What God as a human cares about.

Here we go.


Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.'”

In desert, long time, fasting, hungry, Tempter: IF you’re the Son of God, turn these stones to bread: after all, God, in the time of Moses, gave them bread in the desert. So, if you’re the Son of God, you can do it, too. Prove it.

Jesus: Nope.

Why not? Is it sin to turn stones to bread?
And he has a legitimate need – he’s hungry? Why not?

But remember, the tester’s voice is challenging the heavenly voice: If you’re the Son of God, then you’d surely be doing this … Or is there a problem here, Jesus?

Jesus: No. The Father will care for me. I don’t have to prove myself to you, and that wouldn’t prove it, anyway. My own comfort – if I’d been after my own comfort, I wouldn’t be out here in the desert, would I? In fact, I wouldn’t be here on earth at all, would I? That’s not what I came here for. That’s not what it means to be Jesus. That’s not what God looks like.


The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'”

All the kingdoms of the world, hmm: OK, Jesus, you know God doesn’t like starvation, and warfare, and oppression – I’ll give you governmental control over the whole world, you can outlaw starvation, warfare, and oppression. All you have to do, is do it my way (in other words, worship me).

This time he doesn’t mention something – see what? “If you are the Son of God …”

Looks like this temptation is another shortcut – Why suffer? I can bring you what you want most. All you have to do is do it my way.

Jesus: No. That’s not what I’m about. That’s not what God in human flesh is going to look like. I’m not going to work by control, I’m going to work by love, one person at a time. It’s my Father’s way, and demonstrating him is what I’m about. I couldn’t do what I’m here to do if I did it by power and control.


The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Amazing miracles. “If you are the Son of God …” After all, God wouldn’t let you get hurt if you’re his son, really. And then everyone will believe you – right here in the temple, after all, you’ll be instantly famous – look at the crowds down there. This is the kind of thing they’re waiting for. Even quotes Scripture.

Jesus: No. That’s not what I’m about. I don’t have to prove it to you, and that wouldn’t prove it, anyway – it isn’t miracles that will accomplish what I’m here to do. It isn’t about forcing people to see evidence they can’t refute – my Father doesn’t work that way, and neither do I. It’s about loving people until they want to love me in response. It isn’t about impressing.

Three temptations:

Will Jesus be about his own comfort? Will Jesus be about control? Will Jesus be about irrefutable evidence?

No, no, and no. That’s not what God is flesh is going to look like.

In the context of the times, those were huge issues. Few places in the world had dependable food supplies. If he were to provide food, he’d have a following. And he’d look like Moses – bread in the wilderness, remember?

If he were to take political control: Well, that’s exactly what Judea was hoping for – get rid of the Romans, bring in the day when all Kingdoms come to serve God in Jerusalem. That would get a following.

If he were to show up right in the Temple – the place that said, “Religion!” to them more than anyplace else on earth, and perform there, amazing miracles, whoo, he’d be Messiah, alright. That’s exactly what they were looking for. Prove it, Jesus.

But he won’t do any of them: that wasn’t what God is like, that wasn’t what he was here for, that isn’t what God wanted us to see.

Jesus instead would choose poverty over comfort. He would choose walking around caring for people over seizing control of the empire. He would choose serving over impressing, and he would choose loving individuals over public spectacles. That’s what it was to be the Son of God.

And if you think about, these a hot issues today. Many of the controversies that surround what is called “Christian” have to do with religious people trying to exercise control over others. One wonders if Christian might do well to join up with Jesus.

Now, suppose this tempter comes to you.

You think you heard a voice or something? You think you’re a child of God? Prove it. If you’re a child of God, how come you still have stones in your life? How come all your personal health and wealth and comfort problems aren’t solved? If you’re for real, trust God to heal you, now.

Your answer: Nope. I don’t have to prove anything to you, and that wouldn’t prove it, anyway.

OK, well, if you’re a child of God, take control of the things around you. If you’re serious about this, let’s see some action. A fellow once said to me, “You’re the senior pastor, your job is to make things happen.” Sunday School, prove it. People at work? If you’re a child of God, let’s see you march across the room and convert that guy. Prove yourself!

Nope. Not my business. Nothing to prove here. And that wouldn’t prove it anyway. Our job is to reflect the nature of God, as well as we can see it, not to accept dares inviting us to seize control.

The temple temptation: If you’re a child of God, visit a hospital room, believe, see healings. They’ll have to believe you then.

Nope; nothing to prove here, that wouldn’t prove it anyway.

The Gospels will record that Jesus later would make bread. The Scriptures maintain that he will be crowned King. And that he did raise himself from the dead – a little bigger deal than heaving himself off the roof. But he doesn’t do any of those things because someone tells him he has to in order to prove himself. He does them when he knows it is time.

It isn’t about power. It isn’t about force. It isn’t about “showing them” anything except love. It isn’t about jumping through hoops. It’s about quietly trusting our Father, and taking the next step he gives us.

Scripture is New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
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Written by Monte

March 7, 2007 at 11:08 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Thank you very much, Debbie. I think you’re thinking like Jesus, and I’m so glad that my post was helpful and that you took the time to let me know!


    October 21, 2008 at 1:33 pm

  2. In my prayer time this morning, I’ve been wrestling with an insight God gave me last night–about how I try control certain people and circumstances for self-protective reasons. As I prayed and asked God to show me what he wants me to know about this and he told me that by giving up control over someone, I’m actually freeing them up to be who God wants them to be. I asked him how to let go and he said, “By serving.” So I googled for Jesus, Control, Serving.

    This post of yours was near the top of the list. A number of things in what you wrote spoke to me but I think what struck the closest was this: “He would choose serving over impressing, and he would choose loving individuals over public spectacles.” In my attempts to protect myself, I’ve done neither. But I need to. Your words have confirmed what I heard God tell me. Thank you.

    Debbie Haughland Chan

    October 21, 2008 at 7:35 am

  3. it helped me to understand certain issues in my life…
    now i can overcome that,,
    may God give you more of His revelation knowedge..

    Monte Says: thanks very much, GR, for saying so! I’m honored to be a part of it.

    golden raymond

    September 4, 2008 at 1:42 am

  4. M
    This message has been disconcerting all week!

    I like Jesus to be divine He is a lot less troublesome that way. Ya know just running on tracks like a train. Being human is so …. well… messy. It takes effort. Figure out who I am and honor that truth in all my dealings. No pretending that I’m ok with drunkenness just for the sake of keeping my anger from finding it’s voice. Jesus did not yell at the tempter, he just answered with neutral truth. He did not judge, he just made his choice.

    It leaves me a bit uneasy to think that Jesus had to make choices. He had to stop and figure it out. Just like me. How did Luke know what went on in the desert of temptation? Jesus must have talked about it. Just like me when the temptations to be something I am not arrives, and I resist it, I talk about it. Jesus talked about his temptations? Is it a stretch to see that Jesus talked about his efforts to be the human he was meant to be? Like me? Jesus needed those guys? (Surely not.) What if He needed to love them and share with them and sense their love and struggles ……. but that’s my life.

    Yet I think I sometimes want to be divine. I could have life just running on gentle peaceful predictable unchanging tracks with no mess…. assured of constant success. But I am already assured of constant success because of the cross. Ahhh so I am made in his image.

    All of the people in Jesus’ life offered some form of those temptations.
    My poor head spinssssss. But thanks for sharing any way!


    March 8, 2007 at 12:28 pm

  5. Excellent message Monte. Just excellent! Amen.


    March 8, 2007 at 12:06 am

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