“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil.”(Luke 4:1-2)In the name …
An old college professor of mine used to say that the New Testament is not obsessed with the divinity of Jesus, but with the humanity of God. I think this is an especially important concept to think about during the season of Lent.The apostolic church of the earliest generations was based upon witness-accounts of the resurrection and of the glorified Christ in heaven.Once you’ve seen for yourselves Jesus dead and alive again, or have heard His voice coming from the clouds, then the divinity of Jesus is a given that does not require a whole lot of defense.It becomes the accepted premise that everything else is based upon.And it is this apostolic witness that is then transmitted to us in the pages of the New Testament.When you have this kind of direct experience of Christ close at hand and shared by so many, then the idea of proving Jesus’ divinity seems like so much wasted time.
But what the earliest church did feel compelled to proclaim and to protect was the idea that this spiritual and powerful presence of Christ, that everyone among them felt, this resurrected Saviour that many of them had even witnessed, was before all of this, a human just like the rest of us.As we will read on Palm Sunday in preparation for the Passion, Jesus emptied Himself of His divinity in order to be one of us among all of us.In what appears to be an ancient hymn of the Christian church that Paul then includes in one of his Epistles, we hear the words:“Being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.” (Phil 2:7-8)Then because the rhythm and flow of this hymn is interrupted, Bible scholars believe that Paul added one additional phrase to the end of this church hymn.“Became obedient to the point of death,” and then Paul adds on, “even death on a cross.”This in a nutshell is the offense, the scandal, the unbelievable reality that the New Testament finds necessary to justify.Could God really have lived just like us, emptied of His divinity, and even more astonishingly, could God really have suffered and died on the cross, with all of the full implications of that ordeal, as an unabridged human being?That’s the mystery the New Testament dwells on.This is the mystery that’s at the heart of our faith, not the divinity of Jesus, but the humanity of our God in Jesus.
But before we think about Jesus’ humanity andthecross, which will come at the end of our Lenten journey, let’s start our journey where Jesus does:His 40 day temptation in the desert.First of all, 40 is a traditional number of the fullness of God’s time.According to the story, it rained for 40 days when God destroyed the earth in the great flood.The flood waters ravaged the earth for 40 additional days.The people of Israel wandered through the Sinai desert for 40 years.Moses remained on the summit of Mount Sinai for 40 days when he received the Ten Commandments of God.And King David, the precursor of the Messiah, reigned over Israel for 40 years.Jesus’ 40 days in the desert is the symbolic fullness of time needed for Him to come to grips with the expectations and consequences of His going public with His call to ministry as God’s Messiah.As fully human, we should try to understand these 40 days as Jesus’ inner struggle to clarify for Himself just what He’s getting into.The first and most basic temptation that Jesus must face, as fully human, is now that He has come to recognize His power as God’s Chosen One, will He use that power to satisfy His own wants and needs.His hunger is real, and so is His questioning of “Can I use this power to satisfy my cravings.”This is the most basic and blunt of the temptations, and we can see it easily renounced.
The ones that follow, however, become more difficult to deal with.Jesus, as fully human, was raised in a culture that expected the Messiah to be powerful and worldly.Jesus would have had to battle within His own conscience just what it meant to fulfill the will of God.This wasn’t some selfish need like His hunger.This was a question of “Couldn’t I better serve God if I had the power to command His will be done?”But Jesus came to realize in His 40 days that this was not what He was called to do as Messiah, and He concludes that “[God] alone shall you serve.”The final temptation may have been His most difficult.He has faced down the selfish and the proud use of His power, but now Jesus is tempted to let God work miraculously and dramatically through Him.Let God’s will be accomplished flamboyantly.But before Jesus could walk out into the world of His neighbours, He had to come to grips with the fact that God had called Him to a ministry of service and sacrifice.The temptation of the fully human Jesus is His psychological and spiritual struggle to understand who He is, His relationship with God, and His commitment to a gospel of peace and others.This is what took the fullness of time for Jesus to discover and to accept.This is the full humanity of Jesus at play.
For those of you who were here on Ash Wednesday, you heard Rev. Killough speak of Lent as our personal journey to find and develop our relationship with God.He gave the example of a drowning man who when rescued answered that at that last moment he most wanted air, and that when we desire our salvation with that same kind of intensity, then we will understand our faith and our God.These are days for us, like the fully human Jesus, to look into what we expect of our faith and what we think God expects of us.Lent is a special time of heightened awareness of God in our lives.This is why practices as simple as fasting are important.They remind us of God in the ordinary business of our days.Lenten sacrifices are not intended to deny, but to free-up otherwise expended time and energy so that they can be given over to our relationship with God.Lent gives us the chance to think of spiritual realities with urgency and passion.May these 40 days help us to sort through where God is in our lives, just as they did for Jesus.And for this we pray in His most holy of names.Amen.(+)