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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Bread Power Self Preservation - 02/14/2016

Bread. Power. Self preservation.

These are the fundamental elements of the temptations of Jesus, the tests being administered to him in our story today. With these tests, the devil has kept the pressure on Jesus for 40 days while he's been fasting in the wilderness. The nature of the tests in the forty days previous to where we pick up the story today is left to our imagination, but these three are held up for us in some particularity. They beg us to explore them a little more deeply.

What is it about bread? Power? Self-preservation?

The logical first step may be to explore this idea of the Messiah and what these first century ancestors of ours were looking for in that Messiah. Messiah means the anointed one, the chosen one. Like us, people who have been waiting for Christ to return for 2,000 years, they had been waiting for a long time for this Messiah – this One to be anointed as the true representative of God on Earth.

This chosen One who would save creation and them from those who... time and time again ... ran roughshod over God's people. Kings and leaders who ended up putting their own desires and whims before God. They envisioned this Messiah to be a mighty and merciful and unfailing king.

That expectation of the people goes all the way back to the time of Samuel, the last judge of Israel. He served God and the people well. But when he was old and it was clear his sons did not possess his integrity and devotion to God, the people started to look around at their neighbors from other nations and decided they too wanted a king to care for them and lead them and protect them. Samuel knew this wasn't a good idea – it was foolish to think they could put a human being in a position that truly only God could manage without failing. God was their king. God was where the people's trust should stay firmly planted. Samuel warned the people of the likely outcome of granting someone the authority to be their king, even a king anointed by God. This king would force them and their children to plow his grounds and reap his harvests for his sake; he would send them off to battles to establish his dominion over neighboring kings and people; he would expect them to do all this and even die to protect him.

Bread. Power. Self-preservation.

But the people wanted a king anyway and Samuel's warnings soon became a bitter reality. Samuel, with God's blessing, anointed Saul, who seemed like a good and upright God-fearing man. But eventually, Saul disobeyed God and took choice livestock in war booty for himself.


David seemed like a really good king. The perfect candiate. “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one,” God said when Samuel visited with the house of Jesse to find Saul's successor. David was a handsome and strong shepherd when Samuel found him and turned out to be a beloved King. “So David reigned over all Israel; and ... administered justice and equity to all the people...” (2 Sam 8:15) that is until that day came when he set aside his kingly duties and sent his soldiers to the battlefield without him, not a mighty or merciful or unfailing thing for a king do do.


And then that night, when he spied Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop and was overpowered by his desire for her. Her husband was in the battlefield, fighting to protect his king and his king's kingdom. David called her to his home. And what was she to do? He was her king. Could she risk saying no? She didn't.


And so it goes with these human kings. Sometimes they are pretty awful to begin with – wearing their truth on their sleeves about who they think is worthy of bread, how they plan to use their power to serve their interests, what lengths they will go to preserve the office of king once they get it and all the perks that go with it. The people of Jesus' time knew these kings all to well – they saw their faces in the Roman Empire that had dominion over their lives. They knew them from the stories of their ancestors and exile.

In a way, those kings may be easier to bear then those who come into the position with a healthy awe of God, kings who are humbled by the power and grace of our God.

… Kings who administer justice and equity to all the people. Kings who offer up first fruits to the God who makes possible the abundance of the Earth.

… Kings who, despite all of this, inevitably fail.

And so it's bread, power and self-preservation that the devil brings to Jesus as we meet them today at the end of these 40 days in the wilderness, when Jesus most certainly felt with every cell of his human frame what it means to experience the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual desperation that comes with this human walk at times..

We often think of this story in terms of Jesus being tempted to sin by the devil. We almost always call it “The Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness.” The word we often translate as “temptation,” –  peirazo/πειραζω (pie-ra-zo) – can also be translated as “test.” In fact it is often the same word used when we hear about scribes and high priests testing Jesus – trying to trap him with words.

Thinking about these temptations as tests may help us deepen our understanding of what is revealed in this story, because there is something else going on in this story that is just as extraordinary as Jesus' ability to endure the devil’s temptations and remain free of sin.

The point of this test, especially in the ears of our first century counterparts, was to see what Jesus would embrace in his understanding of what it means to be the Messiah – the One who would truly save God's people and God's creation from all that runs roughshod over the planet.

And Jesus' response to the test – his demonstration of what he as the Messiah chooses to embrace – completely reverses the ingrained understanding of how the Messiah will accomplish this monumental act of grace.

The devil tests the strength of this embrace:

“Turn this stone into bread and feed your famished body right now, listen to your hunger. Trust me.” And Jesus answers: “God provides what this hunger needs and humankind cannot thrive on bread alone anyway.” Jesus' response to the first test question pulls us back to the story of the Israelites and their 40-year journey through the wilderness and the manna God provided without fail.

Immediately, Jesus is looking quite different than previous kings and leaders and anointed ones.

The devil continues. “Worship me and I will give you power over all the nations of the world.” Again Jesus sets himself apart and turns the role of the Messiah upside down when he answers “I worship and love the one true God only and serve others only in God's name.”

The testing continues. “Throw yourself from this pinnacle – surely you trust your God to protect you, don't you?” And Jesus answers – “God is not ours to test – we are not to behave like our ancestors who quarreled with Moses in the uncertainty of their new-found freedom, who doubted that God would quench their thirst and sought proof of God's grace by demanding, 'is the Lord among us or not?'”

Jesus' responses to the tests are indeed extraordinary and they are our Good News today,  just as they were nearly 2,000 years ago. This one-true Messiah was not going to be anything like the earthly kings and leaders God's people had known, or would know in times to come.

Out of that testing in the wilderness emerged this mighty and merciful and unfailing Messiah who we follow in this season of Lent as we make our way to Jerusalem, and prepare to bear witness to the brutal but life-changing truth we inherit in the cross.

Out of that testing in the wilderness emerged this mighty and merciful and unfailing Messiah we follow to our table of communion where, gathered by the Holy Spirit, we give thanks and are so generously fed with the bread of life without fail … where we do our very best to live our lives fueled by the power of God that speaks a last and loving word in the face of death and evil every time... and from where we are sent back out into the world confident in the true self-preservation we have through the freedom God has poured out for us in the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, The Messiah.


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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