sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/21/2014
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We left off in Mark 1 last week with Jesus being baptized and then being led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he would be surrounded by wild animals and encounter the accuser. Mark leaves it at that, but Matthew’s gospel fleshes it out a bit, describing the toe to toe encounter. Let’s read.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
It may not be immediately obvious to us, but this is a story of the first of the new humanity encountering the prince of the old creation. This is a story of child-like faith encountering a world full of evil.
Which is really important for us to witness, because one of the things we get nervous about when we consider following Jesus and having the kind of child-like faith he invites us into is this whole question about can a child-like faith really survive in a world where mature, grown up evil is prowling around? Don’t we need a sophisticated knowledge of good and evil to hold our own and stay faithful to a good God?
And if you’re not a Jesus follower already, the question you might have about trusting Jesus is, well, is the life he’s offering me any better than the life I might be able to get for myself? And I think this story shines some light on the kind of life Jesus enjoys, even in this broken, often threatening and fearful world.
The story begins with hunger – much like the Genesis story of Adam & Eve’s encounter with the serpent. Jesus fasts 40 days and 40 nights and he gets really hungry. That makes sense, and actually, his experience of hunger is the foundation for the whole encounter. Because as we talked about last week, hunger reveals one of our core vulnerabilities as human beings. So I want to pause on the story for a bit here at Jesus’ hunger, and just spend some time outlining a few of the basic ideas for our new humanity series.
These two words describe the basic reality for every human being in this world. No matter how rich or powerful or good or strong. We need food, water, air, shelter, protection from the elements. And that’s just for starters. We also need love, belonging, significance, freedom, and so on. If we want to thrive, and not just survive, that is.
Some of us get our needs met more reliably and easily than others, for sure. And some of us feel our neediness more often than others. But every single one of us – without exception – is needy.
We’re vulnerable, too. We can’t meet all of our needs on our own. And things beyond our control can hurt us, or keep our needs from being met. We get sick, injured. All of us, eventually, die. No matter how hard, or well, we try to fight it.
So what are our options in light of our neediness and vulnerability?
Admittedly, some would argue that the third option (God) is theoretical at best, but for the sake of argument, and since we’re here to explore the potential benefits of faith, we’ll keep that option open.
Let’s start with the option most of choose, at first: ourselves. If we’re going with ourselves, we’re counting on having one thing.
We’d better hope we were dealt a good hand, for starters. We’ll need – at least – intelligence, physical strength, physical adaptations suited to our environment, emotional & mental resilience, good health. If we’re on our own, our best shot at survival is to maximize those traits. For some of us, that’s the story of our lives. It’s hard work. [Daft Punk – Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger]
Most of us, though, at some point realize that ultimately we’re going to need the support or aid of others. At the very least, we’ve got to keep others from opposing us. So what does that take?
Really only three main pathways to getting help from others.
If others love you enough (we’re not talking about real love here, of course, but the conditional kind), they’ll work with you or for you. You’ve got to be strong, and frame it or market it in such a way that others can see it. You’ve got to strut your stuff.
Alternatively, if others fear you enough, they’ll work together with you or for you in order to protect themselves from you (assuming they can’t hide or avoid or run from you for some reason), in order to stay on your good side. Which, again, means you’ve got to be strong and make sure the world can see it.
Then there is this issue of respect. Can your strengths and skills be counted on? Is your “goodness” reliable? Or your badness, for that matter? It had better be, because if you’re loved or feared but not respected, you won’t get much cooperation from others. That’s a lot of pressure, a lot of energy spent making sure others get the right impression of us, and accounts for no small amount of our general anxiety.
In other words, if we want the support and aid of others, we need to be strong and we need to maintain a good reputation.
Notice this: how many of you cringed at the words “support” and “aid”? We don’t like them because they suggest vulnerability and need. We prefer the idea that we’re “working together” with others, or “gaining their cooperation.” That sounds a lot less needy and vulnerable, doesn’t it?
Anything that shows the world our neediness or vulnerability threatens to make us less loved, less feared, and less respected. We want to show just enough neediness or vulnerability that others feel like we’re “real” – so they can trust us – but not enough to look like we’ll be an energy drain on them. Because none of us feel like we have too much energy to spare on others if we don’t get a return on our investment.
As we’ve been exploring in our “New Humanity” series, this is the nature of life for the old humanity. We’ve chosen to depend on ourselves and others, instead of God. In the language of the biblical story, we’ve eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and we keep on going back to it. So much so that we’ve forgotten the location of the tree of life, and can’t even remember what it’s like to completely depend on God.
As a result, our lives and our world are full of things like shame, worthiness, comparison, busyness, addiction, perfectionism, defensiveness, hypocrisy, deception, manipulation, and anxiety.
Jesus shows us, and opens up for us, and invites us into a new way of being human, a new humanity. And it all revolves around choosing option three – choosing God, choosing to eat from the tree of life – in response to our vulnerability and neediness.
That’s what Jesus’ discussion with “the devil” in the wilderness is all about. Jesus has a child-like faith in God and the devil wants him to abandon that and depend on himself and others.
I highlighted “the devil,” because the Greek word is diabolos, which means slanderer, or accuser, a person who brings false accusations with the intent to destroy or harm. Literally, someone who “casts through.” Later, when Jesus calls him “Satan,” it means the same thing. Satan is the Hebrew and Aramaic name (the language Jesus would have spoken) that means “Accuser.”
Let’s think about that for a second, before we break down the exchange between Jesus and the Accuser.
If a human being is going to choose to eat from the tree of life, to choose, faced with the fact of their vulnerability, to depend on God completely for their needs being met, what helps them do that? The answer the bible gives is confidence or trust in God’s promises. Faith. [go back to whiteboard]
That’s all faith is, when you get down to it. God promises that he’ll address our needs as we bring them to him in faith, waiting for his response. God promises he loves us and relates to us as the best father relates to his children. God promises that we have nothing to worry about if we depend on him, because he’s good and he’ll be faithful to all his promises to us to give us life, and life overflowing.
So let’s say something or someone evil wants to destroy or harm someone who is needy and vulnerable. All they’ve got to do is get that person to lose confidence in God’s promises, to stop waiting for God to address their needs, and start to depend on themselves. And it just so happens that slander and accusation work really well for that purpose.
God didn’t really say that.
God didn’t mean it when he said it.
God may do that for other people, but not for you.
Look what happened to so and so – God obviously didn’t follow through on his promises to them, did he?
Look at you – you’re all messed up – why would God care about you?
Look at your life. God hates you, obviously, or at least has forgotten about you; you’re all on your own.
You’ll never measure up to God – the best you should expect from him is punishment. You’d be better off on your own; maybe you can make a better life for yourself at this point anyway.
This is why in Paul’s letter to Timothy, he tells Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith.” Holding on to God’s promises about who you are and who he is and how he cares about you are the key to eating from the tree of life. When the accuser confronts you in the midst of your neediness and vulnerability, it’s like a fight to keep trusting those promises of God, to keep coming to him to address your needs, and waiting for his response, instead of wandering off in search of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and figuring out how to take care of yourself or making yourself appealing to others so you can win their support and aid.
So Jesus is hungry. Really hungry. He’s as vulnerable as a human being can be, alone, in the wilderness, hungry and tired and weak and surrounded by wild animals.
If you are the Son of God. Twice the Accuser starts this way. If you are the Son of God. This is the fundamental form of the destructive slander that began in genesis, calling something God has said into question.
It’s potent because our faith rests on God’s promises. Trusting God’s promises is what empowers us to bring our needs to him to address.
The promise to Jesus is that Jesus is God’s son and that God is pleased with him (It’s what the Voice said at his baptism 40 days earlier). The accuser wants to call that into question, slip a wedge under it and lever it away.
It works on the old humanity, but not on Jesus, the new humanity. What’s the difference?
The difference is that when the old humanity experiences accusation, we want to defend ourselves. We want to respond to the accusation. We know we live in a world where people judge one another, where we evaluate one another constantly. Is this person good or bad? Can I trust them to help me survive, to help me be less vulnerable in this world? An accusation calls that into question, and we know others will judge us based on our response. Our deepest insecurities revolve around that question about ourselves, don’t they? Am I a good person? Will I be accepted or rejected, ultimately? By others? By God? All of our instincts are shaped by this awareness that we need to mask or hide or cover our vulnerability, that we need to defend ourselves against accusation, prove our doubters wrong. We want people to respect us. Love us. Fear us, if that’s all we can get. At least then they see us as strong, not weak. The last thing we want is disrespect. Pity.
Not Jesus. The new humanity is created to draw its life from the new creation, where its citizens have been delivered from the curse of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, where they are nourished by the tree of life. The new humanity has a child-like faith in God. [write on board] Accusation comes, the question is very simply – is God saying anything to me in this that I need to hear? The new humanity listens to discern God’s voice. Does it sound like him?
The new humanity doesn’t need to defend herself. What’s the point? Her survival as a vulnerable person is not dependent on the moral approval of others, nor their positive evaluation of her strength. She has no reputation to maintain, only a faith to hold on to. A faith in God’s promises that are as sure as the heavens and cannot be taken from her, only let go of. And even then, the God who made the promises will not let go of her, not ever.
The Accuser’s suggestions are interesting, too – expertly crafted to work on the appetites of the old humanity.
Tell these stones to become bread. You’re hungry, God hasn’t fed you yet, so take care of yourself.
It just doesn’t work on the child-like faith of Jesus, though. Jesus knows the purpose of his hunger is to continually move him towards his Father to address his needs. Because life comes from God, ultimately, not food. That’s why he quotes this passage from the Old Testament about every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It’s a quote from Deuteronomy about when the people of Israel were on their way through the desert to the promised land, having just left slavery in Egypt, and God provides food, manna, from heaven for them. Fresh on the ground every day. So that they’d learn to depend on him, not themselves, and not the Egyptians.
Our appetites are what bond us to God, and God is the one who gives us life. The Accuser wants our appetites to become our gods and lead us to destruction. No dice, Author of Vice!
Imagine a little kid being offered a Happy Meal. The deal is though, they have to leave their mom – forever – to get it. No way! This is child-like faith. The meal does look good, but it pales in comparison to mom. Because if the kid is like a child in relationship to his mom, but grown up in his thinking, he realizes that that happy meal will taste good, and then be gone, and then what? That would be stupid. Thanks but no thanks.
Next up: Go up to the top of the temple, jump off, and watch as angels catch you. You look like a fool out here, starving in the desert. Why not show the world how important you are to God, when they see how he rescues you?
This doesn’t work either on Jesus. It’s simple, child-like faith. My dad didn’t tell me to do that. Why would I care about being vindicated in my confidence in him? Either he’s coming through for me in my life or not. And if he’s not, I’m screwed because I have no other options. So no, I’m not putting him to the test. My whole life is the test. Again, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, where the people of Israel in the wilderness get really thirsty and they start fighting with one another because they become impatient waiting for God to address their needs.
In a bit of beautiful, poetic irony, Jesus is going to be brought up to the Temple by the Accuser later in his life, and then let himself be led down from it, only his foot will hit the stone. The stone nail that goes through it as he’s nailed to the cross. No angels will protect him. His vindication doesn’t come until after his death, until after he looks more the fool than anyone in human history has looked the fool. Until after people mock him saying, if you’re the son of God, save yourself! That’s child-like faith.
Finally: Here, just worship me and I’ll give you all the military and economic and political power in the world. Why stay a kid with a Father who’s given you nothing so far but some nice words at your baptism, when you can be king if you’ll depend on me?
Jesus seems to just be fed up at this point. Really? You’ve got to be kidding. I love my dad. I’ll take my chances on his promises over yours. Go away.
This is child-like faith at its finest. Jesus quotes from the same story he quoted both other times, in Deuteronomy. Let me read you the part that leads up to it, the promise that Jesus is holding onto from God, the promise that he has child-like faith in, the promise that keeps him coming back to God with his needs for God to address, and keeps him waiting for God’s response, as long as it takes.
10When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
13Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you.
Just two. One for now & one for later.
1. Notice Your hunger, and bring it to Jesus during communion. Notice what you’re hungriest for, right now, in your life. Food? Success? Good health? Better relationships? Someone to love, or to love you? Better finances? A great vacation? As you come up for communion, bring that hunger to Jesus, asking him to address that hunger today, this week, this year.
2. Fast like Jesus. Just for a day or a meal or 2 this week. Everytime you’re hungry, bring your hunger to Jesus to address, like you are a child going to a parent. See what it teaches you about child-like faith.