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Can It Ever All be Yours?

Luke 4:1-13
David A. Davis
April 3, 2022
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I think I have been reading it wrong all these years. This story of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days being tempted by the devil. In my own biblical imagination, I have always assumed that the devil and these gospel-identified temptations came on the last day. The fortieth day. The three temptations and the dialogue between the devil and Jesus represent the devil’s last gasp of an effort.  Luke writes, “he ate nothing at all during those forty days, and when they were over, he was famished.”  “When they were over, he was famished” and the devil waited until then to tempt him to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. But one doesn’t necessarily have to read with such linear assumptions. How about, “when they were over, he was famished.” Hard stop. When the forty days were over, yes, he was famished. Jesus was likely famished at day ten and day twenty and day thirty as well, yes, Luke reports that when the forty days were over Jesus was famished. But Luke sets the scene with “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

Full of the Holy Spirit, led by the Spirit for forty days. Tempted by the devil for forty days. Not just the last day. The three temptations weren’t just saved for the last day. It was every day. Every night. Forty days. That oh so biblical number. Forty years in the wilderness. Forty days in the wilderness. Forty is a number of biblical proportions. Forty days. Every day. Every night. The devil bombarded Jesus to the nth degree with everything the powers and principalities of darkness and evil had to offer. Until, according to Luke, “the devil had departed from him.” “The devil had departed from him until the opportune time.”

The opportune time. It is a puzzling expression; the devil left Jesus until “the opportune time”. In the gospel of Matthew, the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness ends with the devil leaving Jesus and the angels coming to take care of him. Here in Luke the devil takes a break until “the opportune time.”  The opportune time? Perhaps, the opportune time was at the cross and his death at the hands of the imperial powers who mocked him with sour wine to drink. They derided him for claiming to be king telling him he ought to be able save himself. They tempted him, the Messiah of God, “He saved others; let him save himself.”  The spectacle of the crucifixion and evil’s opportune time.

The opportune time: maybe it was that night of betrayal. Betrayed with a kiss. Deserted by those he chose as disciples. Denied by the one who declared him the Messiah. Tempted with use of violence by those he taught to turn the other check. The Garden of Gethsemane; the opportune time for the world’s forces, the world’s movements, the influence of all the kingdoms of this world.

The opportune time. The devil really didn’t wait that long. In this same 4th chapter of Luke, after Jesus returns from the wilderness, and after they try to throw him off a cliff in Nazareth, he goes to Capernaum where he heals “a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon who had cried out to him…” I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Jesus first healing act in Luke is to rebuke the unclean spirit. Dr. Barreto argues that in Luke, the demons and the unclean spirits are the embodiment of evil’s power and the world’s dark forces that always confront and work to deconstruct God’s intent for humanity and creation; working against the peaceable kingdom God intends. The devil’s opportune time. It’s just not that long of a wait in Luke.

In the Greek text the word for time here at the end of the story of Jesus and the devil in the wilderness of forty days, it really isn’t qualified in any way. It is just the word chronos. Most English translations go with some version of opportune time. But it just time. The devil departed him for a time. A very brief time. Because the gospel account of the life and teaching of Jesus, the Son of God, tells of his lifelong confrontation with the temptations, the powers, the evils, the imperial forces, the principalities, the ever-present darkness of this world. The devil’s opportune time was the fullness of Jesus’ life and death. From the moment Mary sang of the Savior scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts and the powerful being brought down from their thrones, all while Jesus listened from her womb to the moment when all the crowds who had gathered for that spectacle and saw what had taken place, evil’s power and the world’s dark forces were at work to deconstruct God’s intent for humanity and creation. They were at work to tempt the Savior his whole life long.

It was as if at every moment, in the gospel’s every chapter, the devil was leading Jesus up to show him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. “to you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it was been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.” And at every moment, in the gospel’s every chapter, the Son of God, our Savior, his response is the same. “No, all this, all this. It’s not yours to give. It never was yours to give. It will never be yours to give.”” I lift mine eyes to the hills” proclaims the psalmist. “From when does my help come. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

The forty days was every moment of Jesus life. And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, led by the Spirit, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the resurrection power of God prevailed. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”, Jesus proclaimed with a finger in the devil’s chest. Do not put the Lord your God to the test as Jesus rebukes the evil spirit. Do not put the Lord your God to the test as Jesus sits that night in the Garden with the darkness crashing all around him. Do not put the Lord your God to the test as even the world’s spectacle of death is conquered by resurrection life. Talk about a finger poking evil in the chest? Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

One of the takeaways from the account of Jesus, the devil and the forty days in the wilderness, one the preacher’s takeaways, or maybe it is more like a church camp takeaway, one of the takes on this message we have all heard and probably used ourselves more than a few times is “even the devil can quote scripture.” But when you read Luke backwards in Lent, when you stand at the cross and look back at this temptation narrative, it is so much more than a bit of an object lesson about proof texting scripture. It becomes the lens by which to understand the entire Jesus project. Jesus, the devil, and the wilderness temptations. It is like an abstract to an academic paper. The overture to a Broadway musical. A microcosm of the whole gospel story. Because the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is all about God taking on the kingdoms of this world.  The once and for all, the once and future, the everlasting victory of God; life overcoming death, good conquering evil, love rising above hate.

As the Apostle Paul wrote in describing what I just called the Jesus project: “when the time had fully come, God sent for God’s Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4). When the time had fully come. The opportune time. It never was the devil’s opportune time. It always was, always is, always will be, God’s time.

On my very first day of ministry, my first day on the job, I walked the fifty steps of so from the manse to the church, entered my first office, sat down at my desk wondering what on earth and in God’s name am I doing here. The office was empty except for a box on the shelf I later learned was an urn full of ashes, of cremains, that a family never came to pick up. That box was there 14 years later when I left that office. The only other thing of note in the office was a little sticker kind of thing that was tucked under the glass top on the desk. I don’t know how long it was there or which pastor left it. It was just a little card with a quote from II Chronicles, chapter 20, verse 15. Actually, half a verse, probably not even that much.  The devil might able to quote scripture but not many people quote II Chronicles. The context of the snippet of a verse is Jahaziel standing before all of Judah as they stood before the Lord with all their families the night before the confrontation with the Ammonites. Jahaziel says to all the people of Judah, “Thus says the Lord to you, ‘do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s.”  The card on the desk simple read “the battle is not yours but God’s”.

Like Jesus, every day you and I live in a world where there are powers and forces at work to deconstruct God’s intent for humanity and creation. The battle is not yours but God’s. To put your head on the pillow at night knowing there is war raging somewhere in the world, and that not far from you someone is hungry or has no place to stay, and that hatred and bigotry always is on the loose. The battle is not yours but God’s. To rise to face another day struggling for your own health, or caring for a loved one who struggles to know you, or to live one more day sober. The battle is not yours but Gods. To sit through the day unhappy at work, or lonely with family too far away or worried sick for your unhappy child off at school. The battle is not yours but God’s. To reach the end of the day knowing there are those in the world who want to limit your choice about your body, or who you can marry, or who you believe God created you to be. The battle is not yours but God’s. To sit down in the evening trying to do homework while you worry about if any school will accept you, or whether that call for a job interview will come, or just plain worry about the whole mess that is the kingdoms of this world. The battle is not yours but God’s.

For the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is all about God taking on the kingdoms of this world.  The once and for all, the once and future, the everlasting victory of God; life overcoming death, good conquering evil, love rising above hate. It always was, always is, always will be, God’s time.

You, me, resurrection power, and God’s opportune time.