Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11
Astrophysicist Brian May proves that you can indeed complete your dream. He began working on his PhD in astrophysics in 1970. However, like happens with so many people life got busy and he took another path that led him away from academia. However, in 2006 he was able to pick up his pursuit of astrophysics. It turns out that his initial thesis only had to be slightly revised because so little work had been done in the specific area he was focusing on. In 2007, he completed his thesis and received his doctorate, 37 years after he started the project. This was not just a vanity project because since then, he has co-authored two books on astrophysics and he held an academic post. For a couple of you, the name Brian May might sound familiar, and that has to do with what led him to drop his thesis in the 1970s. You see, Brian had a side project that he started with his friend Freddy Mercury. When there band Queen started to gain some steam, he had to decide to pursue the band or the doctorate and he chose the band. Astrophysicist Brian May was also the lead guitar play of queen and author of songs like We Will Rock You and I Want it All. More amazingly, Brian May is also one the leading experts on 19th century Stereophotography. In addition to his astrophysics books, May has authored two books on the history and art of Victorian stereophotography. In addition to all of that, he is also the founder of an animal’s right organization that seeks to protect animals in England from overhunting. In a lot of ways Brian May is a modern day renaissance man. Most people would probably assume that a rock and roll guitar player would not have the skill set, passion, or desire to be a published astrophysicists. This goes to show that people are nearly always more nuanced, interesting, and complex than we want to give them credit for. Very few people can play lead guitar for one of the most popular bands of all times, hold a PhD, and be the leading expert on an obscure topic, but nearly all of us are more than our jobs, our titles, or what others think about us. Everyone has different facets to their interest, to their personality, to what makes them unique. The same is true for Jesus.
Many authors have attempted to define Jesus only through a specific lens, but he defies that kind of singular definition. Throughout the gospels we get to see many different sides, aspects, and expressions of who Jesus is. We are in the church season of Lent. This is 40 days of spiritual preparation. As disciples of Jesus Christ, one of the best ways we can prepare ourselves is to learn how Jesus lived and then go and do likewise. Every Sunday through Easter we are going to focus on an aspect of who Jesus is as revealed in the scripture. By learning about our Lord and Savior in this way, we can take steps to better follow his example in our own lives. This morning, we focus on Jesus as a warrior.
It seems kind of like kind of a misnomer to refer to Jesus as a warrior. After all, he is the prince of Peace. Throughout the Bible there is an odd juxtaposition of love and peace with a more militaristic bend. The prophet Isaiah might have declared that Jesus will be the prince of peace. Yet the prophet of Isaiah also stated “The LORD will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry He will prevail against His enemies.” Not that long ago when we started this time of worship with praising the God of angel armies. We cannot think of the idea of a warrior without thinking of fighting, violence, and aggression. Those are words that are very hard to reconcile with Jesus. A warrior though, is one who does not shy away from conflict. A warrior is one who does not stick their head in the sand when opposition comes. When it comes to following Jesus, if we truly do it correctly and do not compromise what it means to be a disciple, then we will inevitably face opposition and conflict. This morning’s scripture shows us what Jesus did when he faced opposition and we can learn from the warrior example of Jesus.
This morning’s scripture is a well-known one. The temptation of Jesus appears in some form in the gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke. By the traditional lectionary, this story from one of those three books is the gospel lesson during the first Sunday of Lent. In all versions of the scripture right after being baptized Jesus is taken away by the Spirit to the wilderness. It is in the wilderness, alone and hungry that he faces all that Satan has to throw at him. While none of us have ever been offered power over all of the kingdoms of the world Like Jesus was, that particular temptation shares elements with more common temptations. If we take the three temptations that Jesus faced and break them down to what is really behind these temptations, then we can see that they are like the temptations we face.
The first temptation that Jesus faces is being challenged to turn stone into bread. This does not seem like a big deal, except it was by the leading of God’s spirit that Jesus was out in the wilderness. The long fast was clearly a directive from God. The temptation here is to obey God or meet his physical needs. Jesus endures a fast longer the most of us could handle. I do not know about you, but after just a few hours of not eating I am like this:
Being “hangry” is a real thing. When we are hungry, tired, or in general somehow uncomfortable most of us tend not to be our best. The first temptation of Jesus was one that appealed to his physical needs, and this is a temptation that we face as well. However, if we are being honest usually the temptations that we face are more to our physical comforts than our physical needs. When we are just a little uncomfortable we are much likely to focus on ourselves than pay attention to others. Much of the temptations we face daily are ones that are selfish in nature. We are all amazing at justifying our actions. It does not matter how selfish or self-centered our actions are, we are really good at telling ourselves it is OK we do that. A small example we have all encountered is the person with a nice car who purposely parks so that they take up multiple spots in an effort to keep anyone from parking close to them. Even though it was a jerk move, that person has a good reason in their mind why it is OK for them to do that. Whenever we perceive a need no matter how small or imagined, it does not take long for us to move into sinful thoughts and actions to meet that need. It is never like our small inconveniences have met the need of going without food for 40 days.
We regularly face temptations to do things that put ourselves first above loving our neighbors or loving God. They are temptations where we are tempted to put ourselves first above all else. They are temptations to act as if we are the center of our own little universe. We are tempted to give into pride which is an open door to all kind of sinful behavior that does not love God or neighbors. Jesus faced this very temptation. The second temptation Jesus faced was really more of a dare. The devil took him to a high point and dared Jesus to jump and have the angels catch him. This was an appeal to Jesus’ pride. This is another kind of temptation we face, we are tempted by pride regularly. Pride is when we think too much of our own selves. It is the opposite of humility and pride is one of the great catalysts of sins. C.S. Lewis points this out in Mere Christianity. He wrote, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and of course as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” Pride is a systemic sin that enables us to justify our selfishness because our focus becomes all about ourselves.
The final temptation that Jesus faced is perhaps the most straightforward. Satan offered Jesus power. The thirst for power is not just political capital. We feel the temptation to power whenever we desire to be #1, to win, or to be considered the best. We all know the proverb: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Think of all the lies, the people hurt, and broken lives that have been created in human history for the quest of power. Entire nations have been destroyed. Jesus was offered more power than any one person has ever been offered, so he understands the alluring temptation that power offers.
Jesus faced temptations that are like the temptations that we face. Jesus successfully resisted them. It could even be apt to say that he fought back against all of the temptations that Satan threw at him. There are two lessons that we can learn from the example of how Jesus stood in the face of temptation and spiritual opposition. The first lesson that we can learn, is just that-Jesus stood his ground. He drew his line in the sand of where he would not cross and then he stood his ground. He was committed to follow God’s leading no matter what, and he did not compromise that in even a little bit. This is the example that Jesus gives us as a warrior. As a warrior Jesus is a defender. He defends his position, his righteousness, his faith by refusing to move. He does not attack Satan, he stand his ground. This fits much of the image we find in the bible. In the Old Testament time and time again, God is described as a fortress, a refuge, a stronghold, and a fortified tower. These are all defensive positions where one holds their ground. In our life when our faith faces opposition and temptation, we should follow the example of Jesus and defend our mind, heart, and soul by not budging an inch, by not giving in. Jesus did this by relying on God the Father. Every time Satan tempted, Jesus fell back to scripture. Even when Satan tried to twist scripture, Jesus did not move he held his ground and did not compromise to do anything sinful.
Honestly, defending our hearts from giving into temptation is harder than attacking. Attacking is easy, because then we get to focus our righteous fury on someone other than ourselves. This has happened so many times that it is a sad cliché. How often has the fiery preacher or morality defending Politian decried some sort of moral evil, only to cause a scandal when they are caught doing the very thing they decried? It is easier to say something and condemn others than it is to admit we face the same struggles. The sin that we need to condemn is not the sin we see in others but the sin we see in ourselves. That is the sin we need to be concerned about, and that is the sin that we need to stand our ground against and not budge one bit to.
The second thing we can learn from Jesus is from where he resisted temptation. He was in the wilderness. No one could see him, no one knew he was resisting temptation. Most of us are really good about being on our best behavior when around other people, but that does not always hold true once we are away from the scrutiny of others. It was in this kind of isolation, that Jesus maintained his defense. The saying goes Character is what you do when no one is looking. When it comes to the character and depth of our faith that is especially true. This lent, our faith goal should be to have how we publically present our faith and how we privately live out our faith line up. The way we proclaim and stand against sin when others are watching is the same way we should be when no one is around, and we know we will not get caught. Then and only then are we following the example of Jesus the warrior, as we honorably defend our hearts and souls against the temptations that oppose us.
Like Jesus each and every one of us face a daily battle with temptations, with pride, selfishness, and sin. Every day we face the choice to stand our ground or to cede ground to things we know are wrong. If we are being honest, then we must all confess that there are days, weeks, sometimes months where we lose a lot of ground. We lose a lot of battles with temptation and sin. Thanks be to God though, that even though we may lose the battle war has already been won. Even when we have fallen short, this morning’s scripture reminds us that Jesus did not. This scripture reminds us that the same faith and conviction that led Jesus to stand his ground in the desert, led him to stand his ground and stay on the cross when he died to provide the forgiveness of our sin. May we follow the example of Jesus the warrior, and may we stand our ground. May we not give in but may we defend. May we cling to God who is a mighty fortress and bulwark never failing