A Sermon for Covenant
“The Art of Faithful Searching”
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
July 6, 2014
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
His heart was pounding, muscles tight, jaw clenched, and he was waiting for the next plague of questions to pass. As his stomach rolled like a violent wave, his mind flashed back to his baptism.
The day had been cool with the breeze perfectly drying the sweat on his brow. He heard his cousin’s booming voice up ahead and smiled as he drew closer. After waiting his turn, he finally took the plunge into the Jordan River. His head broke the surface of the water, and after praying whatever it was one prayed when baptism of repentance first began, the heavens split, a dove descended, and the very voice of God echoed across the sky: “This is My Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
While on the one hand, the memory comforted the young man’s heart, on the other it tormented his mind. Half-truths penetrated his thoughts. “If you pleased Him, why did He lead you here? If you are the Son of God, why does it seem like he left you and who do you think you are?”
The whispers followed him like a porcupine, stabbing at him, refusing him rest. When forty days were over, his body weak from lack of food and his faith pushed, that was when the whole presence of evil manifested itself in front of him.
We don’t know what was going through Jesus’ mind during the forty days of temptation. However, we can see how troubling this encounter was for the Son of God. Luke decided from the beginning to lay out a strong case for Jesus’ heritage. God’s angel, Gabriel, was awarded the honor to first name Jesus, declaring him the Son of God. Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, called Mary, the “Mother of my Lord.” Prophets Simeon and Anna both praised God for allowing their eyes to see the child who would bring about Israel’s salvation. Even as a boy, Jesus called the temple, “my Father’s house.” And to top it all off, Luke traced Jesus’ family tree through Israel’s history to the very first man, Adam, the Son of God. Luke ensured his audience understood that Jesus was the Son of God. Yet with seven words Satan gained the ability to question everything. “If you are the Son of God…”
This passage relays to us the pressure on Jesus. What type of Messiah would he be? Even though Jesus is portrayed as a very “put together man,” who Luke says spoke with authority and commanded evil spirits, he was still a flesh and blood human. He seemed to experience a season of discovery, and within the three temptation questions there were three levels of expectations that had to be wrestled with:
1) Would he be the Messiah that was for the poor, needy, and hungry? The Messiah that would touch and heal the physical needs of the people? The desperate hoped so.
2) Would he be the Messiah that would free the Israelites from the Roman rule? The Messiah that would establish their view of the rule of God? The oppressed hoped so.
3) Or would he be the Messiah whose power would awe the people so that they could forever see the authority of God? The blind hoped so.
Each question attacked the identity of Jesus. With every blow, I wonder how easy it would have been to say yes. All three depicted Messiah-like characteristics, and they were not in and of themselves bad. Dr. Craddock says, “Temptation is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength.” For these to be temptations, they had to play on Jesus’ strengths and desires.
He would feed and heal the poor and needy.
He would free the oppressed and cut down.
He would bring about the Rule of God.
But to say yes to one would make the rest be undone.
Jesus was more than just a physician, or a politician, or a religious teacher. He was and is the Savior. And it is so fitting that at the beginning of his ministry, he had to face his own potential identity crisis.
This crisis doesn’t just happen to Jesus. It happens to each of us, and much like the ending Luke provides, there seems to never be an absolute end, just more opportune moments. Our lives seem to be filled with seasons of weighty expectations. What kind of spouse or parent will I be? What kind of employee will I be? I struggle under what kind of minister will I be?
But perhaps those aren’t the only identity questions we should be asking. Jesus’ response at the second temptation, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” correlates back to Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This passage explicitly teaches on what the Israelites identity would look like. Chapter five ended with the Ten Commandments and God’s warning to follow His words and to pass them on to the people’s children. Then chapter six verse five expresses God’s yearning for His people. Their identity was not primarily to be found in the workings and deeds they could offer. It was not to be found only in the sacrifices or religious festivals. Their identity was discovered when the whole of themselves (their hearts, their souls, and their bodies) turned in response to their love for Him. What gave them away as the people of God was their worship to God.
Returning to the wilderness, in the moment where he could have justified himself, established himself, or even defended himself, Jesus gave honor to God. The Messiah he was choosing to be was the Messiah who depended on and was led by God. This Messiah, by God’s strength, would feed, free, and establish the Kingdom. Jesus’ identity was grounded in God, and he denied any mantle or title that Satan tried to tempt him with.
This was Jesus’ test, but we also recognize those half-truths. We have heard those “what if…” questions, and we too have been plagued by confusion that forces us to face the music. The sky hasn’t broken itself open for us in a while. No dove has descended, and no voice echoes love and adoration. Yet, we have felt the weight of expectations.
Luke is the only Gospel account not to provide comfort for Jesus after Satan left, but verse fourteen extends encouragement by saying, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit…” God led, but He did not leave Jesus. He allowed room for pain, confusion, and questions, but He did not abandon Jesus.
In the midst of our darkest seasons where it seems like our only companion is the devil, we can be reminded that we are never alone. What we presume to be our identity must sometimes be confronted. As easy as it would be to say that every season leads to new identity, endurance, or even comfort, the reality is sometimes those seasons only offer a quiet “I am with you.” Only a reminder, but what those words imply. If we turn ourselves towards God, maybe our expectations for ourselves will begin to dwindle. Maybe the restraints of who we ought to be will shift as we learn to just be. Maybe we can tune our ears to him.
There is an even more dangerous aspect of this passage after we remember who and whose we are. The side effect of the medicinal identity pill comes in the form of a question: “If I am yours, God, where are you?” Christian media is full of catchphrase sentiments that testify to God’s continual presence, but to someone in the middle of their bogged-down season a catchphrase does not provide much support for treading water. Jesus felt the weight throughout his ministry and death. No one seemed to truly get him, truly understand him, truly listen to him, except his Father.
Yet, like we all have experienced, Jesus faced the wandering temptation without anyone next to him. He had been claimed by God, prayed to God, honored God, and throughout his wanderings appears to be ignored by God. Jesus’ faith in his Father is evident, yet I do not have to think too long about the emotions created by isolation. Sometimes our lives are filled with seasons of doubts and fears because of our titles. Bearing the name “Child of God” harbors within itself hundreds of questions. Where is our Father? Is he listening? Will he ever answer me? I wonder how Jesus taught his disciples to pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” when his ministerial story began with that very event?
In his account, Luke places Jesus in prayer seven different times. The intimacy between God and his son depict the desire of my heart. To be so tuned-in to God and not afraid of disappointing or missing him is powerful to me. Maybe that intimacy was the source of Jesus’ perseverance. Maybe from his quiet moments of intentional seeking, Jesus found his strength to press on. I do not believe that relationship was crafted only for Jesus. On the night of his betrayal, in his lowest season, John records Jesus praying that we, like him, may be one—one with each other and one with God. This prayer was not in vain; rather, the man who had been the perpetual wanderer knew all about the hardship of being the Son of God. His identity set him apart, set him up, and he knew we would be in the same boat.
We are God’s children. We do have moments when we are strengthened by the Spirit, but more often than not our half-truth seasons of weighty expectations for ourselves and God seem to chain us to the ground. I used to hope that after I went through one season of turmoil towards God, I would somehow understand who I was and who God is. Even though I have yet to answer those questions, and I have a feeling I never will, I am beginning to wonder if maybe it is in the turning towards God despite the unanswered “if” questions, despite his lack of appearance, and despite potential doubts, that shapes both our identity and intimate relationship with God. Maybe in spite of the isolation and feelings of unfaithfulness, we may stumble upon an art of faithful searching.
This passage begs us to confront and wrestle with our easy answers. Do we think that every day we will have comfort in his name? Do we think that our faith will never be pushed to its limits? Do we think that we will understand what God is doing? If we answer yes to any of these questions we might need to prepare ourselves. A wilderness may be lying in wait for us.
The practice of faithful searching may lead us into more opportune moments, more uncertainties, but the Spirit of God will revive us. God’s heart must rejoice at his children’s desire to know him intimately. Our search will not be in vain. He will come. Listen for his whispers. Amen.