The Problem of Half-Truths in the Wilderness (Luke 4:1-13)

This weekend marks the first Sunday of Lent and Lent always begins with Jesus, the Deceiver, and 40 days in the wilderness. You can read the Gospel reading for Sunday here.

Though it was nothing resembling the wilderness landscape where Jesus finds himself today in Luke’s Gospel, I remember a journey in a kind of “wilderness” many years ago (before smartphones and GPS) when I was traveling with some college classmates through England. We had set out on foot to see Stonehenge. It was a sunny day and our hosts where we’d stayed assured us we’d arrive there in no time. It quickly became clear that “arriving in no time” was a way to duck the uncomfortable fact that no other means of transportation was possible from this remote location. We had underestimated the midday heat and taken no extra water along. Random passers-by assured us when questioned that our destination was “just over that hill” but every hill climbed yielded no visible evidence of the longed for rocks of Stonehenge. These assurances eventually became the source of gallows humor for us as we trudged along. We did eventually make it to our destination, but the journey there and the half-truths we encountered along the way became just as memorable (if not more so) than landmark we had originally set out to find.

In today’s text we find Jesus tempted by the devil in the wilderness. The Deceiver did what he is famous for doing: telling half-truths. The most obvious half-truth was connected with the last temptation, the temptation to be spectacular. The Tempter even goaded Jesus with an “assurance” from the Bible:. Jesus could give in to the need to do something that will really win him applause because it is written, “[God] will command his angels concerning you, to guard you.” Is God faithful in protecting those who belong to Him? Yes, indeed! Yet the Deceiver would have Jesus believe that the Father would be faithful to Jesus on the Son’s own terms. And so the Devil’s invitation to be spectacular is really an invitation to test God. In reply, Jesus quotes the words of Moses in Deuteronomy, “You shall not put the Lord Your God to the test” (cf. Deuteronomy 6:14). Moses remembered his own need to be spectacular…his own time of testing God. Jesus was faithful where Moses was not. Jesus was faithful where we are not. And though we are tempted to test God by being the perfect parent while at the same time trying to be a super spouse, a devoted child, the church member who can “do it all”…the coworker who can always be counted on…sooner or later we find ourselves without water in the wilderness. The True child of God has fulfilled what we could not. The True child of God was committed to faithfulness…not spectacular-ness. That humility took Him all the way to a cross.

Last Wednesday we wore the cross of Jesus in ashes on our foreheads in remembrance of the Truth that as sinners “we are dust, and to dust we shall return” (cf. Genesis 3:19). This Sunday many of us will watch as a new child of God, Rhett Russell Gagnon, receives the gift of Life in Holy Baptism and the same image …the cross of Jesus that brings forgiveness and renewal…is traced over his forehead. Half-truths in the wilderness are a problem. Half-truths in the wilderness can be fatal. The Word of God that without Jesus we remain dead in our sins is true again this Lenten season. The greater Truth is that Jesus, the perfect Son of God, has overcome the temptation to be spectacular. Facing our own half-truths in the wilderness of everyday life, we rest in the Truth of Jesus…and live.