Identity

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Matthew 4:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version)
1Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7Jesus said to him, “Again it is 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; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’ ”
11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

  1. What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What leaves me scratching my head?
  2. What delights me in this text?  What do I like about it?
  3. What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  You might remember a time when you took a trip far from home, or felt tempted, for example.
  4. What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be in this text?

The season of Epiphany always begins with the Baptism of our Lord.  Jesus comes to the river and is baptized by his cousin, John, and the heavens open up and the Spirit comes down and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  After this Epiphany event, we in the church move on to the teachings of Jesus for several weeks.  To me, this is a bit unfortunate because, in skipping ahead in the story, we neglect to realize what happens next.

The season of Lent begins with the story of the Temptation of Jesus.  And it is what happens directly after Jesus’ baptism.  The thing that happens directly after his baptism, practically in the next moment, is this: “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.”  Jesus goes from affirmation to temptation, from new life to the struggle against death.  From certainty to uncertainty.

And the devil knows it.  Remember what God said about Jesus in his baptism?  “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  God claims Jesus as his Son.  God gives Jesus unconditional love.  God affirms his choice, and his full favor.  And after forty days and nights in the wilderness, what does the devil attack?  Jesus’ identity.  “If you are the Son of God…” begins two of the devil’s three main temptations.  He challenges Jesus at the level of identity, and intends to make him question just who he is.

When we enter into the season of Lent, we also take a lot of time to examine our own identities as children of God.  We may even intentionally put temptation into our own way in the forms of fasting, giving of alms, and works of love.  It is a season for the baptized, for those who have already been “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” We are God’s beloved children, with whom he is well pleased, but this does not remove temptation from our lives.  In fact, it might even intensify it.  I truly believe that the devil works harder against those of us who are attempting to follow Jesus than those who might have already gone another way.  Because what if we succeed?  What if the kingdom of God, indeed, comes among us?

Jesus knows who he is and whose he is.  He is able to vanquish the devil and come out of the wilderness to preach the word and bring healing and hope to the widow, the outcast, and the orphan.  He comes out of the wilderness and sets his face to the cross, to the work that he came to earth to do for us.  Because he loves us.  And forgives us.  And makes us his.

We all wander in the wilderness at one point or another in our lives, and Lent is the time in the church when we fully acknowledge it. As we enter this season, may your Lenten journey confirm your identity as a beloved child of God.  I look forward to traveling with you on the way.

In Christ, Pastor Breen Marie Sipes

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