Summary: First Sunday in Lent: Temptation is often the enticement to compromise, to engage in just a bit of ’give and take.’ Jesus would have none of it when satan tempted Him. Nothing would deter Jesus from the Cross.
The art of the compromise – of give and take – is valued by many people. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Watch the consummate politician on campaign trail – they live by give and take. Whey even a good football game starts out as a battle of give and take. One team will fight and scratch for 10 or 15 yards and then punt the ball. Then they’ll fight and scratch to keep the other team from moving the ball so that they can get it back just a bit closer. Then they’ll fight for another 10 or 15 yards – just a little give and take - until they can capitalize on good field position. Most of the time engaging in ‘give and take’ is ok. It’s the way things are done.
But there are times when engaging in ‘give and take’ is absolutely the wrong thing to do. The Gospel Lesson today talks about such a situation. Jesus and satan were at odds. The stakes were incredibly high. Life and death only begins to describe what was at play. Jesus had been fasting for forty days, and so He was physically weak. He’d been in the desert. But He was at the beginning of another journey - a tough journey - and He knew that it would only get tougher. A Cross was waiting down the road a piece.
What was at stake in this confrontation in the desert? This may surprise you, but it was Jesus’ death. Oh, I don’t mean that the devil was trying to kill Jesus. He wanted to stop Him from dying! He was trying to keep Jesus from reaching the Cross. He was trying to prevent Jesus from redeeming you and me and all of humanity from our sin. And the devil used every dirty trick in the book to do this. His desire was to waylay the salvation of humanity and so satan tried to get Jesus to just engage in a little give and take – like haggling over the price of something:
“Aw, common, Jesus! You know that I’m right about this. You don’t have to suffer. Just work with me here. Just listen, listen for a bit – and I’ll save You a whole lot of trouble.” That’s the way the evil one works, doesn’t he? The devil has been shading the truth for centuries – getting us to give in a little here a little there. The things the devil offers Jesus seem, at least on the surface, harmless enough. A little food; an excellent promotion; an opportunity to find out if God really cares. There sure doesn’t seem to be much wrong in just hearing out the old snake - but there is. Jesus knows that satan is a master at setting traps - collecting victims in his web.
“Look here, Jesus,” says the evil one, “Just command this stone to become a loaf of bread and the hunger ends. And who knows, you might be able to start a new ministry out of this. Really! I mean, think about it. A lot of good could come from it. Why Jesus, if you give in just this once – You would be able to use this ‘stone to bread’ maneuver to get places. It could become your special gig - the calling card of your church. Changing stones to bread could be the way that your church could feed all the hungry. After all, isn’t God concerned with the hungry? With You?”
“What’s that you say? ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ I can’t believe that You, Jesus, would think there are more important things than feeding the hungry. What could be more important? Why aren’t you willing to just go with me on this one – just a little ‘give and take.”
“All right… well then, listen to this, you’re gonna love it. I’ve a got such a deal for you. I’m willing to give You – everything. You heard me, Yeshua – everything! Why look at all the engineering marvels – the pyramids, the Inca and Aztec cities; why I’ll even throw in Las Vegas and Cancun for good measure. All this is yours just for the taking. Plus more – the authority and glory that goes with it. You want dancing girls? No problem. A new BM’er – piece of cake! You’ll be the talk of all the towns – that Caesar guy – no match for You. Ghengis Khan – he’ll be your shoe shine boy.”
“I’ll give You all this, if You do just one little itsy, bitsy thing for me. Just, worship me. Now, now – don’t make any hasty decisions. I mean there are some real possibilities here. Think about what it would mean if You really were in charge around here. No more weapons of mass destruction. Wealth could be distributed equitably. Lion would lay with the lamb, child would play with asp – You could make all of that really good stuff happen. After all, Jesus, You would be the boss. You would have the power to make it happen. And you know how much the world needs to be at peace. Just give in a little bit here.”