Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’ Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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.” ’ Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’ Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus was led into the wilderness, and the devil offered him all that this world can give. It’s worth paying attention to what the devil offered, and what Jesus rejected. Jesus was offered only good things: economic power, spiritual power, and political power. Isn’t feeding the poor a good thing? Don’t we come to church to refresh our spiritual batteries? Don’t we believe that Christians ought responsibly to exercise political action for good in our democracy?
Jesus rejects them all, even though the devil backs up everything he says with quotations from the Bible. These powers, economic, religious, and political, are the devil’s to entrust to others as he pleases, and Jesus clearly rejects this. Accepting any of these powers apart from God is what makes them wrong, because outside God they aren’t being used for good. Just consider how many of us have too much bread, and how religion is a major cause of war.
Jesus fed the hungry crowds because they were hungry, not to enslave them to him. Jesus performed miracles not to harnessing divine powers for himself, but as sign of God’s power breaking into the world. Jesus exercised power for good, but not with the means and methods of the world’s kingdoms. Unlike our politics, Jesus refused to use violence even for certain good ends. How Jesus engaged with power in his life, shows us what God means by power, what power ought to mean for us.
The power is yours, eternal Christ. Power’ is not oppression; with victims meekly bowing, or ﬂeeing for their lives. Power is foot-washing, love enabling love, talents released and new life reaching upwards The power is yours, eternal Christ. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael Hopkins is Minister of the Spire Church, Farnham, Elstead URC, and serves as Clerk of the General Assembly.
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