Not Today, Satan

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus’ temptation

4 Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. 2 There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. 3 The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”

5 Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. 7 Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”

8 Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

9 The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”

12 Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.” 13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.

When I arrived at Perkins School of Theology to attend seminary, I was a clean slate. I had grown up in the church, but sparsely active beyond Sunday morning worship. Many of my friends, however, brought with them lots of previous learning, opinions, and insights about their personal faith. And it was hard for them. Part of that first year or so of seminary is often a painful and frustrating deconstructing of one’s faith- to create room for new learning and development. I didn’t have that issue. I could just be a sponge and absorb.

One of the first tools I learned about was the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This idea was first coined by Dr Albert Outler, the legendary theologian and church scholar. By the way, Outler also is the originator of the line “All Grace is Amazing” yall often hear me say. Anyway, a quadrilateral is any four sided figure- square or rectangle. It was four sides. Each quadrant has an aspect of Christian faith. The quadrilateral, then, becomes a tool, sort of like a compass, to find one’s way through the world theologically. 

The four sides of the figure are scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. If you want to use an acrostic to memorize, go with TRES, the Spanish word for three. 

Tradition: the witness of the church across the millennia. Whenever we say a creed in worship, read a commentary for Bible study, sing a hymn at a retreat, even reflect on the teachers and preachers who have helped shape our faith, that’s tradition. My friends at seminary and I were all United Methodists. We drew from a similar tradition.

Reason: our ability to use our brains is a gift! In our tradition, no one tells us how to think. You don’t have to believe something I say as absolute truth- you can question, think critically, come up with your own conclusions. Methodists are free to disagree and think for themselves. My friends at seminary and I all had bachelor’s degrees and were accepted to do graduate level work at a United Methodist seminary. We all had a similar capacity for reason.

Experience: this is our own personal story. Each of us has certain things in common, but most of the stuff that makes us who we are is unique to ourselves. So I have life experiences where I have encountered God, and you may go to the same place for the same purpose and not have the same connection. As an elder in the church, my experience is different from a lay person, a local pastor, a deacon, or the many other ways folks serve in the church. My friends at seminary had some common experiences, but not very many.

Scripture: of the four quadrants, the Bible is primary. It is the place where we go to find the clearest connection to God, to pursue answers to those life questions and doubts we all have. My friends at seminary and I were all formed by the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

That’s it: the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Tradition. Reason. Experience. Scripture. TRES.

You may remember earlier this year we renewed our baptism and reflected upon Jesus’ baptism. We told the story, from Luke 3, of Jesus baptized in the Jordan river by John. The heavens opened, the Holy Spirit alighted upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; in you I find joy.” Well, following an extended genealogy of Jesus, Luke next tells us that the same Spirit which came upon Jesus at his baptism led him into the wilderness. For forty days Jesus fasted, prayed, and was tempted by the Devil. At his weakest, most vulnerable, Jesus’ faith trials began. What tools would Jesus draw on to help him endure these tests? Hmmm.

Turns out the Devil must have been listening at Jesus’ baptism, because although it has not been publicly announced–remember the voice from heaven says in Luke “You are my Son” not “This is my Son” as it is recorded in Matthew–the Devil says “Since you are the Son of God… turn these rocks into bread. I can see you are starving.” This temptation is rooted in physical need. Jesus responds: “It is written, one does not live only by bread.” It is written…where? Scripture. In fact, Jesus’ responses to all three temptations are rooted in scripture. He quotes from the book of Deuteronomy three times. First test passed: pretty easy.

Second test: the Devil takes Jesus to the highest mountain, revealing all the kingdoms of the earth. “Worship me, and I will give them to you.” This temptation is all about authority. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy again: “Worship God only.” remember scripture is primary- but he also uses the tool of tradition. One does not live by bread alone, the text Jesus used in the first temptation, recalls the Exodus story, where Jesus’ ancestors, again, remember the temptation account directly follows a genealogy- were provided manna, a bread like substance for their daily bread. Now Jesus recalls the Exodus again, but this time after the Israelites practiced idolatry during Moses’ absence while he was on the mountain. They had received the 10 commandments, the first of which is to worship only God; the second being you must not fashion for yourself an idol. So Jesus draws upon tradition- the memory of the Exodus, and continual reminders centuries later to not break covenant as his ancestors once did. By the way, the temptations happen in the wilderness, just like the Exodus!

Finally, Jesus is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple, and challenged to jump. After all, Satan says, this time quoting scripture himself- the tempter is learning- “God will send angels to save you.” Jesus again responds with scripture: “It is written, do not put the Lord your God to the test.” The Israelites constantly were murmuring throughout their journey through the wilderness. We’re hungry. We’re thirsty. We don't like this bread. We had things better as slaves in Egypt. Constantly pushing God to respond. This temptation is about physical need or assuming authority. The temptation is to force God into action. Jesus actually faced this test over and over throughout his ministry. “Show us a miracle.” “Hey you multiplied bread and fish yesterday. Do something cool like that again.” “Do this thing and we’ll believe.” We cannot force God to act; the life of faith allows God’s grace to work as God sees fit. 

Jesus’ reason is on display throughout the temptations: thinking through the situation, drawing upon his reservoir of memorized scriptures. Earlier in this gospel we saw a young Jesus in the Temple teaching the religious leaders. Jesus used his critical thinking ability throughout his ministry. Finally, Jesus draws upon his unique experience. Jesus remembers the stories of shepherds visiting at his birth, the pronouncement of the angels, the words of the prophets before and immediately following his birth. He remembers the words of his mother recorded in her Magnficat song. And the words from the heavens at his baptism: “You are my Son, the Beloved. In you I find joy.” He doesn’t need to perform any magic to learn who he is. His unique story and identity drives his ministry.

So there you have it: proof Jesus was a United Methodist.

Well, maybe not, but the quadrilateral can be a helpful tool for each of us- and Lent is the perfect time to put faith tools to use. So consider how tradition, reason, experience, and scripture all work together in your life to help you live out your faith. When you face challenging times or temptations, draw upon each of these disciplines to help. Memorize favorite scriptures. Read history. Know your own story. Keep your minds sharp. Because we never know when temptation is lurking around the corner. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit amen.