Down The Ordinary Way


We’re going to be in Luke 4 today.

(Lk 4.1-13) Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

This week is the third Sunday in the season of Lent.

Lent is a season when the Church is particularly aware
of our need for God to save us.

In light of that, we’re trying to let two questions guide us during these weeks:

[slide #3]

What is Jesus saving us from?
What is Jesus saving us for?

The last two weeks we’ve been reflecting on these temptations of Jesus:

Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness being confronted
with the same temptations that we’re confronted with.

Jesus is tempted to use his power—to use his life
for his own ends, to fill himself up.

We feel this all the time:

“I’ve got a need—
I could fill myself up.”

Change this stone to bread.

But Jesus says,
“No, I have something deeper that sustains me.”

Because Jesus’ life is about something deeper than just filling himself up—
he’s here to fill up others, to care for others, to heal others.

And that leads to another temptation:
Jesus being tempted to reach out and grab power
grab the White House—so that he can fulfill his destiny:
so that Jesus be king.

How else can Jesus possibly hope
to bring peace and harmony and healing to the world?

Just make a quick compromise
that no one knows about Jesus
and you can have it all right now.

You can rule the world.
You can heal the world.

We feel this all the time:
We’re tempted to chase good things the wrong way.

But Jesus says,
“I’m grounded in something better than that good thing.”

I’ve got a Best Thing guiding me through this life—
I worship and serve God and God alone.

And that Best Thing
helps me navigate
a world of good things.

And in this case,
this Best Thing helps me say “No” to that good thing.

I can’t rule the world,
I can’t heal the world—
not like that.

And then the devil leads Jesus to Jerusalem (v9)
to the highest point of the Temple.

Maybe this is best understood as some kind of vision,
but it is at least conceivable that the Temple had roof access.

Jesus had been at the top of the world,
seeing all the kingdoms of the world.

The only place higher than the top of the world
would be the top of Jerusalem’s Temple.

It’s hard to overestimate what Jerusalem and its Temple meant.

Jerusalem was
the political center
and economic center
and social center
and religious center
of the ancient Jewish world.

Jerusalem is like
Washington D.C. and New York and Paris and Mecca
all rolled up into one place.

And the Temple is the center of Jerusalem.

The Temple is the literal place
where heaven and earth overlap.

The intersection of the divine and the human,
the nexus point between God’s realm and our realm.

The Temple is the only place that could be higher than the top of the world.

This is the height of expectations—
this is where all God’s promises would confirmed as trustworthy.

One day God’s promises would be confirmed here.
One day all the nations would come here,
rivers of life would flow this place to heal the world.

And we find Jesus climbing up to the highest point of this place.

Hand over hand, grip after grip, foothold after foothold,
Jesus is led to the highest point of the Temple.

He’s at the pinnacle of the Jewish world
the crowning peak where heaven and earth meet.

…and now we’ve got a jumper.

The devil is inviting Jesus to throw himself off the top of the Temple—
off of the place where God’s promises reach their pinnacle:

“Throw yourself off (v9-11).

Show that you really trust in God’s promises.
Show that you really believe the Bible.

“Because it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

“That’s what Psalm 91 says, right?

“Show that you really believe in God’s promises.
Prove that God is real and reliable and caring for you.

“It’ll be a good stunt.
God knows we could all do with seeing a good miracle.

“Jump, Jesus, jump.
We’ll all see you descend slowly in the arms of angels.

Your “on-fire faith” in God’s promises will encourage us all
and then we’ll all know that you’re the Son of God—
that you’re the king, that you’re here from God.”

If the first temptation smelled like a bakery
and the second temptation smelled like a new car,
this third temptation smells like popcorn.

We’ve got the most holy of smells—incense and candles—
mixed with the delicious and the buttery.

This is third temptation is the place
where the sacred meets the circus.

Eugene Peterson says that this temptation
is the place where Jesus is tempted
to start “a circus career in miracles”

Jesus has got some wonder-working power
he should just tap into that power
and give the world an endless supply of the spectacular.

Gather round, ladies and gentlemen, gather round,
in the center ring
this evening, high atop Herod’s Temple,
behold the amazing jumping Jesus and his death-defying leap—

with no net, my you—into the arms of angels.

Perhaps of all the temptations that Jesus faced,
this is the one we want to see the most.

We wish that God would put his power on display in front of us;
we wish that God would confirm his promises before our eyes.

In our regular, normal, routine, everyday lives
we would love to see God do something spectacular.

There’s a struggle, there’s a situation,
there’s that wound, there’s that need,
and we want to see God do something.

And it would be nice if what God did
was big and bold and undeniable.

That situation to miraculously resolve,
that wound to heal, that pain to go away.

In some of our quieter, less-pressing moments,
most of us would even just take something small—

God, could you just do something?… speak to me in a dream?… whisper in my ear?
God, could you just make a shooting star go left to right across the sky?
God, could you just make the phone ring… right… now?

(Don’t pretend like you’ve never played that game.)

There’s certainly nothing wrong
with asking God for some kind of sign.

God is a gracious Father, who understands us,
and—thankfully—he always gives us what we really need. 

But there would be something incredibly arrogant
if you were to stake your life on God giving you a sign.
God has to give you a sign—or else.

About praying for God’s protection
and then jumping in front of car on i70.

There’s some deep part of us
that deeply wishes that God
would just perform on command.

And I think this is part of what Jesus has come to save us from…

[slide #5]

Jesus saves us from
the circus of testing God.

The devil floats an idea in front of Jesus:
Why don’t you test God?”

I mean, after all, the Scripture does say
that bit about angels catching you…

Just try it out.
Make God prove something to you.

And then Jesus responds (v12) to this temptation
with another Scripture—with the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy:

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Like the second temptation,
the devil is hitting Jesus where he is strong.

Jesus is being tempted with God’s own words,
with God’s own promises, with the Scriptures.

The devil is throwing Scripture at Jesus
and saying that if Jesus really believes the Bible
then he should test God on his promises.

“Just look at this Bible verse.
Don’t you believe it, Jesus?”

Jesus doesn’t deny the Scripture that the devil quotes.
(Of course he doesn’t… it’s Scripture… Jesus loves the Scriptures!)

Jesus doesn’t deny God’s promises in Psalm 91.

Jesus just says:
there’s a better way to understand the Scriptures.

You can pull a lot of Bible verses
from a lot of places in the Bible
and make the Bible say a lot of things.

There are some ways
of understanding the Bible
that are better than others.

Jesus answers the devil by saying,
“Testing God is not the center of the Bible.”

And evidently
testing God isn’t the center
of the life of faith.

Testing God is the attitude that says:

“Why don’t you do this…?
because that will get God to do something.”

This is a tempting way to approach the life of faith.

If I just do X… then God will do Y…
If I could just… then God would…

I think we slip into this all the time.

I do can pull this string over here,
I can do this thing over there,
and I can use God to help myself.

As much as I love Star Wars, something like “the Force”
infiltrates the way we think about God.

“Use the Force, Luke.”

But we end up approaching God a lot “the Force” sometimes—

if we could just get our act together,
if we could just pray in the right way,
if we would just do the right thing,

then God might do what we want him to do.

Some people call it karma.

You do certain things
so that the universe
will give you certain things.

There are countless books on the shelves,
countless articles online,
countless seminars and self-help studies,
that encourage us to think like this.

And—really, if we were honest—
that’s all this way of approaching the life of faith is—
it’s self-help.

I can do something
to help myself.

I’m dissatisfied with something right now
so I’m going to do something to get God to do something.

I’ll come to church,
I’ll meditate on the Scriptures,
I’ll spend time in prayer,
I’ll give to the poor,
AND THEN perhaps God will do what I want.

(I’ve even got Bible verses for it.)

Maybe I can use God
to help myself.

That might be a pretty good definition of idolatry.

Trying to using God
to help ourselves.

Trying to manipulate God
to manage our lives

[slide #6]

I think that’s what Jesus saves us from.

Jesus saves us from idolatry.

If you’re tired of the game
of trying to get God to do something in your life,

Jesus is here to save you from that. 

If you’re exhausted from the never-ending circus
of trying to get God to perform on command for you,
Jesus is here to save you.

This is the good news:
you cannot make God to do what you want.

You cannot channel him, you cannot manipulate him,
you cannot harness the force or karma or anything else.

If it feels like it’s not working,
it’s because it’s not.

You cannot make God to do what you want.

Jesus himself confronts
the idolatry of testing God
of trying to get God to do what we want.

The devil tempts Jesus
to use God’s promises
to get God to do something.

Something spectacular.

But Jesus says,
“Testing is not trusting.”

“Because I trust God, I don’t test God.”

And eventually Jesus comes down the ordinary way.

Hand over hand,
grip after grip,
foothold after foothold,
Jesus comes down to earth.

He doesn’t leap down with an angelic parachute.
He doesn’t slowly descend to the ground like Magneto.

Jesus climbs down the ordinary way.

A death-defying leap from the top of the Temple might be testing Psalm 91,
but it wouldn’t be consistent
with the center of Scripture.

Jesus is interested in the heart of the Scriptures,
the greatest commandment—
to love God and love other people.

Does leaping down from the Temple
do either of those things?

Does it honor God
or help other people?

Wait a second, devil,
it does neither.

It would be testing God,
not trusting God.

And so Jesus climbs down
he comes down the ordinary way.

[slide #7]

And that’s what Jesus sets us free for:
to live ordinary lives of love and to trust God there.

Jesus never pursues the showy or the spectacular.

He comes down
the ordinary way
to ordinary life
with ordinary people.

And then Jesus lives the life of faith—
he loves God and loves those around him.

When Jesus does choose to do a miracle,
it’s never a circus, never a show.

People ask for signs,
and he frequently tells them no.

The only times that Jesus does the miraculous
and it’s always expressing love for God
and love those around him.

All of Jesus’ miracles
are ways of serving others—
of loving others.

That’s what Jesus’ entire life is about.

Whether he’s doing a miracle
or (much more commonly) living an ordinary life
the life of faith is about
loving God and loving others.

Jesus climbs down from the heights
to love and serve people.

Jesus is led into the life of love
and trusts God in the places that takes him.

Eventually Jesus’ life of loving other people
DOES take him to a place where Psalm 91 gets put to the test.

To the place where he’s
convicted for our crimes
and dies our death.

Eventually Jesus’ love of people
takes him to the cross.

But what about that?

Doesn’t the cross contradict God’s promises?

But I thought the people of God
wouldn’t strike their foot on a stone?

In the shadow of the cross
Psalm 91 looks like a lie, doesn’t it?

And I think we often feel the same way in our own lives.

Sometimes even the path of love
the ordinary life of honoring God and loving those around us
leads us to a place where it feel like more than a stone on the foot.

It feels like a nail through the foot.

It feels like things are getting worse,
like the world is collapsing, like all is lost.

That’s where all of our lives eventually lead us—
to the place where the earth gives way beneath us

But that’s what Psalm 91 is ultimately about.

Psalm 91 isn’t about jumping with no net—
about putting God to the test.

Psalm 91 is about trusting that God will catch you
when the earth gives way beneath us.

It’s NOT a psalm leading me to test God.
It’s a psalm is leading me to trust God.

That’s the center of the life of faith—trusting God.

Trusting that in the moments when the earth gives way
when the life of love seems swallowed by darkness and death—
God will rescue us.

As Jesus goes to the cross,
Jesus trusts God in the place where love leads him.

He honors God, he loves others,
and he trusts God when earth gives way.

Trusts that God will deliver him,
trusts that God will vindicate him.

Jesus trusts that even though the stone crushes it,
God can even give him a new foot.

God can raise the dead.

That’s a deep mystery that the Enemy can’t recognize—
God often rescues through suffering
and not only from suffering.

That’s what God accomplishes in Jesus—
he paves a path of love even through suffering.

The cross is how God proclaims to the world
that not even death can’t stop the life of love.

Jesus’ life of love is indestructible
that’s the life that God invites us to receive;
that’s the life that God invites us to enter into.

Jesus saves us
from the circus of idolatry.

From us constantly testing God.

From us trying to force God
into proving something to us.

From us trying to manipulate God to manage our lives.

And Jesus invites every single one of us to come down—
to come down
from wherever and whatever
we’re insisting God must do or else—

Jesus invites us to come down the ordinary way.

Stop looking for God to do that spectacular thing.
Come down without it.

God’s existence,
God’s trustworthiness,
God’s future for you,

God’s love for you,
none of it hinges on that circus show you want.

Jesus doesn’t call us into the life of the sacred circus
filled with specular stunt after spectacular stunt.

Jesus is inviting us to enter deeply into a new ordinary
the ordinary life, every day life of loving
those around you.

To give our lives away,
to lose our lives in love,
to embrace the cross.

In those places where you’re tired,
in those areas you can’t see the light,

in that situation where it looks like it’s collapsing,
we almost never need a spectacular sign—we don’t need the miraculous.

Most of the time,
what we need is faith
to keep living the new ordinary.

To keep living the life of love.

That’s what God gives us faith for
for ordinary lives of love.

And don’t worry, because when the world does give way
it will for all us eventually—God will catch you.

God can be trusted,
my brothers and sisters.

God will catch us.

He may catch us in the grave itself
for you see, God has even filled that great abyss with presence.

But make no mistake—believe the good news—
God will catch us and the stone will be rolled away.

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