1Then Jesus 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.
Where we are: There are several ways to describe and organize the Christian year; one way begins by saying the church's year of grace just finished an approximately 3-month long section as we moved from Advent, with darker and shorter days into Christmas and through Epiphany, with more light and longer days, all of which emphasized Jesus as light for all, God as God of all creation and all people. That season also was about us as light to the world!
Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent that's 40 days long—excluding Sundays. Lent was one of the church's earliest observances, apparently beginning with only a few days, gradually expanding into our current 40 days. There's no "right or wrong," but churches that observe the Three Days-Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, generally count Lent from Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week; others go from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday evening. "Lent" comes from an Old English word for spring and refers to days getting longer, similar to the music tempo Lento or Slow. As a time of repentance and overall slowing, last year Pastor Peg observed Lent is a kind of spring cleaning for each of us. If you don't slow down, dust and cobwebs will relocate themselves rather than leave! Lent brings a special opportunity for confession and repentance; more than anything it's a season to confidently live bathed in grace as we confess, repent, and move in a new, better, direction. Historically Lent was the time of preparation for baptism, with baptisms at the Easter Vigil on Easter Eve or very very early Easter Sunday morning.
We're in Matthew's gospel year. In Matthew's, Mark's, and Luke's lectionary years, the first Sunday in but not of Lent features Jesus' wilderness temptation. This temptation narrative is that important! Jesus goes from his baptism in the wilderness of Judea [Matthew 3:1] alongside the Jordan River [Matthew 3:5-6] into a deeper level of wilderness [Matthew 4:1]. Matthew 4:1 begins with the word "Then" that didn't get into our Sunday worship bulletin. Then is immediately after Jesus' baptism. We need to remember Jesus did not receive our trinitarian baptism into his death and resurrection, yet his baptism by John still related to turning-around repentance and newness for the entire people of God and like ours, that baptism was identity-forming and affirming. A few weeks ago in the trinitarian theophany (demonstration, showing-forth/revealing of the three persons of the Trinity) of Jesus' baptism, God the Father declared Jesus Beloved Son.
Matthew's gospel emphasizes Jesus as the new liberator Moses and the new King David. Today Matthew brings us Jesus as the new Israel. Like Moses and like God's people Israel, Matthew's Jesus is called out of Egypt [Matthew 2:15] and goes through a wilderness testing time that necessitates his complete trust and reliance on God's gracious provision. In his interactions with the tempter [devil, prosecuting attorney, etc.] Jesus quotes scripture he has learned being raised as an observant, synagogue-going Jew. Jesus quotes from the Pentateuch book of Deuteronomy with its guidelines and instruction for living faithfully in community; Deuteronomy is supremely about the neighborology word about the neighbor we often talk about, particularly during Luke's lectionary year.