Baptized Identity Matthew 4:1-11

Commercials often portray an average person succumbing to impulses with little thought of consequence. Beverage companies run ads about obeying our thirst. These commercials say something about us like; “we would rather JUST DO IT!”. We are well coached in the economy of compulsion than the discipline of delayed gratification, which seems so old school and out of style.” We claim moderation and self-control are good values but often times we have little will power to walk away from goods that beg for our attention. The way we deal with temptation shapes our identities.

Jesus’ wilderness temptation experience follows Jesus’ baptism, where the Spirit of God descended and words of affirmation rang in his ear: “This is my son in whom I am well pleased!” Jesus is beginning his public ministry and this scene tells the careful reader Jesus is inseparable from God’s Spirit. It also reminds us this same Spirit descends on us at our baptism; establishing our union with the eternal God. Jesus enters the wilderness dripping wet from his baptism to put his baptized identity to test.

The text says, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” It is hard identifying with Jesus in the wilderness. We think of Jesus as more holy than human; unaffected by tempting things. We like Jesus welcoming the children, not fasting in the wilderness. The text says he enters the desert to face tests, which persons have dealt with throughout all of time. The devil is not on a shoulder, tempting; and God on the other, whispering comebacks. Jesus goes with the Spirit to the desert. God’s Spirit doesn’t go with him because he is divine. God’s Spirit goes because Jesus has made room for God within his baptized self. God’s spirit thrust him to face these crises, so to form and inform his identity.

The reason for this identity crisis is other potential Messiahs had come and gone. Upstart saviors had gained popular support only to be squashed by the Romans. Jewish boys dreamed of the Messiah as they played games. Women told stories about a coming Messiah. Men talked among themselves of this Messiah. In this climate, Jesus entered into the wilderness to realize his own baptized identity as “the one who has come”. The tempter poses three perplexing temptations regarding his identity.

The first temptation test Jesus’ trust of God’s provision. Will Jesus break his fast, turn his attention away from God for instant gratification. The tempter says, “Since you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus is asked to follow his cravings rather than follow God. Jesus could turn water into wine and feed 5000, but he will not choose the quick fix; he will obediently waits on God’s provision.

The second temptation test Jesus trust in God’s faithfulness. Will Jesus grandstand on God’s behalf as the divine Son and prove God’s power? The tempter says, “Since you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the top of the temple, for you know the angels will catch you.” Jesus is asked to display divine muscle rather than to wait upon God’s faithfulness in the wisdom of time. Jesus was present at creation, but he will not cheapen the music of creation by playing God like a violin. Jesus trust God’s to faithfully do what God intends.

The third temptation test Jesus’ trust in God timing. Willis for Jesus to accept the offer to allow other forces make him king of the world? The tempter shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says, “All of it can be yours RIGHT NOW just worship me.” Jesus is asked to compromise his loyalty and worship the one who holds the world to claim now the kingdoms of the world that already belong to him. Jesus is being offered a shortcut; no sacrifice, no pain, no cross, no problem. Jesus will trust God knows what to do with a life freely offered for the sake of others.

Jesus knew his identity; he was the Son of God. This isn’t about Jesus seeing what he can do with his newfound identity; realizing he can magically fling books across the room. Jesus knows who he is, and so does the tempter. In fact, the evil one’s first words were “If you are the Son of God” should be translated “since”. The identity question for Jesus was what kind of Son of God would he be? All have to discern how we will live out our baptismal calling. The implementation is the hardest part. Identity crises bring us to those forks in the road that can shape who we are.

Some people face crises through self-preservation because they are not comfortable in their own skin. If a person does not have the courage to be who God made, they slip into the shadows of their mind; thinking they are nobody special. Nothing stunts growth like feeling unworthy. Some churches don’t help by creating a culture of blame, so to maintain its power over people’s lives. The other unhealthy response is self-promotion; being too focused on a false sense of worthiness that over inflates the ego. We can customize our lives to satisfy our primary concern: ourselves. Many times the Body of Christ doesn’t help in this struggle; because we are too willing to play the people’s song-answering the cries of those wanting the music to make them feel good and the sermon to fix their problems.

These opposite reactions produce the same result, an inward focus; preventing spiritual and personal growth in our baptismal journey. We become preoccupied with either self-preservation or self-promotion. This makes it easy to fall prey to creating God in our own image; rather than presenting ourselves to a loving God who’s forming us in Christ’s image.

Lent began on Ash Wednesday. It falls close to New Years; tempting us to rededicate ourselves to lapsed resolutions: chocolate, lose a few pounds, red meat, or give up certain luxuries. Lent is not about giving something up. It is a forty day period of time to examine potions of our identity, like Jesus in the wilderness. It invites us to encounter Jesus’ death before we celebrate his resurrection; so to consider what needs to die and be reborn in our live. It is a season marked by repentance, forgiveness, and conversion, as we continue down the road of forming our spiritual identity.

Jesus forty days in the wilderness settled his identity. He triumphed over every test; but not because he was God’s Son. We don’t let ourselves off the hook by lessening the nature of Jesus’ temptations saying God Son’s temptations were not like ours; they were not real. This provides an excuse to remain stuck in our refusals to change. What happened in the wilderness grounded Jesus’ identity. Jesus didn’t turn away, he met these tests head on; cultivating and defining his person and identity.

An unexamined identity leaves us in the wilderness. Examined identities are shaped by tests in the wilderness that mold our lives in the same way they did for Jesus. Enter into a time of self examination; not to be a better person through self-improvement. Open up to self-inspection. Consider what it means to be God’s child who is under construction. Allow the Spirit to guide as us dive into the depths of our humanity; willing to turn over parts of ourselves that have yet to fully identify with what God intends in our life. This is where the identity crises begin, but it is not the place they end.

Our entire life belongs to God, who wants to mold us into the image of Jesus, our example, brother, and redeemer. It is through our identity crises we are perfected in our love for God and others. I invite you into this season of Lent, by inviting you to have your baptized identity to have a crisis. The graceful hands of God can do some its best work in the midst of a crisis; shaping and forming us into the person God needs in this world.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks! I feel much better about that blackberry cobbler I made yesterday – I gave up desserts for Lent but had one tiny taste to make sure it was edible before taking it to the neighbors. You weren’t home or you would have gotten some too!

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