The Spirit asks you, “What kind of a person do you want to be?” and fills you and gives you power to be Christ, if that’s what you want, for the blessing of the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The First Sunday in Lent, year C
Text: Luke 4:1-13 (plus v. 14)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
What kind of a person do you want to be?
A friend of mine and his husband have a really nice, loving, fifth grader. At his recent teacher conference, though, his teacher reported that when he gets into competitive situations he can be a little aggressive with his peers. But she said, then she asks him, “Is this the kind of person you want to be?” And he’s able to step back from that behavior.
That’s an amazing teacher. It’s a brilliant and beautiful way to guide a young person on the challenging path of maturity.
So it’s kind of surprising the devil is the one who asks this brilliant question of Jesus today.
“What kind of person do you want to be?” is the heart of Jesus’ testing.
With hair dripping wet from his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days, to learn what it will mean for him to be God’s Anointed, God’s Messiah.
But the devil focuses that learning. If you are the Son of God, the devil says, what kind of Messiah do you want to be? Will Jesus use his divine power to help himself when he’s in need, like making bread to feed his famished body? Will he use his divine power to dominate and control the world? Will he test the Father and this mission to see if he really is loved and protected?
It turns out the devil is doing Jesus a huge favor. Jesus will face these same questions on that terrible Thursday night to come, in the garden on the Mount of Olives. This testing in the wilderness not only sets Jesus up for his earthly ministry. It prepares him for the torture and execution he will face, and the testing question of whether he will use his power to stop it.
But the devil is also doing you and me a huge favor.
What kind of person do you want to be? the evangelists ask you.
Jesus isn’t the only child of God, or the only anointed one of God asked that question. Matthew and Luke relate this story because it’s your testing, too. And mine.
What will you do with your blessings and wealth? Use them to remove your own pain and suffering, turn those stones into your bread? Will your priority be making sure you’re comfortable and cared for?
What will you do with whatever privilege and power you have? Maybe you’re not literally kneeling on someone’s neck until they die, but where is your knee and is anyone under it? That question haunts me. Maybe you’re not an autocratic despot brutally attacking a peaceful neighbor, but how do you manipulate your world? Is your comfort and your opinion and your security a higher goal than that of your neighbors?
And what will you do with God’s promise that you are beloved? Will you try to force the Triune God to prove that by giving you all you want, answering all your prayers as you demand?
This story says your sufferings and struggles aren’t the test, any more than Jesus’ were.
The test as God’s child, anointed in baptismal water, is what you do with your struggles, your suffering. And what you do with whatever wealth, power, privilege, or ability to care for yourself you have.
This story says one question is vital for me and for you: What kind of person do you want to be?
Do you want to be a faithful servant of God, living as Christ in the world? Do you want to serve as you were baptized to serve, as God’s Anointed?
If you do, Jesus’ path is the faithful path. A path that doesn’t turn stones into bread for yourself, but uses your gifts and blessings to feed and nurture and care for others. A path that doesn’t seek to dominate or manipulate so you get what you want, but sets aside power, becomes vulnerable for the sake of others. A path that doesn’t need constant proof of God’s blessing and care, but trusts God even when it’s not easy to see or sense.
But I haven’t told you the wonder you need to hear.
Listen to what Luke says once more: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,” Luke begins today. And then, at the end: “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.”
Jesus’ whole testing, answering what kind of a person he wanted to be, the fasting, the prayer, the discernment, all happens within one unbreakable reality: he is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit from beginning to end, Spirit-led throughout.
And if you say, “well, that’s Jesus, the Son of God, one with the Father and the Spirit in the Trinity, so of course the Spirit filled him and led him throughout,” you’re missing Luke’s point, and his joy.
In fact, Luke wrote an entirely separate book from this Gospel to tell you and all who are baptized into Christ this truth. In Acts, Luke repeatedly says that whatever Jesus was able to do filled with the Spirit, the followers of Jesus can do filled with the Spirit. That’s your promise. It cannot be taken from you.
You are God’s child, without question. You are God’s anointed one, without question.
If you want to be like Jesus, walk as Christ, be a part of God’s healing and love in the world, even if it’s hard, even if that means you’re vulnerable, or hurt by others, or it costs you in difficult ways, then good news, Luke says.
Because you are also filled with the Holy Spirit, without question. The Spirit leads you in whatever wilderness you serve, without question. And you will endure and thrive in every test with the power of the Spirit helping you mature and grow as Christ in your world, to be God’s blessing to whomever you meet. Without question.
Just know that the Spirit will also be the One periodically asking in your heart and mind, “Is this the kind of person you want to be?” Listen when you hear that, be ready to answer. It will change your life.
In the name of Jesus. Amen