Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
January 14, 2007
CALLING AND TEMPTATION
Text: Luke 3:21-23a; 4:1-14
Baptism, Calling, Temptation: What a great text this Founder's
Day Sunday on our 64th anniversary as a church and this
day we commission our Discipleship Class preparing for baptism.
If you look closely the Holy Spirit is a major actor all though
the text. At Jesus' baptism the Holy Spirit descends as a dove.
"Full of the Holy Spirit," he is led by the Spirit into the
wilderness for a time of testing. Then, "filled with the power of
the Holy Spirit," he returns to Galilee to begin his ministry.
God is not just back there at the beginning, not just
up there in the heavens, not just out there in the
future. God is in here. God's Spirit (capital S) dwelling in
our spirit (small s), God present and powerful in everyday
Spirituality is our human spirit opening itself to and
cultivating the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The baptism. Jesus is pictured as one of a multitude
coming to be baptized. No solitary hero; one of a people.
He is praying, opening himself to the Spirit.
As he is baptized the heavens are opened and the Spirit descends
upon him "bodily" as a dove. What could Luke mean by "bodily"? Did a
bird show up, just as the small hawk did outside my window as I
wrote these words on Thursday? Did he mean that whatever happened
was perceptible, dramatic? Did Jesus feel it in his body, the Spirit
A new member told me this week of her experience with the Spirit.
She'd wandered into Salisbury Cathedral and found herself sitting
next to a big biker in black leather. When the priest invited guests
to take communion she and the biker went forward. As she knelt and
received it she felt as if her heart was exploding in unconditional
love. This feeling took her over. God's love for her; her love for
God. She remembers thinking: "If I can hold on to this, then nothing
else in life will ever matter." Jesus must have felt something like
Then there was a voice from heaven. You are my son, the Beloved;
in you I am well pleased. In you I take delight.
There is blessing here that God would want you all to
feel. You are the Beloved!
There's also calling here, an anointing to do God's work.
Jesus may have heard Isaiah 42 echoed in these words.
This My servant, whom I uphold,
My chosen one, in whom I delight.
I have put My spirit upon him,
He shall teach the true way [justice, righteousness]
to the nations
Isaiah 42:1, JSB
Called in delight, anointed to serve.
All the Gospels say that as soon as Jesus was baptized, his hair
still damp with the Jordan, he was led by the Spirit into the
wilderness to be tempted.
Full of the Spirit, he was led, meaning God was fully
there with him. It was temptation as testing, as proving ground. Did
Jesus understand his mission as son of God? Was he ready for it?
We all have our inner work to do before we can accomplish our
outer work, our private victories that pave the way for public
victories. Most times it happens, this inner work, in a wilderness
experience. Life forces us to go deep.
He is tempted by the devil, diabolos, sometimes called
Satan, which from the Hebrew means "the Accuser." We need not
personify the evil to recognize it. The devil is not red or Duke
blue. It is a voice, a push, a pull, a power. Evil often, like gold,
glitters. But all that glitters is not good.
The wilderness is a doorway to spirituality, whatever has thrown
you there. You wake up, become conscious, see what's at stake,
reassess. Temptation is where you feel the pull in two directions.
To feel the pull is grace. You have been asleep, numb.
Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, a symbolic number in
the Bible for a completed period of time. He is famished from
fasting. The devil comes and says: "If you are the son of God,
command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answers this
and all three temptations with scripture. He is fortified not only
with God's Spirit, also with God's Word.
Baptists have said through the years, "We have no creed but the
Bible." We are tempted to remove the Bible from the equation and
say, "We have no creed." And we toss the Bible aside, or make it
just another book on our shelves along with Plato, Jung and Oprah's
latest favorite. The ship of church then is rudderless, and with no
sail to catch the wind.
Jesus, armed with scripture, water-washed and Spirit-fed, quotes
the Torah and says,
It is written, "One does not live by bread alone."
Matthew's Gospel adds, "but by every word that proceeds from the
mouth of God."
There are many temptations inherent in this first one. At base it
is the temptation to affirm the physical, the material and to deny
the spiritual; to see we are body and mind, atoms and neurons, but
We need two kinds of bread, the one that feeds the body and the
one that feeds the spirit. Jesus fed hungry people and called us to
do the same. But there is more and we are more.
The church could be tempted to narrow its mission to tend only to
people's physical, material needs, and ignore our deeper mission to
offer the Bread of Life. There is a deeper hunger in all of us, the
hunger for God.
The second temptation. "In an instant," the text says, the devil
swoops Jesus up high above the earth. In his mind's eye Jesus sees
all the kingdoms of the world: Rome, Egypt, Babylon, Jerusalem. The
To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it
has been delivered to me, and I will give it to anyone I wish.
If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.
One of the titles of the devil is "Father of lies." He is lying
here. It is the lie of power, and its lure. It says: Only dominative
power is effective. Absolute power saves absolutely.
What will be the nature of your power? Power as domination, or
power as leadership? The power of coercion or the power of
persuasion? The power of violence or the power of love?
The church has been tempted for two thousand years with the
temptation of Constantinianism, that is, to make our deal with
Empire: We'll support you if you share your power with us. We trade
our spiritual power for political power. We want to rule, not
There is a major backlash all over the world today against
religion, including Christianity, because people fear that what
religion really wants to do is to rule. They hear us cheerfully sing
this parody of a carol:
Good Christian Friends, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say:
Jesus Christ was born today.
Ox and ass before him bow,
And he is in the manger now.
Christ is born to rule!
Christ is born to rule!
Not save, not serve, but rule!
Any church worth its salt will speak its best hearing of the Word
of God to the realm of culture and politics. It is not hothouse
plant and God's salvation is not private.
The church should speak to power and call the political realm to
justice and righteousness (God bless Martin Luther King and his
memory and legacy), but the church is not a political power. If
people sniff in Christianity an aim to rule, a desire for power and
control, they will hate us and hate the Christ whom we have so
When Jesus was offered the role of political Messiah, to be a
king like all the other kings of the world, he said no. He would
renounce violence as the method of the kingdom he preached. We have
rarely followed him here. He would bow before no lesser god:
It is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God."
Jesus was a threat to the powers-that-be. He offered another kind
of kingdom. He was killed by them. But he refused to become one of
The third temptation. The devil led Jesus up to the pinnacle of
the temple in Jerusalem. "If you are the son of God, throw yourself
down from here." And then the devil - - quick study that he is - -
began to quote scripture to Jesus:
Remember Psalm 91:11, Jesus? "God will command God's angels
concerning you, to protect you, and on their hands they will bear
you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone." Shakespeare
pegged it in The Merchant of Venice: "The devil can cite
scripture for his purpose." The devil, and any of us wanting to use
God to personal advantage.
This third temptation is more subtle and with more layers.
It is the temptation to be spectacular. Hurtle yourself
from the temple top. The angels will parachute you to the ground. We
all want, at least somewhere inside, to be spectacular, don't we?
It is the temptation to see ourselves as special. To say,
" I'm different from the rest. The rules don't apply to me." But the
laws of gravity and the laws of God, the physical laws and the moral
laws apply to all.
It is the temptation to magical thinking: "If I love God
and God loves me then the things that happen to others won't happen
to me." It's the temptation to think I have special immunity from
suffering, immunity from the consequences of my behavior, immunity
Jesus quotes scripture again and says "It is written, ‘Do not put
the Lord to the test.'"
There may be one more temptation in this one: The temptation to
stop trusting in the mystery of the gospel symbolized in baptism: In
Christ we live, we die and we rise. Dying leads to new birth. What
parts of you must die in order for new life to begin? Those pains
that feel like death to you are labor pains. It is new creation
being born. Resurrection on the way.
Luke ends the temptation scene with these arresting words: "When
the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until
an opportune time."
The temptations would come over and over again. We think we're
done from our inner work. But we realize there's more to do. All
through Luke we see the temptations reappearing. Jesus feeds the
multitude; the people shout, "Make him king!" Jesus flees.
He is hanging on the cross and jeers come which sound just like
the devil's words: "He saved others; let him save himself if he is
the Christ of God, the Messiah." Soldiers mocked him and said, "If
you are the King of the Jews, save yourself." Call on the angels.
Come down from that cross.
But Jesus had done his inner work. He had already made his
He would offer spiritual food.
He would serve not rule.
He would die at the hands of violence rather than take up
I love how our text ends: "Jesus, filled with the power of the
Holy Spirit, returned to Galilee."
Come, Holy Power of God, upon this church as we begin our 65th
year. Come to these contemplating baptism.
that we may be Christ's people
with the courage to love
the courage to lead
the courage to teach
the courage to stand
against all that destroys
and the courage to be
rather that not-be
the courage to be.