Stones that Shout


February 18, 2018: Rev. Anna Fulmer

When I read this passage, I want to say to Jesus. Resist. You can do this. Just resist. Buz said it on Wednesday: The wilderness is a difficult place. A place that is isolating. A place that is dry. A place that is far beyond our cities and towns. It’s a place we avoid. But we cannot avoid it can we? We all have entered the wilderness—in health problems, the loss of a loved one, divorce, lost jobs. In the wilderness we feel doubt and fear. The Bible is full of these wilderness places. The Israelites wander in the wilderness 40 years before they reach the promised land. Noah, his family, and the animals surf the wilderness of the flood for forty days. Jonah sits in the belly of the whale, a quite uncomfortable smelly wilderness spot for forty days before being spit back up. Most of us, would do anything to avoid the wilderness. But when we cannot avoid it, and when we are in it, we are often tempted. Tempted to find easy answers; tempted to find a way out. And so, we must try to resist.

After 40 days of fasting, Jesus is famished. He is weak. And so the tester comes—This tempter isn’t dressed up in a devil costume. He is not wearing all black. This tempter instead “personifies all that obstructs and resists what God intends” (Long). We know this about our world: there are forces that are beyond our control, that distort our actions, that are much larger than our personal choices, that are lodged in our economic, political, and social systems. We have no choice but to try to resist such evil. Yet this force clouds our vision. Jesus encounters these forces, this tempter. Jesus does something that we usually cannot—he resists. We know that Jesus is the Son of God. We know the end of the story before it even begins. But if we are to understand this story for what it is, we are going to have to go back, to another wilderness time, that lasted not just forty days but forty years. A story where over and over, people gave into fear.

Jesus’ three temptations follow Israel’s temptations in the wilderness—they are even in the same order. Where Israel fails, where we fail, Jesus resists. First, Jesus is tempted by hunger. The devil says, “turn these stones into bread!” Turning stones into bread doesn’t seem that bad does it? Jesus has all this power, why not feed himself when he is hungry? Materialism is often an answer we turn to.

The Israelites are also tempted by bread—by the lack of it in the wilderness. They get scared. They doubt that God is going to provide for them. The Israelites begin to say, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt…; for you have brought us out into the wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3). The Israelites looked around them and didn’t see food. It is tempting while we are in the wilderness to think God has put us there to kill us, to harm us. It’s tempting to want to go back into bondage rather than trust in God. It’s hard to trust, to resist doubt. The Israelites let their temptation win—they are ready ditch God, to go back to Egypt. God is faithful despite their unfaithfulness. God provides bread. Manna. You could only collect enough manna for each day. If you collected too much, it went bad. It’s daily bread. God turns their demands into a way for the Israelites to learn how to trust.

But Jesus, Jesus knows that his purpose is not just to make stones into bread to feed himself. His purpose isn’t that small, isn’t that limited. God’s plan for our lives isn’t just to take care of numero uno—ourselves. Jesus is called to trust God and to love his neighbor. Jesus knows that he could make stones turn into bread—and so could God. God makes bread reign down from heaven! Jesus’ purpose isn’t just to meet the most urgent need now—his own hunger. His purpose is to give his life up for the sake of many, to heal, to love, to be God with us. His purpose isn’t just to perform a magic trick—turn stones into bread. Sometimes, I wonder why he didn’t give in—this would be a great magic trick! There are hungry people all around—he could have fed all of them. Jesus comes down to teach us to share our bread, not to make stones into bread, so we can hoard more. The point of life, isn’t bread alone but loving and following God. So Jesus resists.

Next, the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem, to the seat of power, where Herod rules, and Jesus will be crucified. He places Jesus on the top of the temple and tempts him to throw himself down because God will bear him up. Jesus could have safety, security, and prestige if he just let go. Jesus resists. Jesus quotes, Moses from Exodus 17, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” The Israelites test God just a chapter after manna comes down in the wilderness. They want water. They want security. Moses asks, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But they still complain, they accuse Moses and God of taking them out into the wilderness to die. They test God, and still God is faithful. Moses strikes a rock and water comes rolling out.

In both situations, Jesus and the Israelites are vulnerable. Of course they both want security and safety. Jesus is on the top of temple. The Israelites are scared they are going to die of dehydration. Both fears are real. How we deal with our fears matters. The Israelites try to take control through complaining and coercion. Often, we try to put ourselves in God’s position. We think we know God’s promises and how, when, and where God will fulfill them. Jesus’ temptation is use Scripture to ensure safety and security—the devil quotes Scripture to Jesus—God will take care of you the devil says. Just jump down from here.

Finally, the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world—even our rulers and empires can be used as the tester’s tools. Jesus can have them the devil says, if he falls downs and worships him. Jesus can have control. He can have wealth, power, influence. His journey could be over—and he wouldn’t have to go through death on a cross. He only has to worship the devil instead of God. The Israelites also are tempted to worship a false idol. Moses leaves them alone for 40 days and 40 nights. He goes up Mount Sinai to be with God. But he is gone, and they do not know when he will come back. They want control. They want order. They don’t want to wait. There are so many distractions. So while Moses is on top of a mountain, they build themselves a golden cow to worship. They have a festival. They eat, drink, and revel. The Israelites cave, but Jesus resists.

The Israelites temptations, Jesus’ temptations are our temptations. Jesus resists these temptations, but we rarely do. We are often tempted by myths of scarcity that there is not enough, and so we store, store, store. We do not trust that God will provide, and so we take matters into our own hands. We are tempted to turn stones into bread for ourselves or to have Midas’s touch where everything turns to gold. We are tempted by spectacles, by security and safety. We will do almost anything not to feel vulnerable. We test God. We are tempted to take power by any means necessary, even when it means we worship false gods and lose ourselves and our faith in the process. Our temptation is not just to do the wrong things but to be someone we aren’t called to be. We are tempted to deny and reject who we are. For we are God’s children.

This story is not bad news. It is good news, for our Messiah, our King resists. Jesus knows who he is and what he is called to do. Jesus shows the path of resistance, a path that is rarely taken. Jesus shows us there is enough daily bread for all if we just share. He shows us that the purpose of life isn’t to turn stones into bread but to follow God. Jesus shows us a path of reliance and trust of God, a path that does not offer celebrity or prestige, worldly power or security. It is the path to the cross. A path that leads to suffering, death, and resurrection. Already, on this journey into the wilderness we are being pointed to the cross, and we are being called to shed all that prevents us from going there. Christ reminds us to resist. We are God’s children. Trust in that good news, that calling.



Matthew 4:1-11


Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


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