Sun, Mar 10, 2019



From the moment that we awake, we’re faced with a series of choices:

what to wear…

what to eat for breakfast…

what newspaper to read and even what stories…

what route to drive…

what to do to fill in our day?

And behind those choices lie a myriad other choices:

the house we live in…

the car we drive…

who we marry or don’t marry…

the doctor we see…

the work we do…

the church we attend.

Our lives are nothing if not a series of choices.

And, whether we’re conscious of it or not, the choices that we make––

and how we make them––

usually reflect much deeper issues.

The choices that I make reflect my sense of identity…

my upbringing…

my values and beliefs…

my self-image––

the sort of person that I would like to be… 

and the sort of life that I would like to live.

But, in a very real sense, our choices shape and define us.

According to the ancient Roman philosopher, Seneca, “you are your choices”.

Indeed, in so many respects, our lives are the sum of all of our choices.

Go back and change any one of them and…

theoretically at least…

everything else––

and even who we are––

would also change.

Our lives are a series of choices, and our choices shape and define us.

Some choices are easy;

many are not.


Our reading this morning from Luke’s Gospel is a story that’s very familiar to many of us––

the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.

It’s a story that, clearly, originated in the early Church…

as the Church reflected back upon whom they believed Jesus to be…

and what his significance was.

It’s a story that’s full of symbolism and code…

composed and constructed to make some significant points.

In particular, it’s putting Jesus in the place of Israel.

Here, Jesus is repeating the experience of Israel in the wilderness…

being confronted with the sorts of temptations––

the sorts of choices––

that the wandering Israelites faced…

and yet, according to the author, not making the mistakes that they did.

At the same time, it’s also a story that’s trying to emphasise the humanity of Jesus.

It’s trying to show that he faced the sorts of choices that are common to human experience––

crucial choices––

about who he was and who he wanted to be…

how he was going to live…

and what principles would undergird that.

Here, in this story, we have Jesus making choices––

revealing what the author believed his values to be.


The first temptation––

“Command this stone to become a loaf of bread”––

is often said to be a choice between relying upon self or relying upon God.


But, when it’s taken that way, it seems to run contrary to the third temptation.

And Jesus’ reply doesn’t emphasise reliance upon God to meet his needs.

In any case, I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right when he wrote––

if you excuse the non-inclusive language––

“God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us”.

Rather, some suggest that this is a choice about priorities:

when is it okay to look after me and my needs…

and when should I ignore my needs because of the needs of others?


But Jesus’ reply here doesn’t focus on other people’s needs.

And it’s not like he’s being selfish or in any way depriving anyone else.

Rather, the focus here is upon how Jesus will use his gifts and abilities.

Will he use his abilities to get what he needs simply because he can?

In effect, the choice is…

just because I can do something does that mean that I should do it?

Now, that’s a choice that we all face!

Just because I can spoil the grandchildren,

doesn’t mean that I should.

Just because I can afford a luxury car, 

doesn’t mean that I should.

Just because we can use technology to prolong someone’s life,

doesn’t mean that we should.

Just because we know how to clone an embryo, 

doesn’t mean that we should.

Our gifts, abilities, privileges, and opportunities don’t just exist for us—

for our personal benefit or fulfilment or profit––

they also exist for the benefit of others…

and they’re meant to be used responsibly.


Many suggest that the second temptation could be paraphrased as…

‘Sell your soul to the devil, and you’ll have authority over the whole world’.

And yet, in the eyes of the early church and the writers of the gospels…

Jesus already had that authority.

To their way of thinking, he already had the power and the ability to impose his will…

to take control…

to bring justice and peace…

to sort out the mess that humanity had made of the world––




Rather, the issue here is about the proper use of power.

How would Jesus accomplish what he was meant to do?

Again, that’s a choice that we all face.

How do we go about achieving what is good and right, just and beneficial?

Is it okay to compromise our beliefs and values––

our identity or integrity––

for the sake of expediency?

Can we really end terrorism by means of violence and destruction?

Can we really claim to champion human rights and “a fair go for all”…

while we subject asylum seekers to unspeakable cruelty?

Is it right to hold someone up for ridicule in order to make me look funny or smart?

Is it right to cheat… 

to lie… 

to bully…

or to manipulate… 

if it achieves a good outcome?

Does the end ever justify the means?

Jesus’ reply suggests that the answer is a resounding, ‘No’.


The third temptation is–– 

in essence–– 

throw yourself down from a great height and God will protect you.

It’s a choice about how we understand and relate to God.

Will we treat God as a sort of cosmic dispensing machine…

who exists for our benefit and welfare?

Will we presume upon God’s nature or take God for granted?

And yet, more than that, isn’t this about responsibility?

The real temptation here is shifting the responsibility onto God.

It’s the temptation that all of us face to find someone to blame.

My inappropriate behaviour is the fault of my parents or my school-teachers…

or societal pressures or structural injustices…

or God.

Who is responsible for my actions and the consequences of my actions?

Jesus’ reply suggests that the choices that we make are our own.

Ultimately, I, and I alone, am responsible for the choices that I make. 


Life is a series of choices.

Our choices reflect who we are…

and our choices shape who we are.

And this story serves to remind us…

that the most significant choices that we make––

those between good and evil, right and wrong––

are seldom black and white.

The wrong choice can be popular, legal, and effective;

and it can also be subtle and insidious.

And the more that we seek to do what is right––

the more that we seek to follow God and God’s ways––

the more that we are faced with those sorts of choices…

and the harder those choices become.


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