The temptations [Jesus] faces will each in turn urge him to take his relationship to God as a position of privilege, using it to meet his own needs, receive protection from the vulnerability of his humanity, and gain power over all the kingdoms of the world. Is this what it means to be ‘the Son of God’? Or will Jesus understand his calling in terms of God’s redemptive work and take up a role of serving God and God’s people toward that end―even if the end was suffering and death for him? ― Anna Case-Winters, Matthew: A Theological Commentary
Our Gospel story today shows Jesus in the wilderness, tempted by the devil.
To get it, we need to look a little behind the story. What’s in the background?
Interestingly, Jesus has just been baptised. At his baptism, a voice from heaven says
This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
We have baptised J today, and we can equally say to her, ‘You are a child of God. You are beloved by God.’
But for now, Jesus is in the wilderness. And for forty days. It’s a time of testing. A time of trial. And Matthew wants us to recall another time in the wilderness, a long time before.
The people of Israel were in the wilderness too, weren’t they? They were there wandering not for forty days, but for forty years. It was a time of trial and testing for them.
The people of Israel failed the test. But Jesus passed it. They gave in to temptation, where Jesus did not.
I just want to look at one detail today, very briefly. I want to look at one part of the questions that Matthew puts into the mouth of the devil. The first two begin,
If you are the Son of God …
If you are the Son of God, take shortcuts! If you are the Son of God, be a superhero! And let me give you power and wealth beyond your wildest dreams!
(Of course, if you can’t do any of that, maybe you’re not the Son of God after all … maybe you’re just a deluded fool.)
Today, we have declared J to be a child of God. Baptised into Christ, she is one with Christ. But there may be times to come when she doubts it. That accusing voice may say to her, ‘If’ you are a child of God … Perhaps we too doubt that we could be God’s children? Yet in God’s eyes we are. Always. And always beloved.
I need to remind you at this point that every word in our English Bibles is a translation. Matthew wrote his Gospel in everyday, ordinary Greek. Our English translations sometimes have a hard time getting the Greek exactly right when we put it into English.
So: The word we translate ‘if’ (If you are the Son of God …) could just as easily be ‘since’—Since you are the Son of God …
Since you are the Son of God, you can take shortcuts! Since you are the Son of God, you should be a superhero! And you deserve power and wealth beyond your wildest dreams. Let me give it all to you!
When we read it as ‘since’, the Tempter isn’t sowing doubt. Instead, the temptation is for Jesus to think of himself as entitled. Since you’re the Son of God, you deserve power and wealth, everything you want …
Yet Jesus didn’t come to grab power. Jesus came to serve. He didn’t think of himself as entitled. Jesus, the Son of God, came to be a servant, to reach out to others in love, to bring healing.
That’s what being a child of God means today. It’s not a title, it’s not about being entitled. It’s a way of life that begins with looking out for the interests of others and not putting ourselves first.
That’s what we have asked for J today.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. They’re right. We all have a role in Josephine’s life now. We’re all involved.
Parents and godparents: you have promised to ‘teach [J] the way of Christ until the Spirit draws her to make her own response in faith and love’. Please do.
Congregation: you have promised to ‘continue a life of worship and teaching, witness and service so that this child and all the children among you may grow to maturity in Christ’. Please do.
Family and friends, having witnessed this day, I ask you also to do your part. For J. For all the children. Since they are children of God.
Let us encourage one another to be the best children of God we can be. Let’s not settle for second best. Let us excel at serving others, at caring for the earth, at showing the love of God for everyone. Amen.