Holding on to God’s Promises, Letting go of Our Demands
Psalm 91: 1-2, 9-16; Luke 4: 1-13
February 21, 2010
by Elaine Maust
When the cord unhooked, that was the scariest moment. There was a jolt and then I saw the line that attached us to the ultra light drop away. And then we were flying, silently soaring up with the birds. Hang gliding. It was delicious.
It wasn’t that dangerous, really. The ride on the highway to the flight site was probably more dangerous. You see, I was strapped in with an experienced hang glider. He was the one who handled the tricky parts; taking off, unhooking from the ultra light, landing. I only controlled the little dragon fly of an aircraft when there was nothing we could hit. I was hanging on the guide bars for dear life, but it was really the wings of the ultra light and the instructor that were holding me. Before we took off, Duane made him promise he wouldn’t let go of me up there. But I had read the material and watched the training video. He couldn’t let go. We were strapped on together.
Holding on: To God’s Promises – Ps. 91:1-2, 9-16
In Psalm 91, God promises to strap on with for life with those who love him. Look with me again at these promises…
(verse 14-16) There are eight promises in those three verses. Can you find them all? Over and over, God says, “I will.” Which one of those is God’s personal promise for you right now? Look at it again and insert your name in the verse because God is talking to you. God says, “I will rescue Ambrouse. I will be with Melody. I will deliver Kelsey.” All of this for all of us because we love God. Look at the first part of verse 14 that launches this list of promises, “Because he loves me…”
Verses 1-2 describe this love as trust. Look at the first verse of Psalm 91 (v1). Maybe your translation of this verse reads dwell or rest or abide… Those words mean to stop and spend the night, to sit down at God’s place, to hang out in God’s hide out. Isn’t that beautiful? As if you are on a long trip and get stranded in bad weather and you stop by God’s place to spend the night.
Now this is a God we can trust! (verse 2) My God in whom I have complete confidence. When it comes to making promises and keeping them, God is the Olympic Champion! Rescue – gold medal. Protection – Gold again. God wins gold in every event. Our God can be trusted. That’s something worth holding on to!
Letting go: Of Our Demands – Luke 4:1-13
He was hungry. Famished really would be a better word. Following his baptism, full of the Spirit, led by the Spirit to the wilderness Jesus fasted for forty days.
Turn with me to another lectionary text, Luke 4:1-13. Now you remember what was going on at Jordon, right? Before his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordon. At that moment, heaven opened up and a voice from heaven called to Jesus for everyone to hear, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (I love you, son, and I’m so proud of you.) The Holy Spirit came fluttering down on Jesus, like a dove (Luke 2:21-23). Jesus was thirty. Do we have any thirty-year-olds here? (Wishing you were 30 doesn’t qualify you to raise your hands.)
Back to Luke 4… From that sensational moment of baptism Jesus entered one of the darkest times of his life. For 40 days he was tempted by the devil (v2). We can only imagine how difficult this was for Jesus; alone, hungry, badgered by Satan… Were there wild animals out there?
As part of that temptation, here are three invitations Satan gave Jesus. Check them out with me beginning in verse 3.
1) If God really loved me…. “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Remember, Jesus hadn’t eaten for 40 days. By now, the rocks in the desert were probably starting to look like honey buns. Satan played on the line that God spoke to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my son”. He invited Jesus to do what He was perfectly capable of doing. Later, remember, Jesus would turn a kid’s lunch into a meal for thousands. (John 6:1-14) Jesus was hungry and could have used his power for himself and no one would ever know. He had motive and opportunity.
Temptations come to us like that sometimes, don’t they? Satan whispers, “If God really loves you, then why doesn’t he make you rich, famous, and beautiful?” or “If God really loved you, he would do whatever you ask” or “You have the opportunity and no one will know…” or “Go ahead. You need it.”
But Jesus recognized Satan’s trick. There was nothing to prove. He said, “Man does not live on bread alone.” This familiar phrase comes from Duet. 8:3. Listen to the whole verse…
Jesus was willing to be humble, to wait, to trust God for what he needed. He knew God and God’s promises. God loved him. God would take care of Him. He didn’t need to take matters into his own hands.
2) I deserve it…
The devil led Jesus to the top of a mountain and gave him a glimpse of all the power of all the nations of the world. “This will be yours,” Satan said, “All you have to do is worship me.”
Again, Satan was inviting Jesus to do something that was his destiny. Philippians 2:6-11 says that one day, at the name of Jesus every knee in heaven and earth (and under the earth) will bow. Why? Because Jesus would “humble himself and become obedient to death, even death on a cross”. Jesus’ honor would not be because he made a deal with the devil, but because he humbled himself to God’s plan.
Temptations come to us like that sometimes, don’t they? Sometimes, Satan says to us, “Yes, those are the rules, but you’re young or you’re older now and the rules don’t apply to you…” or “You’ve worked so hard, you deserve it…” (You might check with Tiger Woods on where following these lines of thinking will get you).
Again Jesus quoted Deuteronomy (6:13). “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Jesus refused to serve himself, to control or to use personal power for his personal benefit. He would not worship Satan or follow his suggestions.
3) But God promised
But Satan wasn’t finished yet. For the third temptation, he led Jesus to Jerusalem to the top of the temple. “Throw you down”, Satan said. (the trust fall like we do out at Pine Lake, except with no one below to catch) “Go ahead,” Satan said, “God will catch you. God promised”. Okay, this is really scary. Satan quoted Psalm 91! Really! Look at verses 10-11. They are from Ps. 91:11-12. Watch out. Satan knows the Bible too. Yipes!
Again, Satan is inviting Jesus to do something that could have happened. In Matthew 26:53 Jesus told his friends that he could have called down dozens of angels to protect him if he wanted to, but instead, again, he went with God’s plan.
You know, here’s one of the sneaky parts of temptation. We are not likely to be invited to throw ourselves off tall buildings. But we are invited to cheat on our tests when Satan whispers, “God and your parents would want you to do well on this test”. Or to cheat on our spouses when Satan whispers, “God would want you to be happy”. Or to take something that’s not ours when Satan says, “Didn’t God promise to take care of you.” Or to do something immoral or illegal “because God promised to forgive.” A temptation is only a temptation if we have motive (we want to do it) and we have opportunity (we can get by with it).
But Jesus wasn’t tricked! Quoting Deuteronomy for the third time (whoever said there was nothing helpful in Deuteronomy) Jesus said, “Don’t test God.” Jesus implies that claiming God’s promises while doing something that disobeys God is testing God. As if to say, “Okay God, what are you going to do about it? You promised!”
Jesus was tempted to walk away from God’s plan and take the easy way, the colorful way, the popular way. But, Jesus refused to twist and test God’s promises and waste them on his benefit.
God’s promises to us are stunning. God will save, protect, and deliver. God to the rescue! We believe these promises and we hold on to them. But we will not take advantage of God’s favor by demanding proof! We will trust God’s promises without stamping our feet like children who say, “if you really loved me you would let me eat cookies for breakfast.” We will not try to force God’s hand.
We are not immune from temptations and from life’s difficulties. Jesus was not. Why should we think we will be? But we are not abandoned! We are not alone. And we will not be afraid.
Here’s the simple truth… God will take care of us. But Jesus didn’t demand to say how that would happen exactly and neither will we. No bargaining with God. No taking the easy way. No listening to Satan’s invitations. We will hold on to God’s promises and let go of our demands.
It is called trust. (Ps. 91:1-2) And in its best moments, it is as thrilling as flying through life, strapped to God’s wings.
Henri Nouwen writes in Reaching Out: “The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, form an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many ‘safe’ gods to the God whose love has no limits.”