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Being Like God.

Matt 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ “

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ ”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

Praise be to you, O Christ.


Today as we begin the season of Lent we look at the forty days, not of Lent, but of the temptation of Jesus in the desert.

The tempter we are told came after forty days and forty nights when Jesus was hungry. And isn’t that always the way he works? Satan may be evil, but he isn’t stupid. He knows the buttons to push, he waits for the opportune time. He goes for the weak spot.

Temptation of Jesus.

There was an implicit question behind the temptations of Jesus. Firstly was the seed of doubt that Satan tried to sow:” If you are the Son of God”. Of course Jesus knew he was the son of God, his disciples knew, they had just heard the voice from heaven say “this is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.”

But the temptation here behind the other temptations was to get Jesus to exercise his power, to prove that he was God. He wanted him to be God-like, but he misunderstood what it means to be God-like, and I think we do too.

He wanted Jesus to show that he was the son of God by a display of power, by controlling what was going on around him, changing the laws of nature, commanding legions of angels.

His challenge: Be like God! God is holding out on you, I can give you these kingdoms, then you will be powerful like God!

Temptation of Adam and Eve

Wanting to be like God

And of course, it’s the same temptation that he first threw at Adam and Eve: Be like God! God is holding out on you, he doesn’t want you to be like him, take hold of it, grasp it for yourself. We are told that we are made in the image of God, so the temptation then is to want to be God-like, but again , we misunderstand what that means.

God who empties himself,

Who gives up control

Here is the fascinating thing, the hidden thing about this reading, about Jesus’ response to this temptation: : In emptying himself of power, and of the need to grasp at power, Jesus was doing exactly what Satan did not want him to do. He was being exactly like God, like the God he has always been . Because yes, we can talk about the signs and wonders of God, and we think we see God in the powerful things, BUT where is it that God is most like himself? It is actually when he empties himself, and gives up his power, and his right to control, that we see his true nature.

We see it in Creation.

When things go wrong, People ask if God is in control or not, and it is a question that slightly misses the mark. We believe that God is in charge, but God definitely isn’t in the business of control.

We do see this in creation. God created a world that follows laws. If he didn’t create a world with a molten core and shifting tectonic plates then it wouldn’t have the heat to sustain life. God is in charge and his creation is amazing. But when those plates meet and grind against each other, and earthquakes happen, we ask why God didn’t stop it?

But do we expect God to work against the creation he has made, and the laws that it follows? Would this mean if he did that, that he would be saying that it was a mistake, the way he made the world?

There is no getting around this fact when it comes to creation: In creation, God gave up the right to control. It is definitely his right, but he gave it over to us. He gave dominion over the earth, and the animals and plants to us! He gave the ability to create the next generations of human beings to us, and we join him in the work of creation. No longer does he make humans from the soil, or from the ribs of others. We have a little bit of control, only as much as was given to us. And God empties himself of something that is his alone, and gives it to us.

Could it be that what it means to be in the image of God, to be like God, is to not grasp for more power, but to imitate him, by voluntarily giving it up and emptying ourselves of the need for it.

On the cross

And where else do we see the ultimate proof of this? Where do we see what God in his most authentic self? We see it in Jesus the Son of God, who Satan rightly said could call down legions of angels, refusing to do so, refusing to come down from the cross to save himself, despite the scorn of the passers-by. We see the prince of heaven, the same God who created the universe, giving up the right even to save his own mortal life that he had voluntarily taken on, we see him emptying himself.

We see this in an early “Jesus hymn” of the church, in Philippians 2:6-8, that while talking about Jesus says:

6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

So we talk about how humans are made in the image of God, and sometimes I wonder if we know what that means.

What does it mean to be in the image of God?

Is it to be grasping at being all powerful, or is there power in giving up grasping for power?

Even the very question asked by Christians and non-Christians alike: “why didn’t God do something about that? I would have stopped it” is a statement of the want for control. I could do a better job than God!

When we understand that seeing Jesus on the cross is what it means to be in the image of God, when we understand that god has done something about human suffering, and that thing is to willingly go to the cross to feel the weight of every sin and pain and suffering that we bear, and to bear it for us, so that we can be reunited with our father,

Maybe when we really understand that in that moment we are looking at the greatest lesson about what it means to be like God, we will be able to let go and stop grasping: for control over our own lives, for control over our church and other people, for the right to tell God how to run his world.

We most clearly see who God is and what he is like when we see him hanging and suffering on a cross, emptying himself of his power for the sake of others. And then we realise, that those others are us.

The image of God in which we are made, is a cruciform image.

Doesn’t it make us see it in a new way when I tell you know to go out of here and be imitators of God?

We continue our walk with him to the cross.


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