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. Matthew 4:8-11
Today the United States of America will inaugurate Mr. Donald J. Trump as our 45th President. People are very divided over this election. Some are overjoyed at the idea of a man with a great deal of experience in business coming into government with plans to shake things up, doing what he can to make things better. Others remain shocked that the tenor of his campaign evoked and used underlying prejudices and misinformation to fool people into thinking that he is something that he is not, which could result in the struggle for justice, freedom, and equal rights losing hard fought gains.
The inauguration will proceed with all of the pomp, pageantry, patriotism, and protest that have come to mark all such occasions. It is an event that is much bigger than the players in that it represents who we are as a people, what we stand for, and what we stand against. In all of that, we are a much divided people. And sometimes we need to ask – who is profiting from such division? Who is getting the short end of the stick?
Before Jesus moved out into the public dimensions of his ministry, the Bible tells us that he first suffered the private temptations of the desert. We have seen the first two. The temptation for material satisfaction and the temptation for personal safety. Both of these temptations were played in stereo during this past election season. The economy isn’t growing enough, our borders are insecure, immigrants are the cause, terrorists are at our gates – all of this reached deeply into our desires for materialism and safety.
And today we follow Jesus into the third temptation – the temptation for fame. To be known! To be honored! For the corner office on the top floor with everyone bowing down and telling Jesus whatever it is that might stroke his ego and convince him of his innate greatness. And Jesus will have none of it! Can’t you hear him spit the words in the devil’s face – “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
That one is pretty basic. It is foundational. If you want to reach back to the Ten Commandments you need only reach back to the first for it pretty well sums up Jesus’ response to the devil, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” (Oh, and by the way devil, you don’t own all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. They aren’t yours to give away…it just looks like it sometimes. Those all belong to God. Because everything belongs to God. They aren’t yours to give away, or to hoard. They are there that we might take care of what has been entrusted to us as a sacred trust. BTW, everything means everything.)
In the end, Jesus ends up in good hands. The angels come and take care of him. In the end, we will end up in good hands as well. Even if, in the meantime, we sell our soul to the devil for a little fleeting fame and fortune. Presidents come and go. Kingdoms and empires rise and fall. But we can trust that we will be OK in the end. Because we know the end of the story.
HINT: God wins.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you know how tossed and tempted we are by the cult of celebrity, the adoration of wealth, the business of business. We do pray for President Elect Trump as he prepares to steward the office of the presidency, and for all who will assume new positions of responsibility and public trust. May they discover the privilege of service and may they strive toward justice for all, the freedom to be, and the mutual responsibilities of godly citizenship. In Jesus’ name. Amen.