One of my favorite father-son stories in Western literature has to be story of Pip and Joe Gargery in Charles Dickens' novel, Great Expectations. Dickens wrote a lot but he said of all his novels, Great Expectations might be his favorite, it might be his most finely written novel. Certainly the relationship between Pip and Joe is one of the more moving pictures of what a father-son relationship can look like. It's especially interesting because Joe is not really Pip's father. What we learn in the beginning of the novel is that Pip is one who has been orphaned, his mother and his father have died, he has gone to live with his aunt, and his aunt is married to Joe. The auntie is cruel but Joe is everything one would want in a father. He is all warmth and connection, and interested in Pip's life, consistently looking out for Pip and teaching Pip about the things of life. Joe desires to pass on his training which is blacksmithing, and teach Pip the ways of being a blacksmith so that Pip can provide in his life as he grows older. He is a connected father, a connected man in Pip's life in the most remarkable ways. This relationship is not enough for Pip, and Pip decides that he would live out great expectations, that he would live a life and actually cut himself off from the small town blacksmithing dead-end that would be his life with Joe and his aunt, and he sets out into the world an unmoored, freed, independent man.
Misery upon misery follows in Pip's life, betrayal by friends, financial ruin. A heart that is taken by a particular woman who scorns him at every turn and manipulates his affections. It comes to a point finally where Pip is on the edge of complete life ruin. What Pip doesn't know is that Joe Gargery has stayed connected throughout his entire life—spoiler alert—and there on the brink of losing his life, Joe steps in, covers his debts in remarkable ways, and shows Pip just how fathered he's always been, and there is a glorious moment in that novel where Pip and Joe come back together and Pip received Joe's fatherly embrace.
One of the great temptations of the Christian life is to live as if we are people who have no father. To live like Pip unmooring and cutting ourselves off, living a kind of independent life. To live as if there is no Joe Gargery, as if there is no Father in heaven attendant to our every need, concerned about every aspect of our life. The temptation our Lord faced was a temptation to believe that he had been left fatherless. That he must lead his own life, that he must feed himself in this life, and that if he were to suffer he would most certainly suffer alone. That temptation is the most important one for any that will call themselves Christian to understand.
What we have in Luke chapter four is the sequel of a sequel. It's actually temptation part three. Kind of like Rocky 3. Part one of the temptation was Adam. Not in a desert like Christ, Adam was actually in a paradise. Adam was in a lush garden. The temptation was to live a life outside of what he was called to live. He was called to be with God, under God, for God, in God, and never apart from God. To live as one who is without a father. Adam fell to that temptation. It's important that you understand Jesus is stepping in as a new Adam. So if you understand now this background, you begin to realize there is a growing dramatic engagement in tension here. This is a sequel not just to Adam in the Garden. Temptation part two is the nation of Israel.
They were called God's chosen people. He makes a nation out of them, and they will go into a desert like Jesus does. In the book of Deuteronomy, chapters 6-8 especially, they were tempted in the desert in the same way that Jesus is being tempted in the desert, and they were tempted to believe that they are without a Father in heaven. That there is no God who will feed them, no God who will lead them, no God who will accompany them through temptation and through suffering. Like Adam, they caved to that temptation and they lived as one who is fatherless.
Jesus, who is also called the new Israel who is the second Adam, now in part three steps onto the scene. How will Jesus respond? As Adam and Israel responded? What will Jesus do in this moment of temptation when he too will be tempted to believe that he is one without a father? What we see in Jesus is one who overcomes the tempter. He is one who pushes back on the lie that those who know God must live as if they have no God whatsoever. He pushes back on the lie that God ever leaves anyone on their own entirely.
This leads us to temptation part four: your life and my life. How will we as sons and daughters respond, if we know Jesus Christ, have confessed him with our mouth, believe in our hearts that he has been risen from the dead as Paul says in Romans? If we know Jesus Christ, how will we play out our lives in this life? It's a pilgrimage that we're on. Part four asks the question, how will you respond when you are tempted to believe that you are one without a father?
We see that as we break this passage there are three key temptations here that Jesus faces and that we as those who will follow in the way of Christ and be sons and daughters of God ourselves will face. The first is the temptation to feed ourselves, verses 1-4. The second is the temptation to lead ourselves, verses 5-8. The third is the temptation to flee from suffering.
Temptation to feed ourselves
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returns from the Jordan. The Jordan is a river, it's where Jesus had been baptized. A very important thing happens at the baptism in which the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus and a voice from heaven, the Father's voice, says, "You are my beloved Son, with you and I am well pleased." The Father-Son relationship is cemented for all to see, in a glorious revelation. Jesus is a Son of the Father. He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he must play out temptation part three.
For 40 days, being tempted by the devil, Jesus ate nothing and when it was over he was hungry. The devil comes to him, he calls him Son of God. Well, of course no one could be a son or a daughter unless they have a father, but there's a pressing here, there's an ironic twist here. Son of God, let's see if you really act like the Son. How often the devil comes to us and tempts us, "Son, daughter, do you really believe you're a son, do you really believe you're a daughter"? That's the temptation, how will you respond?
Satan tells Jesus "Command the stone to become bread." Jesus answers, "It is written." He's going to quote from Deuteronomy 6:8, he's going to quote from temptation part two, from the part in the Bible in which we see Israel being tempted. "Man should not live by bread alone," the phrase continues in Deuteronomy, "but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." What's the temptation question? Will the Father care for our physical needs? Will the Father care to feed us when we hunger?
What is Jesus' teaching in response? There is more than physical need that matters in this life. The Bible teaches that God cares for our bodies, he cares for material reality. But it is important that priority is understood, that if our lives become all about matter and all about our bodies then we have become profoundly and sinfully imbalanced, and the temptation here is to think, Will the Father feed me physically? Jesus' response is the thing that matters the most—yes, your Father will care for your physical needs—but what matters more is that you are fed spiritually. What matters the most is that you realize that life is about far more than your physical needs, and here we are given an opportunity to live as sons and daughters who are fathered.
What did Jesus do in this moment that he is being tempted to defeat himself? He fasts. That's more than counter-intuitive. You're tempted to believe that God won't feed you, so you fast? How's that going to help you?
Here's the opportunity. What we learn from Jesus' teaching in Matthew chapter six is that when we fast, we actually fast in our hearts to the Father. He says when you fast your Father who is in secret sees what you do in secret and he rewards you with his presence, with a connection. When you fast, you fast to fasten your heart to the Father. You fast to declare, I know what matters more than I get three meals a day. What matters more is that I'm with the Father and that I'm fastening myself to his words, every word that comes out of his mouth given to me in the holy Scriptures, and that I'm with his presence.
So when we fast we fasten. It's so important to take this opportunity as Christians and learn how to fast. Because when we learn how to fast, we say no to the lie that we're not fathered and that we won't be fed and we won't be cared for. But if we don't learn how to give up those things that we think we so desperately need, we will never learn how much we don't really need them. That's why we fast.
The church has called people to fast for centuries. Fasting is not tertiary, it's not secondary. It's very important according to the teachings of Jesus. Why? So that you do something that impresses God? No. So that you fasten your heart to the Father who sees what you do in secret. He says, "Now we've got a connection, I've been waiting for you to fast so that you might slow down, feel the hunger pangs that are a physical reflection of what's happening spiritually, now I see what you're doing in secret and I reward you with my presence."
Fast a meal, fast a day, fast a behavior. Don't get caught up in the particularities of how you have to do it, that's legalism, but fast. Know a hunger. Jesus was hungry, but let no one be confused. He wasn't empty, he was full. He knew to whom he belonged. When we fast we take in what's really true. What was really true about Jesus? The genealogy at the beginning of this book lays out Jesus' patronage, his relationship to many, many fathers, "Jesus when he began his ministry, being the son of Joseph, being the son of Heli, being the son of Matthew," and it lands finally with the son of Adam, the Son of God. When Jesus fasts, he knows who he is and he connects in that reality.
Temptation to lead ourselves
The devil takes Jesus and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and says to him, "To you I will give all this authority, all this leadership, all the glory has been given to me, I can give it to whom I want; if you will simply worship me it will be yours." Jesus responds, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only will you serve." What's the temptation question here? Does the Father really lead my life? Does he have enough authority to actually guide me through this really challenging life? Does he really have authority and leadership? Jesus teaches if we let anyone else lead our lives, anything else lead our lives, then essentially we are giving worship where it should not be given. What Jesus is saying is that who leads your life and who has authority over your life can lead you to a profound idolatry of the body, the heart, the mind, or the soul. For those who begin to think that they don't have a father who leads them and they don't have a father who guides them, they will find that they will be worshipping someone else or something else or their own selves in some profoundly spiritually destructive way. What's our opportunity in the light of that? That opportunity is to worship.
If we want to push up against the lie that we are without a father who leads us and without a father who has authority in our lives, then the greatest opportunity we have and the greatest way to push against that with our minds and our hearts and our bodies is to worship the living God. Worship him daily throughout Lent. Worship him regularly throughout Lent, yes, read your Bibles, absolutely, that is worship. Say your prayers and be in the presence of the Lord, that is worship. Let me encourage you, shake things up a little bit in Lent. It would not hurt to sing out loud, perhaps on your own. With my voice I sing when I'm running, far away from everyone else, but I'll tell you, I sing. When I begin to sing some worship song, some hymn that I've memorized, I begin to worship the Lord and his leadership comes over me in a whole new way. As I am worshipping the Lord, I am saying with everything in me, I am not without a Father and I'm not without leadership, and I have one who will guide me into the future and guide me now. That is what is true. I believe in God the Father. That's what we say when we worship. I believe in God the Father. I'm not one abandoned and I'm not one left alone.
How important it is that we worship together on Sundays. Some of you do church one or two or three times a month. That's dangerous spiritually. That puts you in a place where you begin to act as if you don't have a Father who is leading you. You don't worship with the people of God gathered around the presence of God where the Word of God is being preached, where if you are fasting you're receiving those words that you need. You need to come together with the people of God. This is not a legalism thing, this is so that you can live as one who has a father and there is a particular worship around Communion, around the preaching of the Word when we're all gathered together that you cannot have on your own or—heaven forbid—through the media. It has to happen here with other people, with the Spirit of God, and you need it weekly. Don't miss gathering with the people of God during this Lent. Make a commitment to be at church where you can worship.
I'll never forget the story of a friend, he was at a crossroads, a milestone in his life. He was making a decision of who will lead his life. He had a Christian background and he had some faith and he actually came up, he received Communion. After he received Communion he went back to his seat and he sat down and immediately he remembered a dream he had had the night before. In that dream there had been a kind of parable played out about his current life in which he began to realize that his current life was actually marked far more by evil and darkness than he ever wanted to admit, and that he had another life that he could live and it would be under the authority and the leadership of God but he had to choose which one and which way he would go. It happened in the people of God worshipping in song. It happens all the time when the people of God worship, when you take Communion in the very presence of the living God. How we need that.
In one of Rembrandt's masterpieces, The Return of the Prodigal Son, there is a powerful scene. The son who has returned is on his knees and he's kneeling right before the father. One of the most powerful things about this painting is that the father is leaning over and it's his hands, they're right there against the son's back and they're pulling him in and they're holding him. That's what you have. Don't believe the demonic lie that you're without a father. It's not true.
Temptation to flee from suffering
The last temptation is challenging to understand. Satan takes Jesus to Jerusalem, and sets him on the pinnacle of the temple and he says to Jesus, "If you're the Son of God, throw yourself down from here for it is written that 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you on their hands, they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answers him, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test." What's the temptation question here? Will the Father be present if and when I'm called to suffer?
The devil is actually foreshadowing what Jesus will do in three years. He'll go to Jerusalem. He won't really fling himself off of the corner of the temple but he will give his life up. He will throw himself down for the sake of all humanity and the freeing of them from their sin. He will go and he will suffer. The temptation here is that when that time comes to suffer that he might be abandoned by the living God, that Jesus might be abandoned by the Father, that the Father may not be there and be present in that moment. Jesus' teaching is that the Lord will always be with you when you suffer. "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."
Where does this come from? It comes again from Deuteronomy and the temptation of Israel in the desert. You need to have this background to understand what he means by "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test." Israel had been in bondage, they had suffered and suffered and suffered in Egypt, and God had heard their suffering. God the Father responds to their suffering, and he is with them in that time and he rescues them from that suffering. God set them free to become a nation of their own for the sake of God himself. They came to the desert and they begin to believe that God didn't really care for them, he was not really present to them in their suffering, he would not truly care for them again. Jesus is saying this can never be true, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test, this is never possible, God will never abandon you to suffering, look what he did for you when you were in Egypt, look what he will do for me when I am on Golgotha, he will not forget me.
The power of the resurrection is the reality that God did not forget Jesus in his suffering, but rose him up from the dead, totally present with Jesus, never absent from him. Impossible in the reality of the Trinity, where you have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three in one and one in three, a perfect unity. It's impossible. You can't put the Lord your God to the test, he will not forsake you ever.
There will be Egypts, and for those of us that will follow Jesus we will know suffering, and we will be tempted to flee that suffering believing that God will not meet us there or bring us through. Suffering comes small and pointed sometimes, it comes large and suffocating at other times. The lie is that when it comes you will be isolated and on your own and that the Father will not be there with you, and Jesus says that is never true. He will father you then. As your Father is using seasons of peace and prosperity as well. God did deliver Israel from Egypt, and God raised Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day. So what's our opportunity here? It's not only to accept the suffering that may come into our lives, but it is also a time to believe in God the Father in the midst of it, trusting that he will abide with us. God can actually use that suffering to fasten our hearts to him all the more and fasten our hearts in love for others.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian in Germany during World War II. A loyal German, he despised what the Nazi's were doing to his country and to the Jews throughout Europe. Because he was so vocal and outspoken against the Nazi's, he came to a point where it became safer for him to get out of Germany because if he were to stay, very likely a martyrdom would await him. So he escaped as millions of Germans would love to have done, because he had a connection in America. He came over to New York City, he came to Harlem, he was given a university teaching post there, and he was away from the demonic sweep that was Nazism in Germany. He had been in America for two weeks and he realized that he was fleeing suffering and not facing what the Father would want. He believed for a moment that he was fatherless and were he to stay in Germany the Father might not abide with him in that season of darkness, and he knew he'd done wrong.
He was convicted to his core and he did what no one in his family and none of his friends could understand, and he bought a one-way passage back to Nazi Germany. He landed on the shores, and sure enough in a matter of time Bonhoeffer was martyred, executed by the Nazi's. If you read his journals from prison, you would see that his struggles were real, how he feared at times, but how he gave testimony again and again to the Father's presence abiding with him to his last breath.
It's a lie that you're fatherless. He'll feed you and he will lead you, and you need not flee suffering for he will abide with you and ultimately bring you through.
Stewart Ruch III is the rector of the Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois and the bishop of the Midwest Diocese for the Anglican Church in North America.