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What's Going On

March 1, 2020




Minister to us in the wilderness of our temptation,
that we who have been set free from sin by Christ
may serve you well into life everlasting. Amen.

    On May 21, 1971, the Tamla subsidiary label of Motown Records released Marvin Gaye’s eleventh album titled What’s Going On, titled after the single that Gaye co-wrote with Renaldo Benson of the Four Tops (which Motown owner Berry Gordy rejected at first because he thought “a protest song” wouldn’t be commercially successful).  Renaldo “Obie” Benson first wrote What’s Going On after seeing police brutalize anti-war protesters in Peoples Park in Berkley, California on May 15, 1969.  Benson began asking himself why police were beating people who were protesting the Vietnam War, and why the nation was sending its youth to fight that war.  What’s Going On was the first soul/R&B recording that successfully focused attention on issues of war and peace, social injustices in urban communities across the U.S., and environmental injustice.  

Like Marvin Gaye’s classic recording, Matthew’s account about the temptation of Jesus (another version is found at Luke 4:1-13) raises “what’s going on” questions.   

  • What was going on when Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit after his baptism by John in the Jordan River into a wilderness for a lengthy period of prayer and fasting?

  • What was going on when the Holy Spirit put Jesus in an isolated place to be tempted to turn stones to bread to address physical hunger?

  • What was going on when the tempter changed the contest from physical to religious by shifting the scene from wilderness isolation and anonymity to Jerusalem, the capital of Judaism, and by the suggestion that Jesus throw himself from the top of the temple, the chief shrine of Judaism?

  • What was going on when the tempter again shifted the contest from religious to the political and commercial realms by changing the scene again?  What was going on when the Tempter took Jesus “to a very high mountain,” “…showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor…,”and said “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me”?

The first key to understanding what was going on is in these words:  “If you are the Son of God…”  Those words introduced the temptation that Jesus turn stones into bread to end his fast and the temptation that Jesus throw himself from the top of the temple in Jerusalem.  

Who are you Jesus?  

Are you truly the “Son of God?”

Are you actually God’s chosen agent in the world?

If this is true, Jesus, why are you hungry?  Why should you want for food if you have the power to turn stones into bread?  Why must you be hungry to serve God?  What does your hunger accomplish?  Come on, man!  Eat!

If you are truly God’s Savior to the world what are you doing in a wilderness?  Why aren’t you in the thick of things in Jerusalem?  Better yet, why aren’t you at the top of the religious empire?  Why are you an unknown and unauthorized religious mystic rather than high priest?  If you are truly God’s Son, draw on the teachings of Scripture and throw yourself from the top of the Temple so everyone will recognize your Messianic identity and authority?  

In challenging Jesus to turn stones into bread and throw himself from the top of the Jerusalem temple the Tempter was challenging Jesus about his identity, his sense of selfhood, as Son of God.  And in offering to give Jesus worldly power, fame, and wealth, the Tempter challenged the mission of Jesus to love the world back into union with God.  Essentially, the Tempter challenged the idea that God was backing Jesus when Jesus was famished, alone, vulnerable, and subject to oppression as a Palestinian Jew in an occupied colony subject to military control by the Roman Empire.  

Then and now, God’s people are tempted to abandon belief in self-denial.  Rather than following God’s call to live humbly with all others and show generosity to everyone, God’s people – like Jesus – are challenged to become moral and ethical capitalists!  Aren’t we God’s people?  Then why shouldn’t we use our God-given gifts to make ourselves comfortable and advance our interests?  Why don’t we deserve to be comfortable?   Why aren’t we entitled to be recognized?  Why shouldn’t we control power, wealth, and influence in the world?  Aren’t we God’s people?

Yes, Brothers and Sisters, there is a Tempter!  Temptation is real because the Tempter is real.  And the diabolical aim of the temptations was to get Jesus to discard the thought that he was somehow identified with and connected to God.  By succeeding in that effort, the Tempter intended to separate Jesus from God, the Source of his humanity.  Rather than living in community with God and the Holy Spirit, Jesus would then become a moral and ethical rebel, skeptic, and infidel.  

In other words, the Tempter invited Jesus to become a moral and ethical capitalist.  Jesus was tempted to focus his moral and ethical energies on his and understandable desire for personal comfort (turn stones to bread), on his personal and understandable need for recognition and honor (survive jumping from atop the Jerusalem Temple), and on attaining and wielding political, commercial, and global success, fortune, and fame.  The Tempter suggested that Jesus deserved to be comfortable, was entitled to be recognized, and should wield power, wealth, and influence, but that God wasn’t coming delivering any of it.  Instead, Jesus was hungry, tired, alone, unrecognized, and an itinerant Jewish poor carpenter and mystic in a wilderness.  

Like Jesus, we each yearn for physical comforts.  We desire to be safe, well fed, warm, dry, and housed.   We want to be praised and recognized, not scorned and abandoned.  We want to wield power.  We want to control resources and acquire wealth.  Who doesn’t want that?  

As with Jesus, the Tempter comes at us and after us to entice us away from our identity in God.  The Tempter schemes and contrives ways to turn us into moral and ethical rebels, skeptics, and infidels who view God as our Rival, not our Center, Source, and Sovereign. 

And let’s be clear.  Tremendous suffering and injustice happen in every age because humans reject our identity as God’s children and decide to become God’s competitors.  Instead of co-laboring with God in trusting relationship, we are fall for the temptation to distrust God’s love, distrust God’s truth, distrust God’s justice, distrust God’s peace, distrust God’s grace, distrust God’s hope, and distrust God’s power and strength.  

From the time we choose to distrust God’s statement about our identity in God and with God, we begin living as if we are gods unto ourselves.  That kind of living turns us into rebels against God and rivals against one another.  Instead of living for the common good, we live to achieve personal (private) empires and fortunes in order to gain a private advantage over other persons and the rest of creation.  

Eventually, we shift from living to obtain personal gain for ourselves to living to obtain an advantage over others.  Unconsciously, human ambition shifts from thoughts of personal (private) comfort and security to personal and group conquest.  We don’t only want to be comfortable; we want to conquer others.  At that point, our living is a quest for empire and imperial domination over other persons and their empires.  We view ourselves as rival kings, not kinfolk.  

All this was the moral and ethical backdrop to the temptations of Jesus.  But it is also the moral and ethical backdrop for the temptations we face.  

Contrary to what some may think, the greatest temptations in life don’t involve sex, drugs, alcohol, and gambling.  The greatest temptations involve choosing to discard our identity as God’s people in order to gain personal comfort, in order to gain attention and honor, and in our quest for personal wealth, power, and glory.  The temptation accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have survived across the centuries to provide evidence that humans are vulnerable to appeals aimed at our natural desire for comfort, our social and cultural desire to be recognized, and our desire to control resources to achieve personal benefit.


We have power to resist temptation because we have power to choose!  We can trust God if we choose to trust God.  We can believe God if we choose to believe God.  We can choose self-denial over self-promotion.  We can choose humility over vanity.  We can choose generosity and justice over greed and oppression.  

The Tempter cannot exercise power over us unless we surrender our power to choose!  But we resist by refusing to forget who we are.  We resist by refusing to forget who God is.  We can remember that we are God’s people.  We are in the world to glorify God, not ourselves.  Our glory is caught up in God’s glory.  When we remember who we are and what we are doing in the world, we have power to resist temptations to discount or deny our identity in and with God.  

Because Jesus remembered his identity in and with God, he didn’t allow the Tempter’s insults about his hunger and the temptation to turn stones into bread in order to end his fast.  Jesus remembered that he was fasting because of his trust in God.  His hunger wasn’t an affront to God.  It was an offering to God!  God was worthy of his self-denial.  God was worthy of his hunger.  The stones could be turned into bread, but the bread could never become God for Jesus.  So Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 and said “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  

God is worthy of our self-denial.  God is worthy of our suffering for truth, mercy, justice, hope, and peace.  God is worthy of every burden, every wound, and every tear.  Our identity in and with God is worth much more than our appetites!

We can trust God to lead us and establish us where we can receive proper recognition as God’s people.  We don’t need to throw ourselves away to get recognition.  We don’t need to put on a show or stage a spectacle in order to be recognized.   Jesus knew this, so he quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 and told the Tempter, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the LORD your God to the test.’”

We have authority from God to tell the Tempter to “Beat it!”  When the Devil failed to trick Jesus into distrusting God it then resorted to outright bribery.  Don’t miss that truth.  The Devil offered Jesus a bribe when he “took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor… and said to [Jesus], “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  

That was too much for Jesus to tolerate.  Until that point, Jesus had simply declined the Devil’s invitations to distrust God.  But the bribe was a blatant appeal for Jesus to sell his soul in exchange for political power and wealth.  According to Eugene Peterson’s rendition in The Message, Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!”  He backed up his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 6:13] :  “Worship the LORD your God, and only him.  Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”  

Jesus rejected the Devil’s offer to become Prime Minister of a World trapped in the grip of satanic greed, deceit, corruption, hatred, and violence.  Beloved, when the Devil offers to bribe you away from serving God you have authority and permission as God’s children to tell the Devil to get out of your face, and to do it in the name of Jesus!  

When the Devil offers to put you in charge of stuff in order to steal your soulful fidelity from God, tell it to get out of your face in the name of Jesus!

When the Devil offers to make you head of a hellish system that oppresses people after you’ve refused to go along with the oppression and demanded that the system be overturned, tell it to get out of your face in the name of Jesus!

When the Devil offers to give you a promotion if you will simply look the other way while God’s children are being mistreated and God’s creation is being violated, tell it to get out of your face in the name of Jesus!

Yes, the Devil does offer bribes to purchase our disloyalty to God.  The Devil does offer to put us in charge of stuff in order to steal our soulful fidelity from God.  The Devil does offer to put us over systems of injustice and enrich us for operating those systems that oppress God’s people and creation.  

Yet the good news is that we have the power to tell the Devil no!  We have the power to turn down titles and treasures connected to disloyalty to God.    In the name of Jesus, stand in your truth as God’s children.  Look the Devil in the face and tell it to get the hell away from you!  

The Devil is always trying to find your price, but when it learns you won’t be bribed or bought off with titles, trinkets, and treasure, it will leave you alone until it can come at you with threats and terrors.  

God will help us!  At Matthew 4:11 we read, The Devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him…”  

On April 17, 2017 the Supreme Court of Arkansas issued an order that stripped my power to hear and decide cases involving the death penalty and the method of execution.  The Supreme Court also ordered the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC) to investigate me with a view of charging me with judicial misconduct because I issued a temporary restraining order that temporarily stopped the State from using fraudulently obtained drugs to kill eight Death Row inmates.  

When I filed a federal lawsuit against the members of the Arkansas Supreme Court to restore my power to decide capital cases, the Arkansas General Assembly appropriated $250,000 a year to pay lawyers to represent the Supreme Court Justices, oppose my lawsuit, and get the U.S. Supreme Court to support dismissing it.  And the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission engaged out of state lawyers (first from Tennessee and later from Mississippi) to bring formal misconduct charges against me.  

But “angels came and waited” on me.  

Good friends helped me contact Mike Laux, a civil rights lawyer from northern California – “angels came and waited” on me.  

Austin Porter, Jr., a Little Rock civil rights lawyer, agreed to help Mike Laux represent me in federal court and before the JDDC – “angels came and waited” on me. 

Mike Laux contacted his former law school classmate Mike Matthews in Tampa, Florida.  Mike Matthews is a leading partner in one of the world’s largest law firms, and Matthews agreed that his law firm would handle the heavy legal research in my case without charge – “angels came and waited” on me.  

While I was attending a reception during the annual meeting of the Arkansas Bar Association in June of 2017 David Sachar, the head of the JDDC, made his way to me and said, “your lawyers need to contact me.”  Sachar eventually testified in February 2019 that he knew of no reason to charge with me judicial misconduct – “angels came and waited” on me.  

After I formally complained that the Arkansas Supreme Court removed me from death penalty cases without a hearing, the JDDC formally charged each Justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court with misconduct.


Later, the Mississippi prosecutor in the case against me withdrew from the case after her employer refused to give her time off to attend the trial – “angels came and waited” on me.  

Finally, the JDDC dismissed the case in June 2019 because it wasn’t completed within the time required under Arkansas law – “angels came and waited” on me.


Look up, Beloved!  Angels are in the world!  Hold on!  Angels are in the world to stand with us.  Angels are in the world to re-supply us and restore us!  Angels are in the world to encourage and re-assure us!  

We belong to God.  We are God’s people.  Stand in that truth.  Live in that truth.  Rebuke the Devil in that truth!  Trust God to send angels to help you because you belong to God and live for God and will not run out on God.  Halellujah!  

Eternal One, you have claimed us as your people.  Thank you!

Thank you for endowing us with your Spirit.

Thank you for sending Jesus to show us how to deal with satanic tricks, traps, and temptations.

You are worthy of our faithfulness, worthy of our self-denial, and worthy of our loyalty.   

Thank you for reminding us who we are in you, and reminding us that we live in community with one another and the rest of creation to your glory.

And thank you for giving us authority to tell Devilish Tempters to get out of our face in the name of Jesus!

Thank you for angels that come to wait on us, stand by us, and refresh us.

Grant that we, like Jesus, will resist the temptation to distrust you or forsake you.  Help us live to your glory, stand up for your truth, and achieve your mercy and justice in the world no matter how, when, or where we might be tempted by tricks, trinkets, and bribes to abandon you.  We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Savior.  Amen.