How many of you have had an experience you would classify as a "God-moment" or a mountain-top experience only to then slide into what became a
wilderness or desert experience, you went from being spiritually filled to being spiritually empty or famished.
I think at some point we all experience this type of roller coaster ride when it comes to living out our faith. One moment we're flying high, the next
we're wondering how we're ever going to make it.
Well Jesus as he began his ministry went from being filled with the Holy Spirit at his baptism to being famished as he was led by the same Spirit into
the wilderness, there he fasted for 40 days, and then encountered three temptations courtesy of the devil.
Can you imagine how vulnerable Jesus must have been after not eating for 40 days? I wonder how we would react to the devil offering us food after
going 40 days with no food?
And I suggest we can substitute the word food for many other things we as humans need, like: good health, love, understanding, forgiveness, mercy,
compassion, and so on. How would we respond if tempted with one of these needs after 40 days or more of going without?
When we're without something we need for an extended period of time we become more vulnerable to temptation and it becomes easier to give in to the
temptation, it becomes easier to fall away from God.
Let's consider the temptations Jesus faced. And as you might suspect there's a deeper and richer meaning associated with these temptations then is
conveyed in the words written. All three of these temptations relate back to the nation of Israel and their treatment of God in their 40 year wilderness journey. The people
of the day when this text was written would have understood this, and I think it's important that we do to because it serves as another example of how the Old Testament
scripture and the New Testament scripture relate to one another in a very important way.
First Temptation: "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus response, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Jesus is quoting Deut. 8:3, He's getting strength from the Word of God, and uses scripture to refute the devil.
But what's at the root of this first temptation?
- It's not about food,
- it's about trusting in God,
- it's about believing that God will provide for our needs
The people of Israel didn't believe God would provide for them when they were wondering in the desert after fleeing Egypt. But God did provide for
them, by providing manna for them to eat. (Deut. 8:3)
Second Temptation: The devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "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."(Psalm 91: 11-12) Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Deut. 6:16)
This temptation is all about trying to prove God's promises are trustworthy. Again, the Israelites were thirsty and were complaining to Moses. They
insisted on a sign from God to confirm their faith. So Moses, as instructed by God, struck a rock with his staff and water began to flow from the rock. (Ex. 17:6)
Many Christians will turn to the Bible looking for proof of something. But the problem is the Bible is not meant to prove anything, that's not why it
was written. Think about it, in this temptation, the devil is using scripture to try and prove that it was ok for Jesus to jump from the temple (Psalm 91:11-12), after all
scripture says God will command a legion of angels to come and save you from hitting the ground.
So proof is not the intent of scripture. How many people over the years have used scripture to justify an unjust act. Throughout history scripture was
used to justify slavery, oppression of women, and so on. Thomas Jefferson even created his own Bible (Jeffersonian Bible) by selecting the scriptures he felt most comfortable
with and got rid of the others.
The purpose of scripture is to point us to Jesus and to help us understand who God is through Jesus.
The most profound sign God gives us of his promises in all of scripture is Jesus himself. And the only way we can confirm the truth of Jesus is:
- by trusting Jesus,
- looking to Jesus for understanding, '
- and giving our whole selves over to Jesus.
So as we live the Christian life, through all the storms and challenges, and uncertain moments, we must remember the proof we so much want comes not
by specific signs and wonders but by living our faith through which we then experience the promises of God.
But as imperfect humans we sometimes can't help but crave proof. We want our fellow Christians to be without sin, or we find it difficult to believe
scripture when it isn't always clear or seems to offering differing viewpoints. We want to experience God in an unmistakenable proof-positive way.
I suggest needing absolute proof of everything the Bible says is why some people will not embrace Christianity, deciding instead to go it on their
own, trusting in their own abilities. They don't understand that Christianity begins with faith, and faith alone, not proof.
And faith isn't about absolute proof; it's about trust and being open to the teachings of God as revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ. Again,
God isn't about proving anything to us; he's all about pointing us in the right direction, a direction that leads right to his Son Jesus.
This gift from God is the basis of our faith, and whatever proof there is of the Christian Way it doesn't come before faith. It's our faith that leads
us to the proof we seek.
Third Temptation: The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. He said, "All this I
will give you, if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.''" (Deut.
The devil is offering Jesus lordship over the nations if he would just bow down and worship him. Again we can turn to the people of Israel, Israel had
to realize God was giving them a place to live, a place of its own, which it had not won through war, or earned on its own.
And just as God gave to Israel, God has given Christians the needful things of life, an identity in our baptism, and a place in the world.
So our response to God should be one of gratitude, and there's no better way to show our gratitude to God then by living the faith we profess to
believe. We need to be content with what God has provided for us, avoiding the temptation of wanting what our neighbors have, avoiding the temptation to worship our houses
and cars over God, avoiding the temptation to bow before the gods we crown at the various sport venues and in the movies.
Israel forgot about God and all that God had done for them. So they ignored God's call on their life and became no different than the rest of society.
They just blended in.
This is the temptation so many of us face: forgetting or choosing to ignore God, wanting to place our faith in ourselves or others, and to just blend
into the community we're part of.
The Church can fall into this temptation as well, when it ceases to be Christ's Church because it has simply chosen to blend in, becoming nothing more
than a building among other buildings on Main Street USA.
So today on this First Sunday of Lent we look to Jesus as our example of one who was able to resist temptation because he remained focused on God.
During this season of Lent may we all make Jesus the focus of our Lenten discipline and our Lenten observance. I pray we won't settle for anything
less, because anything less won't please God, won't help us grow in our faith, and certainly won't make a difference in our lives.
I encourage you to make this season of Lent the most holy time of your life to date, as we spend the next 6 weeks as a family walking with Jesus to
the cross. And my hope is as we come to Easter Sunday we each will be so filled with spiritual food we'll be able to stand with the resurrected Christ and say, "Ok devil give
it your best shot, because I'm focused on Christ!"
In addition to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible the following resources inspired and/or were used in part in the
preparation of this sermon: Lectionary Homiletics, Vol. XIX, Number 2, February 2008/March 2008.
Read other messages by Pastor Wade