First Sunday of Lent March 10, 2019
Alice J Stewart
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. For forty days he was tempted by the devil. Not just one day. Forty.
Jesus was tempted and tried the same way that we are and resisted that temptation not by using his divinity, but by showing faith and obedience. Jesus could have avoided human suffering, human temptation. But he didn’t. Jesus shows us how we too may use faith and obedience to resist the temptation to sin against God.
First, let’s talk about evil for just a moment. We don’t do that very often. There are excellent reasons why we don’t, but today, on the first Sunday of Lent, I think it’s appropriate.
If God’s Holy Spirit drew Jesus into the wilderness knowing full well the devil was going to tempt the Son of God for the entire forty days, I think we ought to at least mention the tempter as well as the temptations. At least for a couple of minutes.
When we talk about evil and the demonic, we can get overly excited, or frightened, and the conversation often goes off into difficult and unhelpful directions. Some people talk about it overly much, maybe hoping to stay a step ahead of it, to keep it away. Others don’t talk about it at all. Maybe they do everything they can to not think about it because they don’t want to attract it.
Most of us don’t know much about evil, and what we think we know is often… inaccurate. For example, there’s no need to be afraid of the Satanists we hear about in the news. These so-called Satanists are people toying around with the idea of evil but they only do so by attempting to subvert Christian “things.” I say “things,” because there’s nothing anyone can do to our loving, living, triune God by messing around with our Christian symbols or liturgy or language. These poor suckers who call themselves Satanists are kind of pitiful.
There are, however, those who practice, and draw close to, evil; and those people are rare. They do exist, but they are very rare. And there is evil in the world, but it is subtle and devious and difficult to even name. If we find it easy to point out, we’re usually wrong.
Right now, let’s think of evil as “anti-God” and the absence of God. And we can look at sin as defying or denying God. Defying or denying God’s presence, power, and purpose. We sin when we defy or deny God’s plan and God’s timing of that plan. And finally, we can think of temptation as evil’s way of suggesting that sin is a really awesome idea. These aren’t the best definitions in the world, but let’s run with them for a bit as we turn back to Luke.
Each of the temptations of Jesus was rooted in the refutation of, the denial of, God’s plan and God’s timing.
Jesus was not tempted by bread held in front of him, but by turning stone into bread. It wasn’t the bread Jesus was being tempted by, but the use of his divine power, way before God planned for him to do so.
The devil here and in the other two temptations is telling Jesus to be who he really is. Fully divine as well as fully human. The devil is telling Jesus to take what is rightfully Jesus’ own by stepping into his full glory and power as the Son of God. Why wait for God?
But Jesus was obedient to God’s plan and God’s timing. That obedience gave us the crucifixion, the resurrection, and our salvation. That obedience will mean Jesus will come again in his full glory. And through Jesus, and with a lot of grace, we can choose to be obedient to God’s plan and God’s timing, too.
What does it look like when we don’t? What are our temptations, those wonderful-sounding ideas that deny and defy God’s plan and God’s timing?
In the world outside, we’ve taught our younger generations to sacrifice everything to earn their daily bread. We’ve failed to teach them that there is more to life than bread alone. We’ve taken God’s plan for them and given them our own. A plan that stipulates these kids work their tails off as children so they can prepare for jobs that won’t exist when they’re adults. The world has never seen such high levels of burnout and depression among people so young.
The solution isn’t more prayer in schools or more Sunday school. The solution is us Christians living in such a way that we show them and their parents and those coming after that faith and obedience to God leads to a fulfilling life and puts bread on the table as well. The solution is to live out loud in such a way that shows God’s plan, that shows how glorious life can be in Christ, and shows the lie to the world’s plan of educational exhaustion and professional burnout.
Our world faces and succumbs to temptations of our own power in a million ways from AI technology that will do our thinking for us to uploading our minds onto computers so that we will never die. Godlike power and immortality on our own terms, instead of waiting for God’s plan and God’s timing.
When we worship the Lord and serve only him, we receive all these things and more. But we must worship and serve with great humbleness. We get in trouble when we’re complacent, especially in the church. Lent is a time for us to dig deep into our own motivations. To review the ways we’ve told God our plans and expect God to be obedient to us. Do you know what it’s called when we tell God our plans and expect God to be obedient to us? It’s called putting the Lord our God to the test.
When we force God’s hand, and his timing, even in our own small lives, we fall into sin. We can refuse to wait for love, and end up committing adultery. We can refuse to wait for our daily bread, and end up stealing. We can refuse to wait and work for spiritual growth, and end up seeking power by taking away someone else’s power.
God will give us all good things if only we walk the way and wait. Jesus shows us the way by faith and obedience. Our temptations will not arrive in the form of chocolate or a really good martini. Our temptations will look like things that take the power out of God’s hands. Our temptations will look like using our own power without considering God’s timing.
We all want to be happy and safe and healthy and at peace. There are times when we need to stand up and act in order to be happy and safe and healthy and at peace. But every time we do so, we should also take care that we do not deny or defy our loving, triune God. Even if it sounds like a really excellent idea. To do this at all is called discernment. To do this well is called wisdom.
It’s easy to see how the world around us denies and defies God’s plans and timing. It’s harder in our own lives. Do we consider God’s plans when it comes to how we put food on the table? Are we obedient to God’s timing when we use our personal power in the world? Do we seek out God when we when we look for healing and fulfillment?
Jesus showed us how to be obedient and faithful during his 40 days of fasting. It takes strength and grace to follow the plan of salvation and to wait. Everything around us in this culture tempts us to pursue what we want, when we want it.
But with faith and obedience, working with God instead of against him especially during these 40 days of Lent, we will be given our heart’s desire and so much more.