The First Sunday in Lent

2017

 

The Epistle. 2 Corinthians 6:1-10

The Gospel.  St. Matthew 4:1-11

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

+

 

As Lent is now officially underway, we are now going to face many tests of faith.  We are going to have things in our lives go in a direction that may not be as we would hope or want. 

 

Some of us might find ourselves being tempted by sins of various kinds…perhaps the very sins that we are struggling with at the moment and have chosen to address more vehemently in Lent.

 

This is the time to do that. 

Take inventory of our lives and look at those places where our specific sins reside and pray for more grace to stand against those sins…that God would work directly and immediately in that place or on this or that sin and drive it from us.

 

It should be a time of challenge. Not a time to fear, but a time to go directly to the heart of whatever is specifically residing in us and root it out.

 

It’s true for all of us.  The things we want to do, we don't always do and the things we don't want to do, many times we keep on doing them.

 

Many people say that during Lent they feel that there is an extra amount of temptation going on in their lives.  They say that there seems to be more temptation, trial, stress.

 

It may be in fact true. 

Or it may be that we just have a heightened sense of these things in Lent because that is the point of Lent…..to think more deeply on our sins and when we do, we will notice all the more just how pernicious they are.

 

That is the way it is supposed to happen.

 

Once we decide to address something in our lives…call it a bad habit or a problem if it’s minor.  Or call it outright sin if in fact that’s what it is.  It seems that the size of it is greater, larger, harder to overcome and more deeply set in, than we, at one time realized.

 

This is how we can make Lent all that more meaningful.  Rather than giving up coffee or chocolate, we would be better off looking to those places where temptation rears its ugly head and go there...go to the root of it there and use the time in lent to do the battle there.

 

In the Family Prayer section of our Prayer Book in the back we find the Prayer for Grace to Reform and Grow Better.

 

In it we pray like this, asking for the assistance of the Holy Spirit, “…Reform whatever is amiss in the temper and disposition of our souls; that no unclean thoughts, unlawful designs, or inordinate desires, may rest there.”

 

And that is what is happening as we recall the facts we heard about regarding the human heart on Ash Wednesday in the sermon.  At the heart of each of us, there are unclean thoughts.  Many many unclean thoughts.

 

Not necessarily sexual.  We tend to think that is primarily what it is, but they may be thoughts of theft, adultery, vanity, hatred, jealousy, murder.

 

There are unlawful designs…things we concoct that are against the will of God for us. 

Coming up with plans that will undermine our Christian walk if we execute them.

 

And there are inordinate desires as well.  The heart desires many things it should not.  It desires fame, fortune, selfishness, autonomy or just to have God leave us alone and let us be our own god.

We want to be left alone to be able to get away with things when our conscience convicts us.

  

Some of these are what we see in the temptations Christ underwent in our Gospel lesson for today.

 

Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus has just come from His baptism in this story and the Holy Spirit has led him out into the wilderness for a time of temptation by the devil.

 

He has been fasting for 40 days and is very hungry and weak… in mind as well as body.

And we see that He is tempted by the devil three times.  The first temptation is that now He is hungry, He should give up on the fasting and command that some of the stones that are around Him on the ground be turned into bread.

 

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  So there is the initial, “If you are the Son of God….as you claim….temptation.

 

There is the enticement to prove His deity to the devil.  And to do so, He should use His power to get something to eat.  Turn these stones into bread and get this fasting over with.

 

So there is a temptation there for Christ to cut short the fasting…which, this fasting, is obviously something that is beneficial to Him.

 

 

 

 

In fasting, we are drawn into a deeper place, where many will testify that they are better able to concentrate on prayer…better able to hold what is important in front of them…better able to understand and rely on God…or to get a deeper sense of God’s presence.

 

So Jesus has entered into this time of fasting for this purpose.  The devil seems to want Jesus to stop fasting, interrupt His time with God and grab something to eat to break Jesus from His concentration on His mission that is about to start….the redemption of mankind.

 

It should be pointed out that this first temptation is not designed to get Jesus to eat a lot of food.  It is designed to destroy His faith in God…and in turn drive Him to look for relief in the food.

 

Satan will do the very same thing to us.  He will press us hard, tempt us hard to get us to distrust the grace and the divine comfort and help we receive from God.

When we forget God, we are driven to look elsewhere for relief, hope, help.  We begin to attend to our own problems.  We start to make plans to provide for ourselves.  We wrongly believe that God is not providing. 

 

What Satan is doing with Christ is trying to get Him to shift away from the Word of God and follow, rather, His hunger…Himself.

 

“Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” is Christ’s answer.

 

Satan is trying to get Jesus to distrust God and obtain relief in a different way than what God prescribes…and permits.

 

Satan tries to get Jesus to find relief in the food and even though all the food in the world were placed before Him, the blessing of God, the favor of God, is the greater food.  Obedience to and reliance on God is His food.

He says elsewhere in fact, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:34)

 

The food of Jesus was the Word of God.  The Scriptures. It is our food as well.  This is why it is so important to have the Scriptures read to us each time we gather and then have them expounded upon. 

So that we may eat of them. 

So that we may be nourished by them. 

So we may use what they say to guide us into all truth.

 

And it is not necessarily the words themselves as doctrine either, but the Bible says elsewhere, “God upholds all things by His powerful word.”

 

So the word of God is more than just the Bible…it is the very power of God itself.

 

Second temptation: Satan takes Him to the Holy City of Jerusalem and up to the pinnacle of the Temple.

 

Satan has been thwarted by the first answer.  He understands that Jesus will appeal to the Word of God to give His answers, so he says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, (here comes a Bible quote from Psalm 91, twisting what Jesus meant)

 

            “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up,

                        lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

 

Jesus’ reply, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  This reply resembles the first.

 

Jesus sees that the Word of God is being misinterpreted and misapplied. 

This is not what the Psalmist was referring to and it is not a way to test God…by jumping off of a high place and reciting Psalm 91 hoping it will grant you a soft landing.

 

Third Temptation: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

 

By this time, Jesus has had enough.  He says “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

 

            “‘You shall worship the Lord your God

                        and him only shall you serve.’”

           

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” (ESV)

 

Jesus, being the creator of all things, need not be tempted by earthly riches and earthly realestate.  His Kingdom is in Heaven and it rules over all things.  Temporal powers and temporal owenership was nothing to Him.  His will, again, was to live pleasing to the Father and rely on the Father’s provisions of food, clothing and a place to lay His head.

 

Even when He had no place to lay His head, He did not complain.

 

In each case and in total, Jesus underwent these, not so that we can imitate Him, though there is a place for imitating Christ.

 

He underwent these temptations more so that He might be more abundantly clothed with the power and grace of the Spirit.  So that He might be more fortified to endure the next three years of His life…which would be His last.

 

Throughout Lent we will endure our own temptations.  Throughout our Christian life we will encounter temptation to sin.

All of life has a Lenten aspect to it.

This story of Jesus does give us answers in times of testing.  But more than that, we need to see this as a time really for Jesus’ testing.

 

He endured this for us.  He endured those temptations for us….so that He would be all the more equipped to finish the course He had set out to run.

He had His faith tested, so that ours might be fortified by the knowledge that our temptations are nothing He cannot relate to and nothing that He has no control over.

 

We prayed today and will do so every day now until Easter, “O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory.

 

 

Calvin - “But if Christ was tempted as the public representative of all believers, let us learn, that the temptations which befall us are not accidental, or regulated by the will of Satan, without God’s permission; but that the Spirit of God presides over our contests as an exercise of our faith. This will aid us in cherishing the assured hope, that God, who is the supreme judge and disposer of the combat, will not be unmindful of us, but will fortify us against those distresses, which he sees that we are unable to meet.”[1]

 

“Whenever we are called to encounter Satan, let us remember, that his attacks can, in no other way, be sustained and repelled, than by holding out this shield: for the Son of God undoubtedly allowed himself to be tempted, that he may be constantly before our minds…”[2]

 

When we are tempted in any way this Lent, we must call to mind the victory that Christ won in our place, in overcoming all temptations that came upon Him and look to Him alone for our relief and our salvation.

 

+

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.



[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 210–211). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 210–211). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.