As we begin the season of Lent today, we play a little “Biblical Hop Scotch” and jump back in Luke’s Gospel to the beginning of the fourth chapter. This is at the point where Jesus has been baptized and now enters the desert.
As most of us have already experienced in worship this past week (by attending an Ash Wednesday service), we have marked the beginning of Lent and begun our forty day journey to fast, pray, read scripture, and spend time in devotion with God.
Jesus’ journey into a barren wilderness was not just time spent in devotion to God. He didn’t just offer up a prayer at a certain time every day and He did not simply refuse to open the pantry door giving up his favorite snack food. He went into the desert where he was forced to fully rely on God. There was no one else. For forty days the words he heard were his own but he also had the Word of God from the scriptures he had been learning since he was a child.
For forty days the only person he could talk to was God. God became his constant companion, and Jesus fed off of God’s word. The bible says he fasted, but scholars have learned that could mean that he may have eaten what was available to him in order to sustain his physical being. This would have enabled him to concentrate on the spiritual sustenance he was getting from God. The point is, he denied himself the luxury of what we would call normal food and let the Word of God become his main course. By the end of his forty days of wandering through the desert, Jesus would either be really connected to God, or he would be stark raving mad, ready to eat the first thing that came to him. He may also have been questioning God’s motive in sending him to the desert, wondering why God would put him through such torture.
Just before Jesus leaves the desert he encounters the devil or the tempter. He is faced with three very important questions. I stress to you that they are the three most important questions you and I will with wrestle in our lives with unless we make the spiritual journey called lent. The questions are: 1. Who do I love more, Myself or God? 2. What do I love more, the world with all its glory or the glory of God?, and 3. Can I trust that God really does love me? Jesus, the Son of God faced these questions and it is through his actions that we learn to deal with the temptations that come to us.
The first question is about what he loves more, a comfortable life filled with endless possibilities and power or the life which God sent him to live? He has not eaten for forty days and his body is physically stressed to the max. Jesus, who we call the Bread of life, is starving for a piece of bread. And then the Tempter reminds him that he has the gift, the talent and the power, to do amazing things. And imagine the temptation that comes to him, “I can turn this stone into bread and feed myself. I can take care of me, after all I am the Son of God, I deserve it.”
We all have been given certain unique gifts and talents. When I am tempted, I hear the Tempter reminding me of the gifts that I can use. The questions I ask myself when tempted are: “Who do I love more, myself or God? Who will I put first? Whose glory does Jesus seek? Whose glory do we seek?”
Because Jesus spent those forty days fasting, praying and devoting himself fully to God, he was able to combat that temptation with what he had feasted on, the Word of God. He answers the Tempter with “Man cannot live by bread alone but on every word of God.”
After dispersing the Tempter, Jesus suddenly comes to the realization of the power that is his as the Son of God and he is able to see before him all the kingdoms of the world, past, present and future. He knows that in being the Son of God, he does not really have to walk the path of suffering in order to rule the world. He could take the easy way out; he could bow down to the devil of worldly power or the king of corruption. He could easily, with a wave of his hand, have the world at his feet loving and adoring him. He would not have to suffer humiliation nor go through some puny man’s trial. Nor would he have to be beaten and nailed on a cross. All he would have to do is defy the purpose for which his father in heaven sent him. This purpose was not to save the world from misery and despair, hunger and poverty, but to save it from being forever separated from God by sin. The question behind this temptation is this; “IS the love and adoration of the World more important than the love and adoration of God? “ Again Jesus, because he devoted himself to God during those forty days, knew without a doubt what he loved more. He knew God’s way was the right way even though it he foresaw the ordeal he was facing. His answer was, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him. “
Even after confronting such temptation, another question arises. “IF the only way the world can be led back to God is through my, the Son of God, death, does God the Father really love me? Maybe I am despised by my own father. Maybe God would rather be with all of them than me.” And so again he is tempted. This time the temptation is to throw himself off of the pinnacle to see if the angels really will come and rescue him as written in the Scriptures. Here you see the evil Tempter has adapted and learned to use scripture to twist things around and mess with our minds, even Jesus’.
Because Jesus made his time in the wilderness a truly valuable time, growing closer to the father and trusting him to take care of his needs, He knew the answer to that as well, “Do not put the Lord YOUR GOD to the test.”
So as Jesus wrestled with the root of all our sins in these three basic questions, must we wrestle with the question of why we are even tempted to commit sin?
In the first question, our struggle may be in deciding who to help first given all the resources available. Would you choose your own or others, even under stress who will you be more faithful to?
The second question asks us if we love our own glory and adoration more than we love giving the glory to God. Power and fame, praise and glory can quickly go to our head and we can do the popular things for the wrong reasons. Keeping our focus on God’s glory rather than our own insures that we are doing the right thing for the right reason. Even if our efforts ultimately fail, we can trust that God still makes good of our attempts, just as he took Jesus’ apparent failure at the cross and worked it for good in his resurrection. The proof of this is in Jesus’ willingness to die in humiliation to glorify and honor God.
The final question, “Does God love me?” has been proven many times to us but the answer requires us to truly trust God. In the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, he was able to focus totally on God, recalling the many lessons he had learned over the years. His attention was focused on the fullness of God that was within him, trusting God for his very survival.
I believe that these forty days, facing adversities and challenges physical, mental and spiritual bonded the “God side” of Jesus with the “human side” of Jesus. This forty day journey through lent is our opportunity to weather as a group, or as individuals, and bond more closely with God. This can help us to overcome our own temptations.