Scripture: Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Title: What We Really Need
***Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here****
Today is the first Sunday of Lent.
A season in the church meant for reflection, contemplation, and self-examination.
But often, Lent is ascribed a sort of watered down, what would Jesus do kind of meaning.
Jesus fasted for 40 days, so I guess we should too?
Our Gospel reading today carries with it the very real risk of this kind of misinterpretation.
Lent is not and cannot be a simple re-creation of Christ’s time in the wilderness.
Jesus is teaching us some powerful lessons about the world we are entering into as people of faith, and it’s a mistake to think we just need to do what Jesus did and then we’ll be ok.
Martin Luther, in his sermon for the first Sunday in Lent, said that Lent has:
become mere mockery: first, because no one can follow this example and fast forty days and nights as Christ did without eating any food. Christ rather followed the example of Moses, who fasted also forty days and nights, when he received the law of God on mount Sinai. Thus Christ also wished to fast when he was about to bring to us, and give expression to, the new law.
This is helpful for us to remember as we’ve been jumping around Matthew’s Gospel a bit… so it’s easy to forget the order of things – baptism, wilderness, and then, as Luther called it, the new law. This new law is what we’ve been hearing here at Prince of Peace for the last month and a half in the Sermon on the Mount.
So as we hear this story today, we remember that the time in the wilderness is to prepare Jesus to receive the new law, the new way things are going to be, just as Moses did.
In his same sermon, Luther also reminded his congregation that Jesus never commanded us to follow this wilderness example, and when we do, we often make it about our own efforts, our own work, that we miss the mark. (He actually says that we’d be better off being drunk day and night rather than fast to make ourselves more holy… gotta love Luther)
What is the purpose of this story of temptation if it’s not something we’re supposed to emulate? It occurs in three of the four Gospels, so we know that it’s a moment of significance.
Jesus is named a child of God, beloved, and then is sent into the wild where he is tempted. And it is hear that our clues to the importance of this story begin.
From the wilderness Jesus comes and begins laying out his teachings (the new law Luther referred to) and starts his ministry on earth.
Instead of seeing this as some kind of test Jesus has to pass before he can be sent out, Jesus is being prepared for the kinds of things he will face over his entirety of ministry in the world. Lutheran School of Theology Professor Audrey West says that “Indeed, readers of Matthew’s Gospel have an opportunity to see how the wilderness experience is replayed in Jesus’ encounters with persons who are sick, hungry or in need; with persons who use their connections to power to ascertain his loyalty (including, perhaps, the lawyers, Pharisees and Sadducees who test him in various ways); and with persons who too easily worry about the world’s assessment of greatness rather than God’s (including some of his own disciples).
This temptation of Christ is important for us to hear because not only can we look to see how Christ handles temptations, but also because it reminds us that Jesus has experienced the same temptations that we ourselves face as we go into the world each day.
The first two times the tempter approaches Jesus – he begins with the same 7 words: “If you are the Son of God”
This is the core of these temptations.
In fact, both Chad and I have preached sermons built around this very word.
God declares Jesus a child of God, and the first words from the tempter are a challenge of the identity that has just been given. IF you are the child of God….
The first act of the tempter is always to cause doubt in the promise that has been given.
Even for Jesus.
Are you SURE you’re a child of God?
How many of us have asked ourselves this same question?
So the devil approaches Jesus for the first time and says “if you are the Son of God, then command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Not only is the devil trying to cause doubt in the identity as a child of God, but he is hitting Jesus where he is weakest.
Jesus was hungry.
This first temptation happened at the END of the 40 days. Not at the start, but the end.
We all have our weak points.
The places where we struggle.
And we know this is where we’re most often tempted.
Maybe we struggle to be kind.
Maybe our weakest place is in how we love ourselves or others.
Or in the things we do that hurt ourselves or others.
Maybe we doubt that we’re worth the love we’ve been given.
That we don’t deserve it. That we’re not worthy.
This Gospel lesson reminds us that the devil is always going to go for the weak spot.
Then the devil tells Jesus to throw himself from the top of a tall building.
This seems like kind of a strange one… why would Jesus, or anyone ever do this?
Again, the devil begins with causing doubt in the promises given to Jesus, and the identity he’s just been given.
But what’s behind this test is the belief that as a child of God we somehow deserve some special treatment.
We should get extra power, or have angels at our beck and call.
You’re a child of God? Prove it.
Prove how close you are to God. Prove how much he loves you.
I mean, if you were really a child of God, God wouldn’t let you fall would he?
This time, the Devil even makes the test sound good, by adding a little scripture alongside it.
I mean, if it’s in the Bible then it MUST be true right?
This is another one we all experience.
We too are tempted.
Tempted to believe that if we had just prayed harder or believed the right thing,
then God wouldn’t have let our loved one die.
God would have taken away our illness.
If God really loved me, he’d rescue me, right?
Who hasn’t felt this way before?
Then lastly, the tempter brings up the temptation of them all.
Power. Secure leadership.
You know Jesus, you could do this your way, and that’s fine but if you do just know that it’s going to be hard, and you are going to be hated and killed, and it might not even work!
OR – you could try it my way. I can give you all the power and prestige you could ever want, for a lot less cost and effort, you just need to worship me.
It’s way easier for everyone involved.
Luther called this final temptation “the temptation of prosperity, by which man is enticed to lust, honor, joy, and whatever is high.”
Whatever is high.
We like to be number one.
We revere people who get to the top.
We completely understand this temptation because our culture is practically built on this one.
Winning is the most important thing.
It doesn’t matter what someone has said or done, as long as they win.
The temptation offered to Jesus here is one of power at the expense of others.
It’s power for one.
The devil offers power for Jesus over the kingdoms of the world, and in stark contrast Jesus ends up being the one who opens the kingdom of God to all.
This whole temptation story is a study in contrasts. The way of the kingdom of the world, and the way of the Kingdom of God. They are very different.
And the temptations to follow the way of the world instead of the way of God are always present.
Just as these temptations aren’t a one-time test Jesus passes, the same is true for us.
These temptations are a part of the life of faith.
They are the temptations we will face out in the world, as soon as we exit this place.
In here, we have been claimed and called beloved,
In here, we receive the promise of God into our outstretched hands,
In here, we have been sent out into the world,
And when we’re out there, loving others,
We will face temptations.
We’re going to doubt our identity as children of God.
We’re going to get hit where we’re weakest.
We’re going to wonder if the promises God has made to us are true.
We’re going to try to seek our own way believing that we’ve got it all figured out.
We are going to be tempted by the easy way out, the easy way up, no matter who gets hurt in the process.
This is how the world works.
And just like Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, these temptations for us won’t be a one-time thing that we pass like a test and then never see again, but a constant preparation for partnering with God at work in the world. This isn’t just true for us. Jesus leaves the wilderness and the first thing he hears upon returning to the city is that his friend John the baptizer has been wrongly imprisoned. Temptations, difficulties, don’t just go away.
They are par for the course. Even for Jesus.
Life is hard.
And it can be tempting in the midst of these moments of difficulty to doubt our identity, to test the promises, to cheat the system.
Sometimes we do. A lot of times we do.
But God does not.
God has named us beloved and does not take it back.
God has promised to be with us and does not leave us alone in the wilderness.
God will die and rise so that we too can die and rise again.
These are the promises we have been given.
So this Lent, it’s our time to pause and reflect.
You heard the word “Selah” today in the psalm that was read, which is a Hebrew word which means pause and reflect.
This is our call this Lent.
To take time to think about the ways we have fallen short.
The ways in which we have been tempted.
It is not an easy practice, in fact, it’s one we’d rather just ignore until we can put on fancy dresses and show up for Easter to celebrate the new life we’ve been given.
But it’s kind of hard to rise without first dying.
We want to just have the celebration, just rise and skip past the hard stuff, but that’s not really how it works.
We can’t be raised from the dead unless we die.
And for that to happen we need to know what’s killing us.
It’s really hard.
Nate is going to come forward and sing while, as hard as it is, we take some time to sit and think about where we are weakest, how we doubt the promises we’ve been given, and the ways we seek to gain power and influence at the expense of others.
Then we’re going to come forward, though we know we don’t deserve it, and receive a physical reminder of the love of God, the grace of God, the place Christ will go for us, to take on all the ways we fall short, we’ll receive that right in our hands.
So let’s pause and reflect together.