Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent - Matthew 4:1-11
I want you to go back in time with me for a minute. Remembering what it was like when you were a young parent, if you were. Maybe when you had little cousins or nieces or nephews. Toddlers or younger. Now, think of your life then as a parent or a babysitter. How would it go if you left them unattended in a room with cords plugged into the wall, or a fire going in the fireplace? More than likely the cords would be tugged on, knocking over a lamp and shattering it. Or the child could be mesmerized by the fire and shove their hand in it. Basically, most of us have been there before though, right? Left the room for a minute and we come back to find World War III. The cat suffocating under a pillow, the phone has dialed 911 just on its own, and grandma’s ashes thrown around the room like the dust of a thousand winters. “Honey, I only left the room for a minute.” Left to our own devices, that is us, just on a different scale. We might be adults, but sin, temptation, are real. We are that baby in the living room with nothing better to do then put our finger in the light socket.
When we come to the Gospel of Matthew and we see here Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, we have to be reminded that Matthew spends quite a bit of time showcasing Jesus’ fulfillment of all the things the people of God got wrong and still do. All the places where Israel had sinned and failed, Jesus overcomes and wins the victory for us.
For instance, 40 days he spends in the desert, fasting and praying. Which is part of why we spend 40 days in Lent fasting and praying. More importantly, though, 40 years Israel spent wandering in the wilderness, succumbing to temptation, despair and doubt. Never thinking God was enough. Never imagining God would provide. Never trusting that God had their back after all he had done. They bemoan his provision. Bemoan the mana which fell from heaven to grant them food. Bread they are given for no reason other than God’s mercy.
So, Satan comes to Jesus. He thinks he’s been there before with Israel. “I know you are hungry Jesus, change these rocks to loaves. Eat. You know you want to.” Playing on his human frailty. What would have been weakness. Thinking he would use his power for his own sake rather than for your sake. Expecting that the tricks that the Devil used 2000 years previous would work now. But no.
“Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
We are a culture consumed by consumption. A society where fasting, unless it is done for vanity’s sake (juice cleanse!), is considered ridiculous. Where we have so become comfortable with 3 hearty meals a day that we never think twice that we are not normal. That the amount we eat, the availability of meat or other proteins, the availability of refrigeration and safe cooking methods, are blessings, not expectations.
There is a sense that the Biblical idea of fasting is a time to deny ourselves something to weaken our own wills. Raising up for us our unthought-of dependence upon the Father. Seeing food and diet as a gift rather than a right. Causing ourselves to actually have to trust God in all things. All these Christ-driven actions worked out in us through Biblical principles to wrangle our little sinner deep inside.
This discipline, this wrangling, however, is not normal. What is normal is fear. Is survival instinct. But I wonder of all that life gives us, if scarcity hit us and we were weakened by our own mortality, would we rest on God’s creative acts? On his word where he spoke you into being? On his promises? “I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will be with you always. I am the Bread of Life. Eat my flesh and drink my blood. You will have life within you.” Sometimes all Satan has to do is stop right there with us. Especially in the western world where over-consumption plagues us. Where instant gratification is what gets us up in the morning. No wonder we need Jesus and his victory more than ever.
Satan takes it to the next level and hits Jesus with fear, not just of scarcity, but of protection. The fear of death or lack of God’s work of salvation in our lives. “Throw yourself down. God will send his angels.” Which could be true, but Christ’s response? “Don’t put God to the test. Don’t tempt him, you might not like the outcome.”
In just these two temptations of Christ, we see where we know that we have fallen. All the moments when our faith is challenged. When we are crushed by the world. Hungry and tired so we will do anything to turn a rock into a burrito. Suffering so, and begging God to send those angels. Angered that he hasn’t. Blinded by our frailty, or maybe even the Devil, to God’s presence in the midst of suffering.
Or…or…we wait a second and Satan hits with one last blow to knock Christ (and us) back. Bribery. “Just kneel. One little bowing of the knee and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.” Life never being enough. One more hour of work to save one more dollar for retirement. One more sports game. One more investment. Needing the better house. The better car. Another toy. A different spouse. Different kids. One more promotion. More prestige in my little kingdom.
“Be gone, Satan. It stands written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”
Fear. Worry. Anxiety. The breeding ground of temptation and testing. The places where our faith so shrivels that we discover we need God more than anything.
At Men’s Fellowship this last week, we talked about the fading of the church in the Western world. As prosperity increases, wealth and security become the norm, and religion, faith, and the church all die. Because we replace them with gold and silver, McDonald’s and Amazon, 401k’s and frequent flyer miles. Because the more we are sure of ourselves, of our safety and security, the less we think we need God, until those things are gone. For when all of those things creep in, we never want to think that God has blessed us, but instead – “Honey, look at what I built.” Meanwhile in Liberia, a pastor friend of mine, Phillip, oversaw 8 churches. One he had to walk to for 8 hours, through the jungle, using his shirt to catch water to drink. He arrived and always found a full church. People who have nothing and give everything to care for one another, and him as their pastor. Then, rejoicing in the Lord broke out, even in what we would call “abject poverty.” Regular worship of a God who provides. Confusing for us, reality for them.
In light of Matthew 4 and the struggles we have in America with such an abundance that our faith is hit harder by no need for God than a dire need for Him, I beg that you and I would become poor. Poor in spirit. Poor in the things of this world. Rich in our sins and need for grace. Our need for Christ. That the cross would become more precious than anything else in the world. Lent being the season for that. For getting used to ourselves as sinners. Knowing the absolute need we have for a Savior. Seeing each moment as a gift from God. That suffering comes to us in this life, not because God hates us, but because life is hard and full of pain and mortal frailty. Seeing in our suffering, our testing and trials, our temptations, not a vengeful God or wicked spirit, but a chance, as the toddlers we are to have our Heavenly Father say “No.” Our Father to grab us by the hand and direct us where we need to go. Our Father to teach us of his mercy, and our need, our poverty in mercy, that all which flows from his grace might overwhelm us in joy. That our dependence on our own safety and security over the need of the Lord who provides is most definitely a sin for which Christ has died, and was raised to free you from all of that. Knowing that just as he did those 40 days in the wilderness, so too the victory for you lies in his hands. Thanks be to God. Amen.