What do we do in Lent... serve the Lord
class=MsoNormal>Let us pray. May the study of your word bring us to a closer understanding of you Lord, and may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, Amen
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)
For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)
Today, one conclusion you could make by all the readings, it is that it is all about sin
…Well, if we understand sin as the opposite of living in God’s way
Then every service in some way addresses that need.
Either in rejoicing for how God has provided a way in Jesus,
Or calling us to understand God’s way
Sin… and its opposite, following God - discipleship, is A major theme of the Bible and therefore a major theme in worship
Looking at the readings today, you can see what significant readings they are
1. We have man’s first account of sin, in the Garden of Eden.
2. Then the psalm today, which as usual we had as our call to worship, it has a powerful message of God addressing sin.
3. In the epistle to the Romans, Paul is dealing with the concept of justification, or… being right with God.
4. And lastly, in the Gospel reading, we have the story of the temptation of Jesus, His forty days in the wilderness.
So… where to begin? We don’t have hours in which we can talk about them all, so I need to choose one…
Since it is the first Sunday in Lent, beginning our 40 days, Christ's 40 days needs to take precedence.
But I would suggest that the passages today are too significant to miss and maybe as a Lenten exercise, you could take home your bulletins this Sunday with the readings listed and spend more time mediating and studying God’s word.
The readings today are so rich with meaning.
In considering the Gospel passage I want to share with you the key message that came to me
I am giving you the answer first, instead of building up to it, with the hope that you will consider all that I am saying through this one lens
Through one short phrase, we have, out of the mouth of our Lord, the foundation for Lent, and in reality the foundation for us all as disciples – followers of Jesus
“You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Matthew 4:10b)….
So let’s look at the Gospel and the context a little closer and you will see why we are to look through this lens
First of all the reading is from Matthew’s gospel.
Now Matthew, was one of the disciples, a tax collector and a Jew.
At the time of the Roman occupation, Jews were used to collect taxes from other Jews, because they knew the people,
They knew what they could get from them.
The people were predominately working poor, slaves to their jobs to meet the heavy taxes imposed on them.
In that time 1/3 of people were in fact slaves and many of them had become slaves because they had effectively been bankrupted into slavery.
So Matthew as a tax collected would have been one of the most socially despised people.
Yet Jesus chose him to be a disciple.
And Matthew for his part turned from his ways and followed Jesus.
As part of following Jesus, he later in life, wrote the most Jewish Gospel account.
Some scholars would say that the main thesis of Matthew’s gospel is to reveal who Jesus really is to the Jews
The reading today has only three chapters before it and you can see how Matthew writes about who Jesus is
- 1st – the genealogy to the significance of Jesus
- then there is Jesus’ conception, with the visit of the angel to Joseph
- explaining how his ‘bride to be’ was pregnant
- and how this is a fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah
- then chapter 2 the visit from the magi
- with more prophecy fulfilled by Bethlehem being the site of our Lord’s birth
- there was the star in the sky that directed the magi
- Then the angel appearing again to Joseph, warning of Herod’s jealous plan to kill the male babies of Bethlehem
- This sent them away and later fulfilled of prophecy with Jesus coming out of Egypt
- Then in chapter 3 the preaching of John the Baptist
- Again the prophecy … with a ‘a voice in the wilderness’
- The very content of John’s preaching ‘preparing the way for the Lord’
- The baptism of Jesus with the descending of the dove, and a voice from heavens – stating that “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”
In three chapters we have Matthew declaring in layer upon layer who Jesus is to His Jewish readers
Matthew’s message is the Gospel, and the “good news” is Jesus …
So now we get to the text for today.
First, Jesus, after being so clearly identified is lead by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.
And then… It’s at this vulnerable point; as one literal translation puts it
… He hungered
That is when the tempter arrives.
Let’s look at the dialogue between the devil and Jesus
Now just as the snake in the garden, the tempter is crafty… he challenges Jesus saying “IF you are the Son of God turn these stones into bread?”
Jesus responds with and quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”
The devil then takes Jesus up to the top of the temple, to the pinnacle, the place where a trumpet is sounded and major news is told to the entire city.
And challenges Jesus to throw himself down and using more scripture (Psalm 91:11,12) and that “with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus seeing the tempters work, responds with Deut 6:16 “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”
Finally the devil took Him up on a very high mountain where He could see the kingdoms and all their glory below Him, the whole world below him, and the devil offers them to Jesus if only he falls down and worships the devil.
To this Jesus tells the devil to “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
To this the devil leaves and the angels come to minister to Jesus.
Notice the Devil has no doubt who Jesus is,
He identifies Jesus as the “Son of God” and how the He has powers over the stones to become bread or that the angels will catch Him from the top of the temple and finally will give Him power over the whole world, wanting only for Jesus to worship him.
Consider when the devil comes… it isn’t the moment after Jesus is lead out into the wilderness by the Spirit, when he is strong and full of the glorious moment of God the Father has declared Him ‘Son’
It is once he has been in the wilderness for 40 days & nights, once His defenses are weak – when He hungered – when there is nothing around except His conscience
Consider how that is in our own lives
Temptation doesn’t come when we are strong, but when we are weak
It usually doesn’t come when there are lots of other people around
But when we might be alone and the possibility of getting away with it at it’s easiest
The devil and the serpent in the garden are crafty
Notice also how even the Bible can be a tool used to serve good or to serve evil
The job of the devil, like the snake, used what is known and adjust it slightly – from goodness to a shade of grey – a shade of doubt
“Did God really say…” is the root of all the questions of the tempter
Jesus sees the threefold temptation for what it is… sin
Sin in its simplest form – is not trusting in God the Father
In fact it is the first and great commandment
Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:29b-30)
And these three temptations can be identified succinctly as
To question His Father's goodness…
To question His Father's power…
To question His Father's honour…
The devil coming to Jesus at His weakest point, with no else around, challenges His heart
I would like to draw your attention also the wording that Jesus uses and Matthew is careful to recite, “The Lord, Your God”
Not only the Lord that created everything, but also the Your God, the personal God that knows each one of us.
As the text today speaks of the temptation of Jesus, this is not merely to illustrate how Jesus beat temptation or just to show who Jesus was… it is that, certainly…
But, we have that already, remember; just before this passage we had the definitive statement “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
The temptation is there for us to understand that Jesus suffered as we do, and was tempted as we are. – That Jesus was fully human
As the writer of Hebrew states - “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15)
Also, we need to be careful not to draw more from the story then it offers
This is not a “how to” guide
This is not “resisting temptation for dummies book”
Jesus came as one of us and was tempted as one of us – but…
Jesus was also identified, by the previous three chapters and by the devil in today’s readings – as the Son of God
This is an incredible story precisely because God intervened for us - as one of us
So we have from all of Matthew a very clear message of who Jesus is,
We have our Lord being tempted and living as we live.
And we have, in the start of Jesus ministry – an early understanding on the kind of person He was
Not by a display of power or authority as we might think to use
But power trusting fully on God only, and equipped the sword of the Spirit – with the word of God (which is available to all of us)
In thinking about temptation in a practical way, I would like to share with you a story I was told during my first year of Business College.
It was about a man on his first day of work after being unemployed for quite some time.
The phone rings and someone is looking for the owner of the company.
While he was taking the call, the owner was walking by and overheard half of the conversation, he waved the man off, indicating that the man should tell the person of the other end that he is not in.
The man ignores the boss and passes the phone over.
After the call the boss is fuming… here is this guy on his first day of work, disobeying him and getting him to talk to a person that he had been trying to avoid.
What is the man’s response “if you want me to lie to a stranger on a phone, how can you ever trust that I wouldn’t lie to you in my job?”
This man was facing temptation head on.
On one hand there is an easy lie and on the other hand the ramifications were great; it is his first day on the job, he has been without work for some time, and no doubt he needed the job.
To say that his boss is out of the office, what could be easier?
Especially when faced with the prospect of losing his job.
Often, temptations are small events like this.
But it is in every thing we do that we choose to live within God’s ways or against them…
The boss didn’t fire him, and later went on to be Lord something of Mark’s and Spencer, a major English retailer
And the man prospered to be his most trusted and longest standing employee.
Where have you been tempted this week? Has it been big trials with a major decision?
Or has it been in small events of little significance … They all count,
Not that we should understand God as a score-keeper - as some distant ‘spy in the sky’
But they count to us, to our character,
We know ‘when our heads hit the pillow’ at night if we have submitted to temptation, large or small.
We know if we have been living in a way that would be pleasing to God,
The temptation by the devil for Jesus was both big and small,
In one temptation Jesus was offered the kingdoms of the world – offered great world power
And in another, a more subtle temptation, something small, like satisfying His hunger.
I mean, imagine that you are told that you the Son of God and after 40 days and nights of fasting when you are hungry, and weak… to change stones in bread, what’s the big deal?
The big deal, is of course, to despair the goodness of God and the authority of God over all
Consider what you will do for Lent this year? Will it be big or small?
Just as the New Year brings resolutions for our health, such as quitting smoking or exercising more
Lent gives us, Christians, a unique time to give up something or to start something to focus on God
When you are attempting to do whatever it is that you have decided for Lent
Make sure that you include greater time in reading God’s word & prayer or reflection with God
In Lent, temptation and trials are faced more specifically then the rest of the year… So … trust in the Lord your God… Be one that follows Jesus’ ways… and
“Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.”