Currently, we are in the season of Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday through Easter. The season of Lent is 40 days long. It is a time for reflection. For centuries, it has been a time of instruction for candidates preparing for baptism. We are called to confess our sins and abstain for self-indulgent behavior. We are encouraged to fast, pray and practice other spiritual disciplines to discern our need for the grace of God. We can consider our relationship with God and with our neighbors.
The season of Lent excludes the 6 Sundays from Ash Wednesday through Easter. The Church celebrates on those Sundays, just as every Sunday, the coming Easter morn when the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed. As we worship God on the Sundays in Lent, we are strengthened to continue the Lenten journey of self-examination.
My friend recently shared a story with me. A race of aliens visits earth one day; they come in peace and surprisingly, they speak English. Obviously all of the heads of government and religious leaders want to speak to the aliens so they set up a meeting with the new visitors. When it’s the turn for a religious leader to ask a question, he asked, “Do you know about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?”
One of the aliens responded, “You mean J.C? Yeah, we know him he’s the greatest, isn’t he. He swings by every year to make sure that we are doing ok.” Surprised, the religious leader follows up with, “He visits every year! It’s been over 2 millenia and we’re still waiting for his second coming!”
The aliens see that the religious leader has become angry at this face and starts trying to rationalize, “maybe J.C. likes our chocolate better than yours?” The religious leader responds, “Chocolates? What are you talking about? What does that have to do with anything?” The alien says, “Yeah, when he first visited our planet we gave him a huge box of chocolates. Why? What did you guys do?”
Well, we killed Jesus that first time He came to us. That’s where Lent finds its culmination. Lent ends with the crucifixion of Jesus. Often, people give up chocolate or meat as a sign of their Lenten devotion, but Lent is not about chocolate. Lent is about preparing for the crucifixion. We reflect on our sin and confess that which we want to be forgiven.
Many Christians and Catholics give up something for Lent, like chocolate, soda, meet, sugar. A good practice for Lent is to add something to your devotion. Perhaps, you add more prayer time to your day or try to read the New Testament through in the 40 days. I’d like you to pray the Lord’s Prayer every day from now through Easter, if you don’t already. Throughout the season of Lent, my sermons will focus on the Lord’s Prayer. Today’s theme is: Lead us not into temptation.
Every week, we pray the Lord’s Prayer as a community. I think it is a prayer that Jesus meant for it to be prayed as a community, because He starts with, “Our Father.” We can pray it privately knowing that throughout the world other Christians are praying it as we pray it. Community is the best defense we have for temptation. Within the bonds of Christian fellowship, we are reminded of our devotion to Christ and God’s promise for deliverance in the words of Scripture, and we remember the grace we receive even when we succumb to temptation.
While Jesus was in the wilderness, the Devil tempted Jesus with three things. He was there 40 days and fasted from eating. This Scripture is reminiscent of the 40 years the Hebrews spent in the wilderness wandering from Egypt to the Promised Land experiencing their own trials of faith and learning to trust God.
First Temptation: Serving self
The first temptation the devil presents to Jesus is for Him to serve Himself and take care of His own needs. The devil suggests that if Jesus is the Son of God then He can turn a stone into a loaf of bread for Him to eat. This challenge is for Jesus to trust in His own power to supply His physical needs.
This first temptation of Jesus might be compared to the first temptation of humanity. Genesis recounts the serpent’s deception of Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the tree in the center of the garden of Eden. The serpent caused Adam and Eve to question whether or not they could trust God. Could they go hungry? Would they have enough? How do they know they can trust God? The temptation of Adam and Eve caused them to mistrust God. Their lack of trust in God leads to a change in the relationship between the humans and God.
The devil attempts to lead Jesus to question God’s trustworthiness and cause Him to rely on Himself rather than God for provision. Jesus resists the temptation citing Scripture. Jesus says, “One does not live by bread alone.”
Second Temptation: Power
The first temptation the devil presents to Jesus is for Him to gain power. The devil says that he will give authority over all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if He will worship him. This temptation is one that is constantly presented to Jesus throughout His ministry. Many expect His to be a kingdom of political and military power to restore Israel to freedom. That Jesus resists this temptation is a sign that His Kingdom will not be of this world and He will not meet the expectations of others.
Jesus in the verses following this Scripture text names what His kingdom work is. It is not military and political power over the kingdoms of the world. In Luke 4: 18 – 19 which we read in recent weeks, Jesus says that He has not come for power. He says that “he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus’ response to the devil in this temptation is another quote from Scripture, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him alone.” Jesus knows that all power and glory are coming from God, not the devil. Jesus will worship God alone.
Third Temptation: Avoid the cross
The final temptation of the devil is to make a spectacle and save Himself. The act of jumping off the top of the Temple and save Himself from harm would exhibit His power and lead to His fame. This may be a trial to forego the cross. So, perhaps the devil is tempting Jesus to save Himself from the cross, a temptation that will come again when He is on the cross. The devil gives Jesus an alternate destiny, a future that doesn’t include the cross. Jesus again resists the devil’s temptation saying, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Some take this Scripture as evidence that we must memorize Scripture so we can be ready to defend against the devil’s temptation. I don’t know that defense against the devil is a very good reason to memorize Scripture. Jesus found truth IN Scriptures to tell the devil that He trusted God. Often the devil comes as a voice within our thoughts to do what is wrong. At those times, we remember God is good and that we can trust the Lord. As tempting as it is to take things into our own hands, to give into insecurity, and to question God, Scriptures remind us of God’s faithfulness and love.
I have an exercise for us. At the end of each pew are a few index cards and there are pencils in the pew pockets. On one side, I’d like you to write the word trust. Then, write something that is important to you for which you feel confident of God’s support. May you know you can trust God for love, family, a job, a home, forgiveness. They aren’t necessarily things that you don’t worry about. These are things that are important, that you do worry about, yet you trust God with them.
Under the pressure of temptation and trial, it’s easy to forget what trust feels like and that we are capable of trusting God. These things we wrote on the “trust” side of our card, we find it easier to trust God with these things than others.
Now, turn your card over. Label this side, “mistrust”. Write down something that is difficult to trust God with. This might be a particular relationship, a specific decision, a job, finances.
I’d like for us to talk a minute about trust. You don’t need to share with me what you wrote down. Why it is easier to trust God with some things and not others? What is the difference between the two? Do we think one requires less help from God than the other?
Keep your card with you this week. Take a moment each day when you pray. Pray about the thing you are having a tough time trusting to God. Give thanks to God for helping with both.