I love this time of year. Soon it will be spring and we will have much to look forward to. The grass returning to green. The blossoming flowers and the leaves of the trees returning to blow in the breeze. It is a time of renewal and rebirth – but before that renewal can happen we have winter. The dark, cold time where the grass is brittle and brown, the trees have no leaves and the flowers are buried deep in the dirt that is covered with snow. Winter – may seem like a time where nothing is happening but if we think of these two seasons with today’s scripture reading in mind, it can shed new light on our lives.
Today’s reading begins by saying “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit (the same Spirit which had just baptized Him) into the wilderness to be tempted or “tested” by the devil. Jump ahead and we see what Jesus did after his 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness. He began his life of ministry. It was after those 40 days of intentional reflection that He started to preach and teach. He called His first disciples and began to heal the sick. In preparation for all of this though, Jesus first went into a long period of prayer, fasting and temptation. In order to be ready to radically change the world, Jesus first had to get His heart, mind and soul ready. The same is true for us.
If we want to see results in our spiritual life we must put in the work. Don’t be fooled, it is not going to be easy just as it was not for Jesus. Think about when we intentionally try to focus and do better let’s say on a diet…what happens? We are tempted by cake and ice cream and all of a sudden everyone and anyone invites us out to dinner and YUM! We will be tempted just as Jesus Himself was tempted…but at the end of those 40 days what happened? He had the strength to say “Away from me Satan!” Or as I like to say, “be gone from me chocolate!”
Jesus was tempted in three very specific ways in today’s reading. First the tempter said, “IF you are the son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.” What a dig! Jesus was just told at His baptism, shortly before this by a voice from heaven, that “This is my son.” And now He is asked IF you are the son. And while Jesus was hungry from not eating for 40 days, the tempter tells Him, “go ahead, turn these stones into bread.” That devil knows how to play! But how do we see Jesus respond even though he was extremely hungry? He says “It is written, one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus quotes scripture from Deuteronomy. He does not complain about His hunger or lack of sleep…He remains steadfast in the Word of God.
Next Jesus is tempted by the words “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from this mountain.” The devil quotes a Psalm challenging Jesus to take God at His Word by continuing “for God will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Just jump, you’ll be fine. And how does Jesus respond again? Yet again He quotes another verse from Deuteronomy saying “Again it is written, Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” Jesus is giving one scripture precedence over another. No one, not even Jesus, has the right to put God to the test. To test God is to put ourselves in control and tell God to follow our lead.
Finally, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and tells Him “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” And Jesus responds quoting another scripture with “Away with you Satan! For it is written, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.” Reminding us that God is the only master of whom we are to serve.
During Jesus’ time of being led away by the Spirit to focus on His spiritual life he didn’t just give up food. He intentionally focused on praying and scripture. I believe that is what we are all called to do during this season. Just as the Jewish people did centuries ago. This is a time to acknowledge our mortality and our repentance of sin through the symbolism with ashes and giving more of our possessions. We are called to step out of our comfort zones and get uncomfortable. The Jewish people would literally wear clothes (their sack clothes) that would be itchy and scratchy. Intense times of prayer, fasting and penance were common in the Old Testament. There are many fascinating stories in regards to prayer and fasting throughout the Bible if you want to look them up and learn. There are stories of Job, Daniel, Queen Esther and others that involve this intense time of prayer and supplication in addition to the use of ashes. These people took things seriously. This is a time to challenge ourselves and go into mourning for the way things are. Let us take this time, just as Jesus did in the wilderness, to draw closer to God in a more thoughtful, intentional way than we normally do.
If we take a moment to look at our lives right now…what is our satan? Who or what tempts us or is holding us back from fulfilling our purpose on this earth? The purpose to spread the Good News of our Savior Jesus. The purpose to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The purpose to stand up for the downcast in our society. The purpose to say “Enough!” when we see injustices and look for ways to correct them.
Lent is our time to say “The world is not right. I am not right. I am not where I should be on my journey of faith. It is a time to take a deep, hard look inward to see where we need change. And then take it a step farther and actually DO something about it. Perhaps by committing to more prayer, purposeful fasting and more giving to those in need.
As we go through the next 40 days in preparation for Easter, let us examine our lives. Yes, Lent is a dark, melancholy time, but I want to challenge each of us to think of this time of deep reflection as our own personal renewal. As we are not under the Old Testament law anymore. Make a list of what we want to work on. Take a look at the email Donna sent out on Monday for ideas. Commit to reading the Bible, think about what you spend money on. Do you buy too many clothes? Too much take out? Use that money and give it to a local charity. Commit 40 random acts of kindness. Shut off your car radio during your commute and use that time to take in your surroundings or just pray while your driving (with your eyes open of course). Make time for more prayer, more fasting (or just give it a try) and more intentional giving of our resources to those in need. I challenge myself to all of this and pray that you would join me.
Let this time of Lent be the winter of our spiritual life that soon will blossom into spring…if we put the work into it.
*Addition: Read Isaiah 61*
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on us,
because the Lord has anointed us
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent us to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
And now we come to the time in our service where we enter the wilderness just as Jesus did. God shows us through the humanness of Jesus that we are not alone in our struggles and daily temptations. We see Jesus was tempted in many was just as we are…and by the grace and strength of His faith He was able come through it. We acknowledge our own mortality and shortcomings through ashes just as those who came before us did. Let us enter into this journey looking forward to the promise that God gives us in Isaiah…that in the end He will give us beauty for our ashes.
Scripture Reading for March 1, 2020 Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.