the one about jesus in the wilderness...
March 6, 2017, 7:05 AM

Sermon from March 5, 2017

Text: Matthew 4: 1-11

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen.

So, here we are. Lent has begun. Again. On this first Sunday in Lent we are reminded again of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Wilderness. A place far away. Removed from the world.

As we think about what a physical wilderness is, those are some of the ways that we would use to describe such a place. But, theologically our ‘wilderness’ moments aren’t exactly like that.

For many of us, we would describe our ‘wilderness’ in the life of faith as a sense of ‘being.’ We might describe our wilderness as a feeling of being lost in some way. Lost in a world that seems to be rushing by. Lost in a wayward journey through faith filled with doubts, tests, and obstacles.

Perhaps you might describe the wilderness in your life as a result of something you believe you’ve done or failed to do. The wilderness is a time of ‘punishment’ against you or you see a friend or family member experiencing.

Those are how we describe our own wilderness moments and experiences. So, there is the temptation to think that Jesus must be going through something similar. He’s literally removed from society. He’s wandering through the desert for 40 days, so he might be lost. He’s being tempted and tested by the evil one. That sounds pretty similar to how we might describe our own wilderness experiences. We are just like Jesus! Right?

No, not really. Jesus’ experience in the wilderness being tempted and tested does not quite equate to what we experience in our own wilderness moments in our life.

In this pivotal story from our gospel this morning, we see Jesus in the wilderness in an effort to prove to us who and whose Jesus is. It is here that we are shown proof of Jesus’ readiness as God’s beloved Son.

Jesus isn’t lost. He’s guided by the Holy Spirit to this place of preparation. He’s gone here for a purpose. To be tested and tempted within his debate with the evil one.

Before we get to this point in Matthew’s gospel, the writer has been building up the credentials of Jesus. We’ve got his family history. We have miraculous stories regarding his own birth. We are introduced to wise men who have sought and journeyed to pay him homage and respect. His very existence is so frightening to the king of the land that extreme measures are taken in order to thwart this one day would-be king of the Jews.

Jesus’ ministry plan at this point has begun as well. He’s been baptized. The clouds have opened. The Spirit has descended. The Voice has bellowed – this is my son, the beloved, with whom I’m well pleased.

We’ve got all of that, and still we are given more. We are told this story as even further proof as to who Jesus is. That this one – this Son of God – truly is who he claims and proclaims himself to be because he withstood and ‘passed’ the test in the wilderness. His preparation is complete.

Jesus is tempted and tested with those things that would buckle even the most faithful person. Hunger, safety, power, and loyalty.

Jesus is hungry. He’s offered the chance to relieve his hunger by turning stones to bread.

The Evil One knows that this man is special – wouldn’t God not let you be injured? Why not prove me wrong?

Look at all these kingdoms – it could all be yours. Free reign. So long as you bend the knee.

I’m pretty certain everyone would’ve fallen to at least one if not all of these tests. Especially that last one. I like to think I’d be a very benevolent dictator.

Yet, in each test Jesus’ response is ‘no.’ He continually thwarted the evil one’s plan and agenda. Jesus withstands when each of us would’ve succumbed.

Now, many might say here that you just gotta be like Jesus! Must withstand! Don’t turn your back on God! Be strong against temptation like our Lord Jesus!

But, we gathered here earlier this week for Ash Wednesday. Where within that service we confessed our sin. We confessed our failure to live into the life that God has set before us. We did this by our fault. Our own fault. Our own most grievous fault.

We journey through Lent with the idea and the goal of ‘giving something up.’ It may be coffee, or fast food. You might give up saying or thinking harsh things about strangers you encounter. But, all it takes is one rushed and full afternoon, with little sleep the night before, and that jerk just swerved and cut you off!

I just had to do it. Who wouldn’t? I was hungry, I was tired, that guy really is a jerk!

We fall. We always do.

So, what are we told in this gospel story this morning? It isn’t that Jesus is just super squeaky clean in life. It isn’t that Jesus is just better than us and is a model that we couldn’t ever possibly hope to live up to.

We are reminded this day that Jesus withstood the temptation and test of the evil one – not to rub it in our noses that he is so much better than us. We don’t read this story in hope that we can ‘be just like our Lord.’ If we do that – we end up feeling a little envious, perhaps a tad bitter, because no matter what we won’t get there.

This day – this first Sunday of Lent – we are reminded of who and whose Jesus is. We are reminded and given proof that Jesus is exactly who he claims to be. If the body of work that preceded this story didn’t convince us of this – then surely this story is the cherry on top.

Jesus is able to do this because of who he is. He is the Son of God. He’s able to stand firm in the presence of God because he is God’s son.

So, again – what does that mean for us?

For that we turn to the very end of Matthew’s Gospel. It is here that Jesus tells his disciples – Jesus tells us – that he is with us always, to the end of the age.

Throughout this Gospel – throughout our Gospel led life – we are reminded that the one we follow has already gone before us. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again. We worship, we live for, we serve with a God who has come to be with us. Through everything.

We don’t worship a God who is out there somewhere over the rainbow. We don’t worship a God who set life in motion and then just left us to fend for ourselves. No, we worship a God who has fashioned us from the dust, whose hands are dirty with creation and life, whose breath has given us new and renewed life, who continues to be at work in and amongst us.

God’s never left.

We are reminded that in the temptations we face. In the tests that we endure. God is there.

Even when we fall. Even when we experience setbacks. Even when we turn away. God is there.

God is there to remind us of who and whose we are.

Reminding us that who we are – those relationships we’ve cultivated, the accolades and the accomplishments we’ve acquired, those things that make us ‘who’ we are. All of that can end in an instant or a moment. It can all come crashing down.

But, we are reminded throughout our scriptures and in this season of Lent about whose we are. We. Are. God’s.

That is eternal. That never ceases.

So, we move through this journey during the season of Lent. Striving, hoping, and praying that we are able to withstand the temptations of our lives. We seek to ‘give up’ those things that draw us away from the love of our Lord. Those moments that keep us from seeing those around us as fellow beloved children of our God. We give up those times where we stop seeing the Spirit present in our lives as we read through scripture, pray, give of ourselves and our possessions, caring for those around us, and more. In all of that we will most likely fall short. We always do.

Yet, we remember that in spite of those falls. God is with us. Jesus is calling us. The Spirit is guiding us.

Where we remember that we live into that sort of life not so that God will love us or continue to love us, but we live into that sort of life of faith because God does love us. Because Jesus has already gone before us. Because the Spirit is always guiding us.

Lent isn’t about measuring up (or more accurately failing to measure up). Lent is a reminder that we are tempted and tested throughout our life and though we might fail and fall in those moments, Christ is there to pull us up. God moves us forward because we cannot do it on our own.

Lent is that constant reminder that God is here. Not as the overbearing and judgmental figure to impose harsh punishments. But, instead as that constant presence of grace and love.

We cannot live a life of faith like Christ. But, we can live a life of faith because of Christ.

The debt has been paid. The victory has been won. The foe has been defeated.

We get to live for and with God. And God is always with us – on the mountain, in the valley. Amidst the plain and especially in the wilderness, wherever it takes us – no matter what. Amen.

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