February 17, 2013
I. Lent is a 40 day space between recognizing Jesus as God among us after Epiphany and rejoicing in his resurrection on Easter. We seek spiritual renewal and listen for God with greater attentiveness. What is God saying in the spaces?
A. Our nation, if not much of our world, is in an uncomfortable space between an economy of abundance and of scarcity, between the rivalries of superpowers and the decentralized threats of terrorism from many angles.
B. Personally we are always living in the spaces between stages of family life (marriage, birth of children, school age, adolescence, adulthood, empty nest, children-in-law, grandchildren). Stages of career and job. Stages preparing for the prime of life and declining from our prime. The spaces of interruptions longer than times of stability.
C. In this interim time, this congregation is in the space between pastors, the familiar and the unknown. The space between ministry as we’ve done it and as we will do it.
II. Luke 4:1-13 tells how Jesus was tested by the devil in the space between his baptism and starting his ministry. The Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism so he could begin.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,2where for forty days he was tested by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “Since you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “Since you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
A. The 40 days of Lent are modeled after Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. Sundays are not counted, and call us back to resurrection joy. The 40 days of Lent also remind us that Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days receiving the Law, and the Israelites were 40 years in the wilderness.
B. If you were following along in Luke 4, you may have noticed I said Jesus was “tested” not “tempted.” The word can mean “tempt” but much more often means “test.” The devil was not trying to trick Jesus into a sin as much as testing to expose him as disqualified for his redemptive ministry. I also said “since you are the Son of God” not “if you are.” The devil was not trying to get Jesus to prove he was the Son of God. He knew that. He was testing for what he would do as the Son of God. Luke used the Greek word diabolos from which we get devil. When we talked about Job in October, you may remember the Hebrew word hasatan from which we get Satan. The idea was a prosecuting attorney bringing accusations. That is what the devil was doing here. Testing to see if Jesus would take a shortcut on his mission.
C. Jesus’ testing warns us not to take shortcuts on our journeys as his disciples.
III. Neither Matthew nor Luke report what happened during Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, but they do describe these 3 tests that kept coming, which prepares us for the tests we expect.
A. To turn a stone to bread was not just about satisfying Jesus’ immediate hunger but an attempt to get Jesus to use his power as a magic shortcut to his ministry of meeting human needs, such as hunger. A careful reading of all the Gospels clearly shows that Jesus typically hid his miracles and met a need rather than proved a point. The offering of the first fruits we read from Deuteronomy 26 were not a ritual to curry God’s favor but a practical way to meet the needs of the aliens, widows and orphans who were weak and poor. Instead of a magic shortcut to address the needs of people today, Jesus calls us to lifelong justice and compassionate generosity as his disciples.
B. Though Jesus knew that God is sovereign over the universe, he did not dispute the devil’s claim to the glory and authority of the kingdoms of the world. He refused the shortcut offered by the devil. To worship was not just to kneel and say some worship words, it would have been to adopt the devil’s means of maintaining worldly glory and authority: the force and violence of political and military power. As we read in Romans 10, renouncing worldly power may feel weak, but God assures us that “no one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
C. Central to Jesus’ mission was forming a band of disciples through whom the Holy Spirit would build the Church. The devil suggests the shortcut of a spectacular leap from the Temple pinnacle that would surely attract a crowd. Jesus knew the difference between testing God and trusting God. He refused the shortcut of instant results and stayed with the long term plan of making disciples. While they may be legitimate tools, multi-media worship with contemporary music, wiz bang advertising and electrifying preaching are not shortcuts to evangelism and church growth that build disciples. As we read in Romans 10, God’s long-range plan is for us to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. Word of mouth may seem slower than mass media, but it is God’s solid way.
IV. If we are listening for the voice of God in the space of Jesus’ test between his baptism and ministry, what can we hear that will help us avoid shortcuts on our journeys as his disciples?
A. Jesus’ answer to each test was a word from Scripture – all three of them from Deuteronomy 6, 8. Maybe you feel you don’t know enough Scripture. Count on God to give you what you need to recognize a shortcut and choose the path of discipleship. But don’t be complacent. Commit to a lifetime of continuous learning the Bible, not just the information but get so saturated with it that it changes you and becomes you. I love Abba Poeman’s image. A stone is hard and water is soft, but a stone can be shaped by repeatedly dripping water on it. Our hearts are hard and scripture is soft but by repeatedly exposing our hearts to God’s Word, they are shaped to match the heart of Jesus.
B. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism. He was full of the Holy Spirit when he went to the wilderness to be tested. After the testing, he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit when he returned to Galilee to start his ministry. In January and February we focused on the Holy Spirit. Sensitivity to the nudges of the Holy Spirit will steer us away from shortcuts. Openness to the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit will give us the ability and fortitude for the journey of discipleship.
C. When we refuse the devil’s shortcuts, we are committing to the path of patience. Instant maturity is an oxymoron, but just getting older doesn’t necessarily produce maturity. That requires awareness and discipline. Lent is an opportunity to awaken our awareness of God and renew our spiritual discipline. As I’ve said before: Bible, prayer and worship with God’s people. Whatever you have chosen for a Lenten discipline, the persistence it requires is certainly less than Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. Like training camp for athletes, those 40 days were preparation for Jesus’ ministry. Our Lenten disciplines are not an end or goal in themselves but are preparation for ministry of meeting human need, building an outpost of the reign of God as a congregation, inviting people to become Jesus’ disciples by word of mouth.