Lent 1: Living under the Illusion

Lent 1 – Year A


Lent 1

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Well here we are: the first Sunday of Lent. I’m not sure what this season means for you or if you do anything differently – more prayer or fasting or the traditional giving up or denial of an essential or a treat. I have found for myself that I need to spend more time praying so have decided to add in more prayer time at the beginning and ending of each day. I am more mindful of what I eat and drink; basically I’m trying to pay more attention to the less interesting details of life. I am checking on what is taking up my time and attention and redistributing to activities that are hopefully more beneficial – like prayer.

Our readings this morning find us with Jesus, full of the Spirit being led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. This is always the set gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent.

Jesus is not treated as we might expect post-baptism. If you have been to a baptism recently you may have experienced a lavish celebration after the event! There is no cake or bouncy castle for Jesus, no lingering in the glory of baptism for him! In Jesus’ baptism, his identity is revealed by God as being God’s son, precious and beloved. The Spirit then leads him into the wilderness where that truth will be powerfully tested and assaulted by Satan.

We may question why God would choose to do this to his beloved Son. Isn’t that the question that we ask when things happen to us that we weren’t expecting or desiring? Why me?! Come on God – why?

One explanation for Jesus’ temptation is that he had to determine what kind of Messiah he was going to be. Jesus was at the very start of his public ministry; He might as well start as he means to go on.

There is something specific in the temptations that Satan used, he is shrewd! Satan tailors the temptations to each person’s challenges. I don’t think this was the first time Jesus had been tempted; He was tempted just as we are in our day-to-day living. The difference is that Jesus was without sin. I know – come on! Don’t let that be an excuse for not trying to resist though or to give in at every opportunity.

I want to briefly look at the temptations that Jesus faced and what they might say to us today.

“Tell This Stone to Become Bread”

Let’s not doubt that Jesus could not have done that. He was after all hungry. He had been fasting for forty days! He could have made himself a lovely, fresh loaf and satisfied his hunger right then and there. Served himself as he had the power to.

It was the Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness, this wasn’t something he decided to do himself. He trusted his Father in heaven so to turn the stone into bread would have shown distrust in his father.

Many of us have the power to look after ourselves, provide for ourselves to a standard that we see fit. I can do it myself thank you very much! And probably better than you could anyway.

Truth is though I don’t always do a better job when I do it myself. Sometimes I think that I should be fired for the job I am doing with myself!
I am more likely to turn bread to stone than a stone into bread.

By doing things for ourselves all the time, we too can stop exercising trust in God to provide for us. His provision is always better, remember we too are his beloved and precious children.

“If You Worship Me, It Will All Be Yours”

I can’t imagine that for a second that Jesus would be tempted to worship Satan. I think this temptation is more about Jesus wanting to take Satan’s authority out of his hands. This authority is temporary and limited but it still is very real.

It is not hard to see when we look at the state that the world is in. Jesus is coming again and will reign in this world but not until all things have happened according to God’s kingdom calendar.

Sometimes we may find ourselves wanting to take control of a situation, overtake another person, get our own way. We want to be the centre of attention.

Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden listen to the wrong voice and it didn’t end well for them. The serpent cast doubt in their minds, the apple was eaten and out of the garden they went. God gave them one prohibition and a relatively small one at that.

We listen to the wrong voices! We worship the wrong things, the wrong people, the wrong stuff – thinking that they hold the key to our security. It is only in God that we will ever be truly secure. Who are we worshipping today?

“Throw Yourself Down From Here”

Finally, Satan wants Jesus to put God to the test. This never ends well! Sometimes we put God to the test too when we try to bargain with him. I’ll do this, if you’ll do that.’ There are more extreme versions of this: people who don’t seek medical attention for a serious issue followed by a public proclamation of God’s obligation to heal you. Driving a car too fast and then saying it is God’s responsibility to keep you safe.

God is more than capable of handling our questions, our doubts, our anger and even our temptations – when we give them over to him through prayer and fasting. What is not acceptable is dangling these things, threatening to do them in order to make God responsible for our actions.

What’s the root here? Power. People crave power and Satan knows this. We want to be in control of our own lives, destinies, plans.

Jane Williams writes, ‘Adam and Eve believed, with no other proof at all, that eating the apple would make them like God, and they believed it because that was what they wanted. They knew, with some part of themselves, that they were made to be like God, but they had this sneaking feeling that there was more to it than God was letting on to them. Surely just living in harmony with things and taking care of all that God had made couldn’t be what it was really like to be God?’

Finally, what do we do with this? What Satan and so often what the world offers us is false and will not give us what we think it will. It’s an illusion. Adam and Eve fell for it even though they had heard directly from God about what he had to offer them. Jesus did not despite his circumstances.  The time of temptation was to establish that Jesus had choices and desires of his own, like all human’s, and must choose to make God’s will his own will.

This is true for us to, we will choose through our temptations and wilderness times what kind of Christian we will be. In the end we will choose God’s way or our own way. Notice that God does not abandon Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus is ministered to by the angels. When we find ourselves in the wilderness we are not abandoned as it is Jesus who tends to us.

Lent can be a wilderness season of sorts as we make time (or should make time) to examine where we are at with God. Jesus was able to answer Satan at each turn with scripture from Deuteronomy. Maybe we need to brush up on what the bible says (or doesn’t)!

A wilderness season however challenging will never be wasted if we believe and know that God with us, that those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, that our identity lies in being His beloved son or daughter. If we can hang on to that, then whatever the wilderness throws at us, whatever illusions we live under can be overcome.

Author: Sue Lepp

Newly appointed Priest-in-Charge of the Hambleden Valley Group of Churches and will start later in January 2021. Time for a new start at the beginning of a new year. I served my curacy in the Parish of Langley Marish and trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Former Nurse in both Canada and the UK. Specialised in Palliative Care, Gynaecology-Oncology and a bit of Orthopaedics (just to keep me travelling). Worked as a MacMillan Nurse Specialist in a few specialities in London.

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