Lent 1: Hope in the Wilderness

Year A – Lent 1

Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Most Tuesday mornings I give an assembly at Frieth School. It is the most terrifying 15 minutes of my week! This past Tuesday the topic was of course, Shrove Tuesday; I asked the children what does Jesus have to do with pancakes? They answered well and we moved on to Ash Wednesday – again good answers. Then I rounded off the assembly with the story of Matthew 4 using the medium of cartoon.

At the end, a little chap in Year 1, put up his hand and announced that there was nothing about temptation in the cartoon just shown. I realised that I had to expand out what I meant by temptation beyond reducing screen time and sweetie intake for this discerning crowd.

The idea behind fasting for Lent is rooted in this Gospel story; Jesus was able to resist temptation at his weakest points. We give up things in Lent to remind ourselves of the sacrifices that Jesus made. It is not so much about the cakes, chocolates & wine as it is about the attitude of our hearts towards God and the sacrifices of Jesus. Lent always starts with this Gospel reading as set.

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. 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.

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.

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”

There should not be any 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 was not 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.

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.

“Throw Yourself Down From Here”

The second temptation is also about trust in God as 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.’

God is more than capable of handling our questions, our doubts, our anger and even our temptations. They need to be handed over to him though. 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. Adam and Eve were tempted by the prospect of power. They believed, with no proof at all, that eating the apple would make them like God.

The serpent convinced them that there was more to God than he was letting on. Surely just living the good life in the garden was not all that God wanted. Really? The idea that we can become our own ‘god’ is pervasive in current culture. We want to be powerful, image is everything. Is it? People are falling down all over the place – so get torn down, others throw themselves down.

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

It is very difficult to imagine that Jesus would be tempted to worship Satan. This final 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; a quick read of the news and it is easy to see.

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

Finally, what do we do with this? What Satan and so often the world offers us is false. It 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 humans do. We, following the example of Jesus, must choose to make God’s will our own will. We choose through our temptations and wilderness times what kind of Christian we will be. There is hope in the wilderness; 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 is 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.