Monday, March 14, 2011

First Sunday of Lent

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Lent. To prepare for my message I was reading and studying from Luke 4 (although the “right” passage on the church calendar should have been Matthew 4). What I discovered was that in the past I didn’t give this passage it full meaning. I believe that to fully preach this passage you must include Luke 3 (Matthew 3, if you are preaching Matthew 4).

I encourage you to read Luke 4, I won’t be posting the passage here. In Luke 4 we read of Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the wilderness (when you hear wilderness, think lions and tigers and bears not a camping trip). When I read through this passage I look for words and phrases that stand out. Some of the words that stood were Holy Spirit, led, Jordan, wilderness, 40 (days), Tempted (by the devil), Hungry, If you are the Son of God, Jesus quotes scripture, and high place.

But before I can really understand Luke 4 I need to read Luke 3. In Luke 3 we learn of the one that precedes Jesus, the man we know as John the Baptist. John is speaking to all who will listen of one coming to take away the sins of the world. He pleads with his audience to repent and be baptized. Sounds like a time of consecration (Exodus 19).

In the process of baptizing the listeners, Jesus shows up and asks John to be baptized. Have you ever wondered, “Why did Jesus need to be baptized?”

One writer described Jesus desire to be baptized,

“Jesus's baptism inaugurated his public ministry by identifying with what Luke describes as "all the people." He allied himself with the faults and failures, pains and problems, of all the broken and hurting people who had flocked to the Jordan river. By wading into the waters with them he took his place beside us and among us. Not long into his public mission the religious leaders called Jesus a "friend of gluttons and sinners." With his baptism Jesus openly declares that he stands shoulder to shoulder with us in our fears and anxieties. He intentionally takes sides with all peoples in their neediness.

While Jesus is praying, and after His baptism, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove and descends upon Jesus, did the dove actually land upon Jesus? And the voice of God says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” If I were a good Bible scholar these words should make me jump. These were words spoken before and should help the listener know that what is happening is of God and we need to take notice. Read Isaiah 42 and Psalm 2.

We end Luke 3 with the genealogy of Jesus. It is an odd genealogy that starts at Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather and establishes Jesus as being in the line of David and continues to track his linage through all of history to Adam. Matthew 1 also shows a genealogy of Jesus, that genealogy starts at David and ends at Mary.

Why are the two genealogies different?
Why do we need Joseph’s genealogy since Jesus is not Joseph's genetic son?

Establishing some background allows us to approach Luke 4 with information necessary to understand Luke 4 a bit clearer.

Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River and then heads into the wilderness for 40 days of testing. Does this sound familiar?
  • Noah and his family endured the deluge on board the ark for 40 days and nights (Gen 7:4, 12; 8:6; 9:8-17);
  • Moses fasted for 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai while he received the inscribed words of God (Exod 24:18; 34:27-28; Deut 9:9);
  • Elijah fasted in the desert for 40 days and nights before receiving a new commission from God (1 Kgs 19:8);
  • The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years prior to their arrival in the Promised Land (e.g., Exod 16:35; Deut 2:7)

It is this wilderness setting that we read that Jesus is hungry after fasting for 40 days, it is unclear from the Gospel writers if the temptations happened after the 40 day fast or during the fast. But we know that Jesus is hungry, famished.

The devil starts each of his temptations to Jesus with, “If you are the Son of God...” Because we have read Luke 3 we have been told By God Himself that Jesus is His Son. So maybe the temptation from the devil can be better translated, “Since you are the Son of God…”

The first temptation should again make us remember. It was in the Exodus account that the Israelites were traveling through the wilderness when they too became hungry. The devil tells Jesus to turn the stone to bread but Jesus refuses and quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, but we shouldn’t read just that verse, the passage speaks of God’s word supplying all the needs of the Israelites. God would also supply Jesus’ need in His wilderness journey. Jesus passes the first test of self survival.

Notice as we approach the second temptation the devil is doing the leading. The second temptation, in Luke 4 is done from a high place, presumably a mountaintop (Matthew 4). It is here that Jesus is shown all the kingdoms and cities of the world and told it can be all yours. For an awesome video of this watch the Jesus Miniseries that NBC created, the devil is in a business suit showing a modern snapshot of our world. This picture reminds me of the mountaintop experiences of Moses and Elijah. Jesus is being tempted with worldwide domination. All Jesus has to do is worship the devil. But Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13.

The final temptation is from a high point at the temple in Jerusalem. For me this is the critical test. Jesus has been tempted with self preservation and with world power but now he is being tempted with the ability to be god. Remember Adam and Eve’s temptation? They ate the forbidden fruit so that their eyes would be opened and be like a god. Again Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6, this time verse 16. But I think all of Deuteronomy 6 needs to be read. In this chapter we have the Shema in verse 4 “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.” There is one God, don't test Him!

Imagine the invisible hand of God rescuing Jesus as he leaps from the highest point of the temple. How do you think amazed crowd below would respond to Jesus? His humanity would be vastly overshadowed by his divinity.

Later we will read these words while Jesus hung from the cross as one of the thieves next to Him challenged, or tested Jesus, “If (since) you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

After Jesus has passed the tests imposed upon him we see the devil leave. But did you notice that nowhere in Luke chapter 3 and 4 do we read that the Holy Spirit ever left Jesus. As a matter of fact when we start reading the next verses of Luke 4 the Spirit is still with Him, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit...”

It is my hope that we always recognize that the spirit of God never leaves or abandons us, even when we are tempted or tested.

The first Sunday of Lent marks the start of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus could have sought comfort, security and power but refused. Instead Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of giving. He gave it all away. We are invited to come alongside Jesus in a shared partnership to serve the poor, the sick and the hungry. Not for our selves, but for the glory of God.

No comments: