Who was it that has said that we don’t have the privilege of living our lives backwards. If we lived our lives backwards we could see all the things we could change and prepare for them. But as it is, we live our lives forwards, and sometimes it is not until we get past a certain point that we can look back and see where we have been and where God has been in our lives.
We are at the edge of a figurative wilderness, you and I. This is the first Sunday in Lent. We have a month-and-a-half journey in which we contemplate our Lord’s journey to the cross. But, because we live 2,000 years after Jesus lived, we stand at a privileged place where we can look back at that journey and see where God stretched out a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and, with a terrifying display of power, brought Jesus from the tomb to new life and, in so doing, has destroyed death for each and every one of us.
But Jesus was living his journey forwards and so were his disciples. When he spent his own forty days in the Judean wilderness being tempted by the devil, he didn’t know ahead of time how it would all play out. He met each and every temptation forwards, one at a time, just as you and I meet each and every little juggle and jolt life sends our way.
So, when the devil tempted Jesus to turn the stones to bread, Jesus found himself quoting scripture to Satan: “One does not live by bread alone.”
When the devil tempted him with worldwide power, Jesus found himself quoting scripture again: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
So then the devil turned the tables and used some verses from scripture to tempt Jesus to jump from the highest part of the temple. But Jesus one last time found himself using the most appropriate verse there probably was for this situation: “Do not put your Lord to the test.” So, Satan went away.
Now, if you are one who believes that God regularly intervenes in human affairs you might say to yourself, “God, the Father, brought his son, Jesus, through a hard time. God gave him the words to say back to Satan.” You see, there is experience and then there is the way we interpret experience. For instance, this past week NBC covered the tornadoes in Alabama. They interviewed a man whose home was the only one in a square mile which had not been flattened. He said, “The Lord saved my home.” Well, if that is true, then did the Lord flatten the hundred other homes? This man’s experience was that his home had been saved. His interpretation was that God did that.
I confess to thinking that it is a bit contrived and somewhat dangerous when we ascribe all the good things that happen in life to God smiling on us. If you think that way you then have to ask if the bad things which happen to us are given to us by God. Some people believe this. Some say that the bad things which happen to us are God’s way of punishing us. That is a tremendously harmful way of thinking. Sure, there is a whole lot of punishing going on in the Old Testament, but you can look at that a couple of different ways. 1) Plagues and the like may have been true experiences, but the interpretation of that experience was flawed. It was not, in fact, God’s wrath … simply occurrences of nature. Or, if you need to think that God punished in Old Testament times, then you can also think that the New Testament is the good news of a mind change on the part of God. Punishment didn’t work. Salvation is the only answer.
Your interpretation might be that God intervened on the behalf of Jesus in the wilderness temptations with Satan. God made Jesus say those things. In reality, it may be a bit more subtle than that. A bit less supernatural. It may be that the very same gifts God gave Jesus to help him with his temptations … it may be that God gives each and every one of us those gifts as well.
God gave Jesus the gift of wisdom. Jesus made wise decisions in the wilderness. Jesus knew the difference between right and wrong. God gives you and me the gift of wisdom, as well. We know the difference between right and wrong. God gave Jesus the gift of reason … in this case specific verses of scripture which gave him purpose and meaning and allowed Jesus to evaluate his experience in light of God’s word. Thirdly, God gave Jesus the gift of common sense which is really a combination of wisdom, reason, and experience. We just know reflexively, even without thinking about it much, what is right and what is wrong. Common sense is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. But, lastly, God gives us the assurance that she is present with us continually and eternally.
I think that all of us are tested from time to time. Just as Jesus was tempted. But I recoil when I hear folks say, “The Lord is testing my faith.” I continually marvel at those who pretend to know the mind of the Lord. Bad things are a test of faith, certainly. But it would seem to me that an all-knowing God doesn’t need to perform little psychological experiments on his children to see how they might behave.
Better it is to say that in times of trial and temptation our Lord gives us the gifts to face those experiences. Bad things happen to good people. Even more maddening is when very good things happen to bad people! It truly does rain on the just while the sun shines on the unjust. But when things get tough for us, God has given us the same gifts he gave his son in the wilderness: wisdom, reason, common sense, and the assurance of God’s continual and eternal presence.
Jesus may have beaten back his temptations and trials in the wilderness, but more were to come. That will be the focus of our journey, this Lent, as Jesus makes his way toward Jerusalem, toward Golgotha. And, as we journey together in worship we will rehearse the mighty acts of God: “A wondering Aramean was our ancestor (and from him came a great nation.)” We will hear proclaimed, “On the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord took bread, broke it, and said, this is my body…”
Each Sunday we will rehearse our testimony, “I confess that I have sinned by things I have done and by things I have left undone.”
We will rehearse our testimony: Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.”
We will rehearse our testimony: “ I believe in God the father Almighty…”
We will rehearse our testimony: “Go in peace. Celebrate! Think! Serve!”
It may be Lent, but we won’t stop hearing the good news that God does work in and through our lives and that our God is a mighty God. God instills in each and every one of us the most awesome gifts and talents. She has given us the power to confront sin, death and oppression. She has given us the faith to wholeheartedly shout out the last two words of each and every worship service, “Thanks be to God!!!”
Text: Luke 4:1-13