Summary: A SERMON FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT 2009. We accompany Jesus into the wilderness and an encounter with the Tempter
Journeying with Jesus through Lent #1: ‘Into the Wilderness’
Sermon Series: Lent 2009
Both our stories from the Bible have common themes for us today, as last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) we began our Lenten preparations, and as the global economic crisis seems to cast its dark shadow over the lives of so many people.
Our first theme is that of ‘Wilderness’ – the wilderness Jesus experienced, and our ‘wilderness’ experiences.
Our second theme is the ‘Bringer of New Life’ – in the person of Jesus, and in us as we follow his example.
The third theme is ‘New Beginnings in a New Relationship with God’ – surely what we all strive for, as Christian people, through our Lenten reflections and prayer as we look towards the wonder, the deep joy, of Easter.
But first, I suppose we all know the story of Noah? We can see these three themes clearly in this story. It’s a story I grew up with, and remember from early childhood. In a nutshell, God decides that the only way to ‘redeem’ the world is to begin again. To begin again with a small family – Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives. God decided to begin again with creation: Noah is entrusted to collect and care for seven pairs each of ‘clean’ animals and birds, and one pair each of ‘unclean’ animals (there seems to be a place for the ‘imperfect’ even in God’s new creation!). God’s will seems to be to ‘destroy evil’ and replace with ‘good’. Also in the Noah story are the forty days and nights in what we might call the ‘wilderness’ of the flood – then the messenger of New Life comes in the form of a dove returning with a freshly-plucked olive leaf. Then the glorious sign of New Relationship with God – the rainbow: the sign of a New Covenant Promise that God will never again destroy the earth with water.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism begins with water, of course, and again we see the dove (the Holy Spirit) as the bringer of New Life – a life lived with God’s pleasure affirmed and blessing bestowed upon Jesus. God decided that the only way to ‘redeem’ the world is by entering into the world in a very personal, intimate way – in the person of Jesus. God decides to enter the world and be alongside those who suffer, who are lost, and who are the victims of the evil of the world. God decides to enter the world in Jesus, who is to proclaim the possibility of a new relationship with God, and the nearness of God’s kingdom. But first, before Jesus’ public ministry begins, a time of preparation – a time in the wilderness for forty days and nights. A time of focusing on his dependence on God (his need of God over and above everything else in – and of – the world). And it is also a time of temptation (the temptation to depend upon the power and influence of the world – to let the ways of the ‘world’ take precedence over God’s ways).
Let’s concentrate upon Jesus’ wilderness experience for a while – and upon the trials he battled with. For even though Mark does not mention the Tempter’s challenges specifically (as do Matthew 4:1ff and Luke 4:1ff) perhaps they are especially relevant to us as we begin our forty days and night journey through Lent – and as the greater part of the world is plunged into the effects of economic recession.
The first trial Jesus is faced with is the temptation to satisfy his hunger. Yet there is more here than meets the eye, for it is a temptation to use his God-given power for his own personal use. Certainly, and if we take as examples the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes and providing wine from water, we can be assured that he had the ability to turn stones into bread. The Tempter is tempting Jesus to misuse the POWER he has – the power that is a gift of God.
The second trial Jesus is faced with is to worship his Tempter. And what would be the reward? POWER! It would be the authority and glory he would gain as governor, as ruler, of the whole world and all its kingdoms. What power that would be! And what riches and influence would be his – just like that! And what a temptation it is today, for individuals, corporations, multi-nationals, and nations. The Tempter is still there in our midst, tempting humanity with the promise of great worldly power and wealth. And the Tempter’s influence is being so devastatingly felt today.
The third challenge Jesus receives from the Tempter is to throw himself from a great height, to prove that he is the Son of God, and that God will protect him from all danger. Imagine the scene if Jesus had agreed to submit to the Tempter’s request! Imagine the crowds gathering (for the Tempter loves to display his power over his subjects!) to witness the great ability of Jesus the Messiah as he performs such a wonderful feat! And imagine how great the acclaim and fortune of Jesus would be as he defies even the laws of gravity (not that they would have called it that!). Certainly news would travel fast of his POWER and his fame.