Summary: A sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, Series A
1st Sunday in Lent, February 10, 2008, “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Almighty God, your Son fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, but remained faithful to you and to his mission to redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to overcome our weakness, that we might be strengthened in the faith of our baptism, and walk in communion with you. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
In the verses that precede our Gospel lesson for this morning, Matthew records Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist at the Jordan. There, Matthew tells us that as Jesus immerged from the waters, the heavens were opened, the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus, and a voice from heaven was heard declaring, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am will pleased.”
And the first thing that the Spirit does, is to lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Doesn’t this seem a little odd, that the Spirit of God, that was to strengthen Jesus throughout his ministry, would, before he preached his first sermon, before he called his first disciple, before he performed his first miracle, lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted? And yet, this is what all three of the Synoptic Gospel proclaim. So lets look at our text and try to discern what this event, that precedes Jesus’ ministry proclaims.
First, Matthew tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. That number is significant, not so much because it inspired the time frame for the season of Lent, but because it is reminiscent of the 40 years that Israel wandered in the wilderness during the Exodus. Following the last of the ten plagues, which God inflicted upon Egypt to free Israel from bondage, they were tested in faith before entering the Promised Land.
Israel had just entered into a covenantal relationship with God, who not only freed them from bondage, but also gave them the Ten Commandments as the means by which they might live in relationship with God. During those 40 years, Israel’s faith was tested, that they might trust in God, and become his people by embracing the terms of his covenant.
Thus, Jesus, following his baptism, in which he was proclaimed the Son of God, and before he began his ministry, spent 40 days in the wilderness in which he came to embrace and to trust, in his humanity, the terms of the new covenant that God would enact, through him.
And during those 40 days of spiritual retreat, Matthew tells us that Jesus fasted, and at the end of that time of fasting, he was famished. Well, according to the commentaries that I read on this text, that does not mean that this was the first of Jesus’ miracles. “Fasting” does not mean that Jesus had nothing to eat or drink for forty days. None of us could survive that. Jesus most like ate berries and drank from streams, enough to sustain his life. However, fasting indicates a period of self-denial, in which Jesus came to reflect upon what it meant to live in a covenantal relationship with God. In other words, he trusted God to provide for his basic needs, as he contemplated how he might live his life according to his Father’s will.