Summary: The power of Lent is in the wilderness of letting go and disengaging with the world so that we can reconnect to God.
Introduction: The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is a pivotal event in His life. It is recorded in Mark, Luke, and Matthew. This week we read Matthew’s account. It comes right after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan and before His formal ministry begins. Hear now the word of the Lord.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards He was famished. The tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took Him to the holy city and placed Him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command His angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to Him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.’”
Then the devil left Him, and suddenly angels came and waited on Him.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, for us the thought of withdrawing from our comforts is so foreign. Help us to understand how You model the struggle and the victory over our Lenten temptations. Amen.
I want you to notice something very important in this story: the timing of the events. First, Jesus is baptized, and then the Spirit leads Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. But before He is tempted, He fasts for forty days and forty nights. Jesus is preparing Himself for the battle. He is modeling a behavior that we should imitate. Jesus is resting, pausing, taking some time off before digging into the hard work of fighting off the devil and the strenuous work of His ministry.
Perhaps the best-known modern literary treatment of the temptation of Christ is “The Grand Inquisitor’s Speech” from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jesus appears on earth. He is recognized and heals many, but then He is arrested. During the night, the Grand Inquisitor comes to Him. He says that Jesus failed. He accuses Jesus of missing His chance in the wilderness. He could have acted to change all of human history (feeding the hungry, forcing people to choose the good and taking control of the world as was supposedly intended); but instead, He resists Satan, does nothing and allows hunger and sin to continue. For this, says the Inquisitor, He deserved to be executed.
Did Jesus miss His chance? I don’t think so. I think that Jesus conquered evil in the wilderness, but before He could do that He meditated and fasted. He prepared Himself by emptying Himself.
If you think about it, after the baptism by John, Jesus might have been anxious to start His formal ministry. The baptism must have given Him a burst of energy, but before He can jump into His work, the Spirit leads Him off to the wilderness.
Lent is the time when we are called to pull back, to rest and examine our lives, to access our faith and renew our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. During this season, we are to repent—to turn to God and release those material things that we think we control, but actually control us.
The power of Lent is in the wilderness of letting go. Lent calls us to pause, to reflect, to disengage. I know that I need time to pause before every important task. Even when I’ve finished my research for a sermon, I can’t write it until I’ve had some ruminating time. I often find that if I sleep on it, I can get up and write the sermon easily.
Lent reminds us that disengaging is healing. Without refueling and re-energizing, our spiritual, physical, and intellectual lives suffer. As we unplug and unwind, we find that the Spirit leads us to a place of spiritual rest to prepare us for what lies ahead.
So in the season of Lent, where do we begin to disengage? Probably the best place to start is with our calendars. If you have a calendar with you, you might pull it out. Look at the dates and activities you have already scheduled for the next six weeks. Is there a day of the week where there is some open time? It might be a different day every week in the next six, but write down Lenten rest on those days. Do it right now, or immediately when you get home to your calendar.