Summary: God is with us in the wilderness of our lives just as God was with Jesus in the wilderness when he was being tempted by Satan.
To The Wilderness and Back
March 4, 2001
Sixty-three days ago today we began the New Year of 2001 and started on
our journey into the next millennium. It’s exciting to be part of the human race that will live and make history in the next millennium. I remember when I was growing up one of my father’s favorite responses to me when I wanted to do something was, “Yea, I’ll let you do that in the next millennium, or when a certain warm spot freezes over.” It was as if the next millennium was so far off that it would never get here. Well, that certain warm spot hasn’t frozen over yet, but the next millennium is definitely here.
Speaking about a certain place freezing over, I heard a story the other day about hell freezing over. It seems that a rough and gruff man from Massachusetts who didn’t live a very good life died and went to hell. The devil really wanted to punish him, so he put him to work
breaking up rocks with a sledgehammer. To make it worse he cranked up the temperature and the humidity.
After a couple of days the Devil checked in on the man to see if he was
suffering adequately. The Devil was aghast as he looked at the man from Massachusetts happily swinging his hammer and whistling a happy tune.
The Devil walked up to him and said, “I don’t understand this. I’ve turned
the heat way up, it’s humid, you’re crushing rocks and sweating. Why are you so happy?” The man smiled, looked at the Devil said, “This is great, it reminds me of the hot humid August days back in Massachusetts. This is fantastic! It’s just like home”
The Devil decided to change things a bit. He dropped the temperature, sent down driving rain and torrential wind. Soon, hell was a wet, muddy mess. The man from Massachusetts was happily slogging through the mud pushing a wheelbarrow full of crushed rocks.
Again, the Devil asked how this man could be so happy in such conditions. The man replied, “This is great. Just like April back in Massachusetts. It reminds me of working out in the fields doing the spring planting!
The Devil was completely baffled. In desperation, he tried one last ditch
effort. He made the temperature plummet. Hell was blanketed in snow and ice. Confident that this has done it, the Devil checked in on the
man. He couldn’t believe his eyes as he saw the man dancing, singing, and
twirling his sledgehammer in glee. “How can you be so happy. Don’t you realize its 40 below zero!?” screamed the Devil. “Hell’s frozen over!” replied the man from Massachusetts, “The Patriots have won the Superbowl!”
Well, back to the new millennium… I wonder how many of us made our usual New Year’s resolutions 63 days ago, and how many of us have stuck with those resolutions ? Isn’t that the way it usually works. The ice cream that we swear off, the cashews that we say we will never eat again and the chocolate Mounds Bar we say we will only eat once a week, have a way of slowly creeping back into our lives. And that exercise bike looked so good last month, didn’t it ? We were sure it would be a lot more comfortable than it really was. But you know, the more we look at it, the more we think it serves better as a place to hang our clothes. Our shirts fit so perfect over the handlebars.
But you know for those of us who need a second chance with our New Year’s resolutions of giving things up, Lent offers us that second chance.
Fasting and self-denial are two aspects of Lent. The tradition of fasting during Lent comes from Jesus fasting in the desert for forty days before being tempted by the devil. Our forty days of Lent is really symbolic of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. That is why we start off Lent with this passage of Scripture we read this morning that places Jesus in the desert for forty days.
Now for you mathematicians out there who have just counted the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, on your fingers and toes, you will note that there are more than forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Well, we only count Monday through Saturday, we don’t count Sundays. Those are considered holy days. Now count again and you will see that there are forty days of Lent.
Now that I have wetted your appetite with that little bit of information, I bet you are all wondering how the date for Easter Sunday gets set, because it is different every year. Well, here’s a little history lesson. Prior to 325 A.D., Easter was celebrated on different days of the week. In 325 A.D. a group of religious leaders got together at the direction of emperor Constantine. They had a meeting that was called the Council of Nicaea. They issued what is known today as the Easter Rule, which states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the first day of spring.