Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, August 24, 2019
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Testing (March 10 2019)

Luke 4:1-13

Today is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. Lent is 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. But, technically, Sundays are not part of Lent. Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. And Lent is about repentance and grief over our sins. Celebration and grieving don’t really go together. But in Lent, we tend to “tone down” the celebration on Sundays and focus on discipleship and what it means to live a penitent life.

The number of days, forty, comes from this story, as well as others in Scripture. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is led into the wilderness for forty days. There is a parallel here to the story of the Exodus. In the Exodus, Israel was “baptized” in the Red Sea. Baptism represents death and new life. They “died” as slaves and were “reborn” as free people. And they spent forty years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. The number forty shows up in other stories. Moses fasted for forty days on top of Mt. Sinai. Elijah fasted for forty days as he traveled back to Sinai.

In Scripture, wilderness is portrayed as a place of preparation. Moses was prepared in the desert of Midian to lead Israel. Israel was prepared in the wilderness to live as a free people after generations of slavery. David was prepared in the wilderness while he was on the run from Saul to be a king. Elijah was prepared at Sinai to face the challenges ahead of him in his prophetic ministry. Paul was prepared in the three years he spent in Arabia to take the gospel to the Gentile nations. And Jesus was prepared for his public ministry by his forty days in the wilderness.

Jesus spent that time in the Judean wilderness, the same region where David hid from Saul for almost ten years. The Judean wilderness, also called Jeshimmon, meaning “devastation,” was the hot, dry, and desolate region of sharp rocks and sheer cliffs in between the Judean highlands and the Dead Sea. It was not a pleasant place.

But that’s where the Holy Spirit led him. We should not make the mistake of thinking that following the lead of the Holy Spirit will take us to ease or comfort. The Spirit’s work is to prepare us to do God’s will. That means challenge and growth, not ease or comfort.

Jesus is tempted there by Satan. Today it is fashionable in certain Christian circles to view Satan as a symbol or metaphor for temptation rather than as a real being. But the writers of Scripture certainly saw him as a real being. It’s important to note that Satan is not a cosmic opposite of God. He is not an equal to God. He is a created being in rebellion against God who seeks others to join his rebellion.

Jesus was tested for forty days. To be human is to be tested. Jesus had to be tested in order to be truly human. But in order for him to undo the mistakes of Adam, Romans 5 tells us, he also had to pass the test!

There are two things we should notice about Jesus’ temptation and how he meets it. The first is that testing comes in ways that are unique to the individual and often at times when we are least prepared to resist it.

For example, Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread when he is hungry. That temptation would mean nothing to me because I can’t turn stones into bread. On the other hand, there are thing that are a great temptation to me that would mean nothing to you. And things that are a great temptation to you that mean nothing to me.

Testing often comes when we are not ready for it. Jesus’ testing here comes after a “high point” in his life, his baptism. He is baptized, and the Holy Spirit descends, and God speaks, “You are my beloved Son, and I am pleased with you.” That’s a pretty high point. But after a high point, we will feel spiritually and emotionally drained. Think of the prophet Elijah. After his great victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Queen Jezebel threatens to kill him. After standing up to hundreds of prophets, he gets scared and runs away from one woman’s threat. Then we find him depressed and near suicidal before God sends him to Mt. Sinai for a “personal spiritual renewal retreat.”

Jesus is also being tested while he is alone and hungry in the wilderness. Somewhere along the way I was given the advice of never making a decision when I was hungry, angry, lonely, or tired; because those are the times when we make foolish decisions. Well, those are also the times when we are tested.

The second thing we should notice is that Jesus turns to the Scriptures as the authority in testing. Scripture is our authority on questions of ethics and what is godly. Again, it’s fashionable in some Christian circles to reduce Scripture to an “advisory role,” or less, on questions of ethics. Well, Jesus turned to Scripture. We should, too!

The first temptation is to turn stones into bread. This is the temptation to satisfy the needs or cravings of the body in ways that are contrary to God’s will. Jesus was sent out to the wilderness to fast and pray, not to eat.

We can face the same temptation in many ways: To eat, and perhaps especially to overeat, to comfort ourselves. To turn to alcohol or some other substance in excess. To sleep, either physically or mentally, to “zone out” or “kill time” when we have more important things to do. To seek out sex outside of the covenant of marriage between man and woman, where God intended it to be expressed.

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