Friday, March 11, 2011

A, Lent 1 - Matthew 4:1-11 "A Healthy Hunger"

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall 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 set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said 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, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall 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 glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:1–11 ESV)

How long can you survive without food? Perhaps if you were in a comfortable environment — unstressed, not having to do anything — you might live from four to eight weeks. But to do so by choice, one needs to be mentally prepared to overcome the cravings of the body crying out for nutrition.

Some survive without food through no choice of their own. Extreme poverty is one cause of hunger. Emergency situations too can stop people from eating — being trapped or lost for instance. But surviving through these types of ordeals needs a tenacious will and grit determination!

Imagine you’ve turned up today, having had nothing to eat since the 1st of February. This is forty days. Can you remember what you have done since that Tuesday? How many times have you eaten since then? I’m guessing you really haven’t kept count. If you had three meals a day without any snacks in between, perhaps you’ve had one hundred and twenty meals. Now imagine life without those meals. Can you?

Regardless of whether you chose to fast or you were forced by circumstances not to eat, your condition mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually would be very different to being well fed with one hundred and twenty meals. I suspect a lack of food would cause you to look at life in a completely different way than how you’re looking at it right now!

The three readings before us today, show two very different situations, and how these relate to each other. In Genesis 2 & 3 God gives Adam and Eve a garden with plenty, and with it comes a fall into temptation, and in Matthew 4 Jesus is in the wilderness, hungry after 40 days of fasting, but even so doesn’t succumb to Satan’s temptation. Then in Romans 5 Paul connects the two contrasting events with all people through the oneness of Adam and then Christ; in that sin comes to all through Adam, but life is there for all through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

So you’ve come here today having not eaten since the 1st of February. What type of condition are you in? Not the best! There are three possibilities you’re considering.

A voice inside you might be telling you to motivate yourself to save yourself. It’s tough but after all, the tough get going. Like Bear Grills on his television survival show, you become a John the Baptist type of character and live on your immediate environment — eating nasty snakes and scorpions, and crunchy gooey insects from amongst the sparseness!

We hear how Satan approached Jesus in the wilderness after forty days, and in the garden Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent, the devil in disguise. Maybe the devil didn’t disguise himself as a serpent in the wilderness before Jesus, because Jesus might have turned stones into weapons to kill and eat him. Perhaps only characters like Bear Grills and John the Baptist subject themselves to these crazy antics whereas Jesus even more fervently focuses on his Father and his word.

You might not eat snakes or insects out of desperation, but would you turn in trust to the Word of God, or would you let the craving of your stomach, justify your actions for survival? In what way would you address your need?

The second thing you might consider doing is giving up. Like Jonah you might be so angry with God you could die. Like an over stressed sheep just sit down and sulk! Or, like Elijah, on the run from Jezebel, you might lie down to die when it all gets to be too much. You might come to an understanding that there’s no way out. The truth of the situation becomes too great to bear! You would come here after forty days, famished and finished! The hunger and desolation have destroyed you.

The third possibility might lead you to do what’s necessary to survive. Whatever works is where it’s at! If you have to grovel for food then you’ll do it. If you have to beckon to someone else’s call, then so be it, as long as you satisfy your insatiable appetite now, the consequences can be dealt with later. Giving up your life you devote yourself to something or someone to maintain yourself.

If you can place yourself in dire need, hungry after forty days, then one of the three options is very real for you. Not just hunger for food but an appetite for anything will cause us to employ one of these three paths desire causes within us.

In the Garden of Eden it was not so much hunger for food causing Adam and Eve to eat but rather it was the desire to be like God, by gaining knowledge of good and evil, that the fruit on the tree became so inviting. And ever since our insatiable appetite to be in control causes us; to repeatedly abuse what’s around us by the way we do things; to compromise the truth for something less; and to allow our hearts to seek and value a life we think will make us feel better.

These are the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness after he had fasted for forty days. One might say he chose to go out into the wilderness, but in fact he was led there by the Holy Spirit, and by his Father’s will, so he might be tempted as Adam was, and as we are.

However, unlike us he didn’t succumb to these three temptations our human nature always gravitates towards. In our worry we cast out the Holy Spirit, the faith he gives and Jesus’ faithful way. We doubt the Word made flesh which makes us holy in the only truth. And as a result seek to live a life lost in sacrifice to our human desires.

We might say these temptations are easier for Jesus to resist; after all he is God and we are not. But we need to know while he was here on earth born of the virgin; he gave up his divinity and lived a life of obedience under earthly and heavenly authority, the same life as you and me. He made the supreme sacrifice by not listening to the desires of his human heart, but sought the will of God.

He listened to God, he was obedient! He didn’t compromise his innocent walk amongst our human sufferings and death by turning to his divinity. He didn’t rationalise God’s word to serve him, but remained subservient to his Father and the truth of his word. And his heart remained focused on the life he was called to live despite the suffering it caused him.

There was no compromise in what Jesus did; he didn’t allow his hunger or the devil to cause him worry or want. His understanding was complete and trusting, it was free of doubt. And Satan couldn’t rise up selfish pride in him. Rather Jesus lived seeking his Father’s kingdom, his will, and his righteousness even though he was righteous and holy in his own right.

Jesus did not turn stones into bread to serve himself, but through him God distributed five loaves and two fish to the five thousand, and still today his body and blood nourishes thousands of those who live under his forgiveness and allow the Holy Spirit to move them in the ways of Christ.

Yet if Jesus had succumb to the temptation of the devil, and turned those stones into bread, how much more would this sinful generation worry what to do, compromise the word of God and walk away from the Son of God?

Jesus didn’t turn from the truth of God’s word. He didn’t allow the devil to tempt him at the temple. He didn’t compromise God’s word to prove his power over the temple and the law, rather he upheld the law, and remained in submission to it and the will of God.

He demonstrated the word of God to be holy, but not by a life of pride and power, rather by his death to atone for sin. He bore blindness, leprosy, sickness and disease. He let the law cast him down into the depths of hell. In his holy understanding of the truth, he swallowed up your death by his death.

If he had allowed himself to fall from the temple, how much more would this sinful generation doubt and divide God’s word and fall even more by our thoughts and voices of sin within?

And Jesus didn’t bow to Satan, to get the job done. Rather he sought to glorify the Father and not his own pride. He remained under God the Father and lived a life of servanthood and suffering. He calls us through his death on the cross, not by glorious domination over the princes and people of this world, through submission to Satan. So like a mongrel dog Satan is commanded to, “Get!”, “ὕπαγε σατανᾶ” (who-par-gee sar-tar-na) by the Son of God.

How much greater would the pride of this sinful generation be, if Jesus compromised his Father’s authority and will, to do whatever it took to have all worship him? Surely if Jesus hadn’t told Satan to “nick off” he would appear as a servant of Satan, and our pride would know no end!

Thank God Jesus walked in the ways of God the Father without worry. Praise God our Immanuel is the walking Word of God, in flesh, in truth, and in us. Glory to God alone for our Saviour’s complete faithfulness to our Father and to us today! Be immersed in the Word of God! Fervent faith and fellowship from the Holy Spirit will come in ways you least expect!

Blessed are those who allow the Holy Spirit to work the word in the heart. He will raise forgiveness within, give enduring faith to seek Jesus, and provide peace here amongst all the trials and temptations faced in this life.

If you go without food, the lack of nutrition will kill your earthly body. But a diet without the word of God leads to something even worse — eternal death, unquenchable hunger, cravings and crying which never shall be satisfied.

So let Jesus, the Risen Word of God — your Saviour — strengthen his hold on you today, because… “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”. (Matthew 5:6 ESV) Amen.