The First Sunday in Lent
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 4:1-11

ONE OF MY FAVORITE FICTIONAL CHARACTERS IS THAT OF TEVYE FROM THE “FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.” THIS POOR DAIRYMAN, WHO IS A JEW IN CZARIST RUSSIA, WITH AN ASCERBIC WIFE AND THREE UNMARRIED DAUGHTERS, IS A MAN TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING IN A VERY DIFFICULT WORLD. WHEN HE IS OVERWHELMED, HE TAKES HIS FIDDLE AND GOES UP ON THE ROOF IN A KIND OF RETREAT FROM THE WORLD SO HE CAN BE ALONE TO TALK TO GOD. WHEN HE TALKS WITH OTHER PEOPLE, AND IS FACED WITH A HARD QUESTION, HE ALWAYS BEGINS HIS RESPONSE WITH THE WORDS, “WELL, THE GOOD BOOK SAYS . . .” WHEN HE TALKS TO GOD, HIS MONOLOGUES ARE FULL OF QUESTIONS TRYING TO FIND OUT WHAT GOD’S WILL IS. IN ONE OF HIS TALKS WITH GOD, AS HE STRUGGLES WITH A REALLY HARD ISSUE, HE BEGINS BY SAYING, “WELL, THE GOOD BOOK SAYS,” AND THEN PAUSES. “WAIT A MINUTE,” HE SAYS, “WHY AM I TELLING YOU WHAT THE GOOD BOOK SAYS?”

AS WE HEAR THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, WE ARE TAKEN BACK IN TIME TO RIGHT AFTER THE BAPTISM OF JESUS. WHEN HE CAME OUT OF THE WATERS OF THE JORDAN, AND HEARD THE VOICE OF GOD SAYING, “THIS IS MY SON, THE BELOVED, WITH WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED,” HE WAS IMMEDIATELY LED BY THE SPIRIT INTO THE WILDERNESS. MARK SAYS THE SPIRIT ‘DROVE’ HIM INTO THE WILDERNESS. THE FORTY DAYS HE SPENT THERE IN FASTING AND IN PRAYER WERE A TIME OF PURIFICATION AND PREPARATION FOR HIS COMING MINISTRY, AND FOR HIS COMING SACRIFICE ON THE CROSS. AT THE END OF HIS FAST, WHEN HE WAS AT HIS WEAKEST POINT, THE ADVERSARY CAME TO HIM TO TEST HIM. THE WORD IN THE GREEK CAN MEAN EITHER TEMPTATION OR TESTING, AND THE SENSE OF THE PASSAGE IS THAT BOTH ARE INTENDED.

SATAN WAS TRYING TO TEMPT JESUS; BUT FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF GOD, WHO HAD EVERY CONFIDENCE IN HIS SON, IT WAS A TESTING TO DEMONSTRATE HIS FITNESS FOR WHAT WAS TO COME. GOD NEVER TEMPTS ANYONE, BUT HE DOES ALLOW US TO BE TESTED, SO THAT, IN OVERCOMING WHAT WOULD BE A TEMPTATION, WE MIGHT BE MADE FIT TO EXECUTE HIS WILL IN THIS WORLD. ALL THREE OF THE TEMPTATIONS ARE A TEST TO SEE IF JESUS WILL LOSE HIS TRUST IN GOD AND HIS FOCUS ON DOING THE WILL OF GOD, AND PUT HIMSELF FIRST, RATHER THAN PUTTING THE WILL OF THE FATHER FIRST.

EACH TEMPTATION INVITES JESUS TO TURN AWAY FROM HIS TRUST IN GOD IN A DIFFERENT WAY. KNOWING THAT JESUS IS WEAK AND HUNGRY FROM HIS FORTY DAY FAST, THE DEVIL INVITES JESUS TO PROVE HIS SONSHIP BY TURNING STONES INTO BREAD. “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD,” SATAN TELLS HIM, THEN YOU HAVE THE POWER IN YOURSELF TO PROVIDE FOR YOURSELF BY YOUR OWN ABILITIES. JESUS COUNTERS WITH, “IT IS WRITTEN, ‘ONE DOES NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT COMES FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”

THE SECOND TEMPTATION IS TO TEST THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD. HERE, THE DEVIL CITES SCRIPTURE; WHICH SHOULD BE A WARNING TO ALL OF US HOW SCRIPTURE CAN BE USED IN THE CAUSE OF EVIL. “THROW YOURSELF OFF THE TEMPLE,” THE DEVIL INVITES JESUS, “TO SEE IF GOD WILL PROTECT YOU.” AS IT IS WRITTEN, HE SAYS, ANGELS WILL COME, AND “ON THEIR HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT DASH YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.” TO THIS, JESUS COUNTERS, “IT IS WRITTEN, ‘DO NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”

THE THIRD TEMPTATION IS MORE OF A DIRECT BRIBE THAN A TEMPTATION. JESUS IS PROMISED ALL THE POWER AND GLORY THE WORLD CAN PROVIDE, IF HE WILL WORSHIP SATAN INSTEAD OF GOD. THIS IS, OF COURSE, A GREAT LIE, FOR NONE OF WHAT EXISTS BELONGS TO SATAN; HE MERELY CORRUPTS AND DISTORTS WHAT GOD HAS CREATED FOR HIS OWN ENDS. TO THIS OFFER, JESUS REPLIES IN ANGER, “AWAY WITH YOU, SATAN! FOR IT IS WRITTEN, ‘WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE ONLY HIM.’”

WITH THAT, THE TEMPTATION AND THE TESTING ENDS; AND JESUS PROVES HIS TRUST IN GOD AND HIS FITNESS TO FACE WHAT IS TO COME. “SUDDENLY, ANGELS CAME AND WAITED ON HIM;” AS WAS ONLY RIGHT AND PROPER FOR THE SON OF GOD, WITH WHOM GOD WAS WELL PLEASED.

THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE CONFRONTATION, WHILE JESUS HAD THE POWER AND THE ABILITIES OF THE SON OF GOD, WHICH HE WILL DEMONSTRATE AGAIN AND AGAIN DURING THE COURSE OF HIS MINISTRY, HE RELIED, NOT ON HIS OWN SELF, BUT ON HIS TRUST IN THE WORD OF GOD HIS FATHER. JESUS, WHO WAS THE WORD MADE FLESH, TRUSTED SOLELY IN THE WORD OF THE FATHER, AND ALL HE NEEDED TO RESIST THE WILES AND TEMPTATION OF SATAN WAS TO TURN TO THE WORD OF GOD. “IT IS WRITTEN,” JESUS PROCLAIMS, AND BANISHES THE DEVIL. “THE GOOD BOOK SAYS,” PROCLAIMS TEVYE, AND HE CAN FACE THE TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS OF HIS LIFE.

WE LIVE IN A WORLD FULL OF TEMPTATIONS, AND, WHILE THEY DO NOT COME FROM GOD, THEY DO SERVE AS A TESTING OF OUR TRUST IN GOD, AND THEY PULL US AWAY FROM OUR FOCUS ON GOD AND IN DOING HIS WILL. LUTHER SAID, “SHOW ME WHAT YOU VALUE MOST IN THIS LIFE, AND I WILL SHOW YOU YOUR GOD.” WE DO NOT HAVE TO ACTIVELY WORSHIP SATAN FOR HIM TO WIN HIS BATTLE AGAINST GOD IN OUR SPIRITS; ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS ALLOW SOMETHING, OR SOMEONE, TO BE MORE IMPORTANT, FOR US TO TRUST MORE, THAN GOD OUR FATHER. THE ONLY SURE DEFENSE HAS BEEN GIVEN TO US BY THE GRACE OF GOD, HIS HOLY WORD; BOTH IN SCRIPTURE AND IN THE PERSON OF JESUS HIS ONLY SON. TO FACE THE MANY TRIALS, TEMPTATIONS, AND TESTS OF THIS LIFE, WE NEED TO KNOW “WHAT IS WRITTEN;” WHAT “THE GOOD BOOK SAYS.” WE MUST TRUST AND RELY ON THE WORD OF GOD IN THE WORDS OF JESUS, FOR ONLY IN SO DOING CAN WE DO THE WILL OF THE FATHER IN ALL WE FACE IN THIS LIFE. IN GOOD TIMES AND IN BAD, THE WORD OF GOD IS OUR ANCHOR AND OUR STRENGTH.

IN THESE FORTY DAYS OF LENT, LET US ALL DELVE DEEPER IN GOD’S HOLY WORD, SO THAT HIS WORD WOULD, INDEED, BE WRITTEN ON OUR HEARTS BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND WE MIGHT LIVE WITH TRUST AND CONFIDENCE IN GOD, OUR FATHER, THROUGH HIS SON, JESUS, OUR LORD.
AMEN

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