The First Sunday in Lent
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 4:1-13

WITH THE OBSERVANCE OF ASH WEDNESDAY, THE CHURCH YEAR TAKES A DRAMATIC TURN FROM THE ALMOST EUPHORIC CELEBRATIONS OF CHRISTMAS AND EPIPHANY SEASONS TO THE SOMBER TONES OF HOLY LENT. WE DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT THE KEEPING OF LENT IN THE EARLY CHURCH, AS IT IS NOT MENTIONED IN THE APOSTOLIC WRITINGS, AND IT DOES NOT BECOME A PART OF THE CHURCH CYCLE UNTIL AFTER THE COUNCIL OF NICEA. THERE ARE SOME INDICATIONS, HOWEVER, THAT A KIND OF LENTEN OBSERVANCE WAS PRACTICED IN THE POST APOSTOLIC EGYPTIAN CHURCH; OR AT LEAST IN PARTS OF IT. AFTER THE FEAST OF THE THEOPHANY, THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, WHICH WAS THE ORIGINAL EPIPHANY CELEBRATION, SOME OF THE EGYPTIAN CHURCHES WOULD SPEND FORTY DAYS IN FASTING, PRAYER, AND PENANCE TO MARK JESUS’ TIME IN THE WILDERNESS. THIS WAS NOT A WIDELY OBSERVED CUSTOM, SINCE THE CHURCHES INVOLVED WERE SOMEWHAT HERETICAL, BELIEVING THAT JESUS WAS ADOPTED BY GOD AT HIS BAPTISM. AFTER THE COUNCIL AT NICEA, WHEN THE NATURE OF JESUS’ RELATION TO THE FATHER WAS ESTABLISHED, THIS FORTY DAY FAST, EXCLUDING SUNDAYS, WAS ADOPTED, AND MOVED, AS A PERIOD OF PREPARATION FOR BAPTISM AT EASTER, AND AS A TIME OF SPIRITUAL RENEWAL FOR THE CHURCH AS A WHOLE.

EACH YEAR, IN EVERY LITURGICAL CYCLE, WE BEGIN ON THE SUNDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY WITH THE STORY OF JESUS’ TEMPTATION IN THE WILDERNESS. THE WORD FOR TEMPTATION IN THE GREEK CAN JUST AS WELL MEAN TESTING, AND IS PROBABLY A BETTER DESCRIPTION OF WHAT IS GOING ON. IMMEDIATELY AFTER HIS BAPTISM, THE HOLY SPIRIT LED, OR DROVE, JESUS OUT INTO THE WILDERNESS FOR FORTY DAYS. THE NUMBER FORTY IS HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT TO THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL. IT RAINED FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS IN THE TIME OF NOAH. THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL WANDERED FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS BEFORE COMING INTO THE PROMISED LAND. MOSES SPENT FORTY DAYS ON SINAI RECEIVING THE LAW FROM GOD. THE SYMBOLISM OF JESUS’ FORTY DAYS IS, IN ESSENCE, A RECAPITULATION OF THE HISTORY OF GOD’S CHOSEN PEOPLE IN THE PERSON OF GOD’S SON.

IF YOU READ THE GOSPEL OF LUKE ON YOUR OWN, WHICH I HIGHLY RECOMMEND, YOU WILL NOTE THAT BETWEEN THE ACCOUNT OF JESUS’ BAPTISM AND THE ACCOUNT OF HIS TESTING BY THE DEVIL, LUKE INSERTS THE GENEALOGY OF JESUS. THIS IS NOT INCLUDED IN OUR LECTIONARY BECAUSE IT IS A BIT BORING, BUT LUKE LISTS THE ANCESTORS OF JESUS ALL THE WAY BACK TO ADAM, THE SON OF GOD. JESUS, THE SON OF GOD, IS THE NEW ADAM, COME TO RESTORE THE ORIGINAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GOD AND HIS CHILDREN BY BREAKING THE BONDS OF SIN THAT SEPARATE US FROM HE WHO FORMED US FROM THE DUST OF THE EARTH. THE DEVIL MUST TEST THIS SON OF GOD IN THE HOPE THAT HE WILL FAIL THE TEST, AS DID THE FIRST ADAM, AS DID ISRAEL, AND AS DID WE ALL.

OF COURSE THE DEVIL KNOWS EXACTLY WHO JESUS IS. WHEN HE SAYS, “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD,” HE IS REALLY SAYING, “SINCE YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD.” AT THE END OF JESUS’ FORTY DAYS OF FASTING, WHEN HE WAS AT HIS WEAKEST, THE DEVIL TESTS HIM BY TELLING HIM “TO COMMAND THIS STONE TO BECOME A LOAF OF BREAD.” THE TEST IS NOT IN WHETHER JESUS CAN TURN STONE INTO BREAD, BUT WHETHER HE WILL ACT FOR HIMSELF, TO PROVIDE FOR HIMSELF, AND NOT TRUST THAT GOD WILL PROVIDE FOR HIM. JESUS WILL SOON FEED THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WITH BREAD AND FISH; BUT WILL HE PROVIDE FOR HIS OWN NEEDS, RATHER THAN WAIT ON GOD, AND FAIL AS ISRAEL FAILED TO TRUST IN THE MANNA FROM HEAVEN?

JESUS RESPONDS WITH THE WORDS OF MOSES TO THE COMPLAINING ISRAELITES; “ONE DOES NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE,” BUT, MOSES CONTINUES, “BY EVERY WORD FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD.” IT IS NOT PHYSICAL COMFORT THAT IS IMPORTANT, BUT OUR TRUST IN THE LORD OUR GOD EVEN WHEN WE ARE AT OUR LOWEST, HURTING AND IN NEED.

THE SECOND TEST IS THAT OF THE YEARNING FOR EARTHLY POWER. THE DEVIL SHOWS JESUS ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD, AND SAYS THAT SINCE THEY ARE HIS HE CAN GIVE THEM TO ANYONE HE WANTS. HE OFFERS THEM ALL TO JESUS, AND ALL JESUS HAS TO DO IS WORSHIP HIM INSTEAD OF GOD. SINCE JESUS WILL BE LORD OF ALL AT THE END OF TIME, THE TEST IS TO SEE IF HE WILL FAIL BY TAKING THE EASY ROAD BY BEING A RULER OVER HUMANITY INSTEAD OF THE SERVANT SENT BY GOD. AS ISRAEL FAILED BY DEMANDING A KING LIKE OTHER NATIONS INSTEAD OF BEING RULED BY GOD, WILL JESUS TAKE THE POWER AND GLORY FOR HIMSELF, OR HUMBLE HIMSELF TO THE WAY OF THE CROSS? JESUS’ ANSWER IS; “WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE ONLY HIM.”

THE DEVIL THEN TAKES JESUS TO THE PINNACLE OF THE TEMPLE, AND TELLS HIM TO THROW HIMSELF DOWN TO PROVE THAT HE IS GOD’S SON, BECAUSE GOD WOULD NEVER LET ANYTHING BAD HAPPEN TO HIM. THE DEVIL EVEN QUOTES FROM THE PSALM WE READ THIS MORNING. SURELY, HE ASSERTS, GOD WILL PROTECT YOU IN ALL THINGS. LIKE THE ISRAELITES WHO DEMANDED THAT GOD GIVE THEM WATER IN THE DESERT, DRIVING MOSES TO STRIKE THE ROCK IN ANGER, ONE DOES NOT MAKE DEMANDS ON GOD, EVEN IF IT MASKED AS A TRUST IN HIM. JESUS ANSWERED, “DO NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.” SO THE DEVIL LEFT HIM FOR A MORE OPERTUNE TIME; WHEN HE WAS AT HIS LOWEST AND HANGING ON A CROSS.

LENT IS A TIME NOT ONLY OF FASTING, GIVING UP SOMETHING WE ENJOY, AND A TIME OF SPIRITUAL REFLECTION AND PRAYER. IT IS ALL THESE THINGS, BUT ALSO A TIME OF TESTING; NOT A TESTING BY GOD, BUT A TESTING OF OURSELVES – OF WHERE WE ARE ON OUR WALK TO THE CROSS. WHAT IS IT IN OUR LIVES THAT MAKES US WANT TO TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES FIRST? WHAT WANTS OR NEEDS DRIVE US TO PUT OURSELVES AND OUR COMFORT BEFORE THE NEEDS AND COMFORT OF OTHERS? WHAT POWER DO WE DESIRE OR EXERCISE OVER OTHERS, TO MAKE OURSELVES GREAT AND MAKE OTHERS SMALL? IN WHAT WAYS TO WE CONFORM OURSELVES TO THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD, RATHER THAN WALKING HUMBLY AS A CITIZEN OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD? ARE WE LOOKING FOR A CROWN OR A CROSS? IN WHAT WAYS DO WE PUT GOD TO THE TEST? WHAT DEMANDS ARE WE WITTINGLY OR UNWITTINGLY MAKING OF GOD? DO WE FIND OURSELVES SAYING, “LORD, I TRUST YOU, BUT GIVE ME A SIGN?”

QUESTIONS LIKE THESE, AND I’M SURE YOU CAN PROVIDE MORE OF YOUR OWN, ARE A GOOD MEANS OF TESTING WHERE WE ARE IN OUR WALK OF FAITH AS WE JOURNEY WITH THE CHRIST ON HIS WAY TO THE CROSS. THE ANSWERS TO ALL OF THESE QUESTIONS, TO ALL OF THE TEST OF OUR FAITH, IS ABSOLUTE TRUST IN THE WORD OF GOD, AS IT IS WRITTEN, AND AS IT IS REVEALED IN JESUS, THE SON OF GOD. COMPLETE TRUST IN JESUS, AS HE TRUSTED IN THE FATHER, IS THE ONLY WAY TO RESIST TEMPTATION AND TO WALK THE WAY OF THE CROSS.
AMEN

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