February 15, 2016

February 14, 2016 - Matthew 4:1-11

Theme: Lent is All About Receiving
1) Receiving strength against temptation
2) Receiving grace and forgiveness by faith
3) Receiving the right to serve

Mathew 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. 2 After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. 3 Then the tempter approached Him and said, "If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." 4 But He answered, "It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." 5 Then the Devil took Him to the holy city, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: He will give His angels orders concerning you, and they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone." 7 Jesus told him, "It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God." 8 Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 And he said to Him, "I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me." 10 Then Jesus told him, "Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him." 11 Then the Devil left Him, and immediately angels came and began to serve Him.

So, the season of Lent is upon us. What are you going to give up? For many people, the first thought they have when Lent comes around involves giving something up. There’s a connection here to the text before us today. Just as Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, so many choose to fast for the 40 days of Lent. I was curious as to how this tradition came into being. After doing some digging, it seems that fasting was a regular activity in early Church, especially upon the occasions of major festivals. When it came to Easter, people would often fast a few days before in order to focus in on the importance of the holiday. Some people would indeed fast for the entire 40 days of Lent, but most only fasted for holy week. This type of fasting didn’t involve completely giving food up, either. Most people would limit themselves to one main meal per day.

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the practice of fasting really gained traction, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church. At this time it was assumed that all Christians would abstain from something during the season of Lent, as a form of penance for their sins. Therefore, the practice of fasting expanding from food only to other areas of life. Today, the idea of fasting has taken on a much broader role; applying to just about anything in life. Some people give up something to try and kick a bad habit in their lives. Others give something up so that they can indulge when the 40 days are over. Still others give something up as a way to connect with Christ, who gave up all for us.

The practice of fasting during Lent has certainly changed throughout the years. But today more than ever it has the potential to draw people away from the real meaning of Lent. If the first thing we think of when it comes to Lent is what we must give up, and many people do, we’ve lost sight of the true purpose. It’s not that fasting is wrong or even bad. But it shouldn’t be a distraction to Christ, our Savior. The very reason that fasting began as a practice in the Church was to help Christians focus on Jesus and the all-important work He accomplished on Holy Week, leading up to Easter morning.

To help us re-center our focus this Lenten season, we look to a story from earlier on in Jesus’ ministry. Before Jesus even called His disciples, Matthew records this moment of fasting and temptation that Jesus endured before Satan. Because of its early occurrence in Jesus’ ministry, we may not think of it as a text that has much to do with Lent. But we see many similarities: 40 days, fasting, and the weight of bearing the hope of salvation for all people.

We see that: Lent is All About Receiving
1) Receiving strength against temptation
2) Receiving grace and forgiveness by faith
3) Receiving the right to serve

The stage seemed a lot bigger on holy week that here in Matthew 4. But the pressure of these temptations in the wilderness was just as big. If Jesus failed here, it would have been just as monumental as if He decided to forego His death on Calvary. The power of Christ’s victory over these temptations was just as strong as His victory cry upon the cross. In both, He showed supreme authority over sin and Satan. And in both, we see the real purpose of Lent. We see what should fill our hearts and minds as we prepare for Easter. What is Lent about? Not what we give up, but what Jesus gave up and what we now receive through it.

In the first two temptations Satan tries to trip Jesus up the same way he tripped Adam and Eve up. He poses an innocent question that is meant to introduce doubt. He doesn’t need to completely flip Jesus in order to succeed; rather Satan knows that he just needs Jesus to do it in His own mind. One moment of doubt about His mission. One time that He doesn’t trust His Father. That’s all it would take, and everything would be ruined. And so Satan says, “If you really are the Son of God… Command these stones to become bread. Throw yourself down and test God’s protection.”

In the first temptation Satan tries to get Jesus to serve Himself. Stop thinking of others. Stop serving as a leader. Give Yourself what You need, take care of number 1. Quit focusing on the kingdom of grace and feed your appetite. This may not seem like a very strong temptation; Jesus certainly spoke it away quickly with Scripture. He had fasted for 40 days and was no doubt famished, but He wouldn’t be tricked by His hunger.

But how often do we fall for this temptation. How often do we serve ourselves first and think only of what we need? It happens a lot. Very often, Satan doesn’t need to be too creative in tempting us, because like dumb sheep we turn this way and that to whatever we want in the moment. We need the reminder of Scripture even more than Satan did. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

The second temptation starts the same but involves something more serious. Satan says, “Okay, Jesus, if You won’t serve Yourself, test Your Father to see how much He cares about You!” Throw Yourself sown from this great height, surely He will protect You! He’s even promised it in His Word!” Seems like Satan had a point, he even quoted Psalm 91. But in His response, Jesus shows how Scripture cannot be used to contradict Scripture. Satan deliberately left out the fact that God is not to be tested. His promises come to those who trust in faith, not to the skeptics who seek to play on His good graces. God’s protection and providence are not tools to be used at our own discretion but gifts that we neither deserve, nor have the right to control for our own intentions. The faithful heart is ready to give up all if that is God’s will for his life.

It wasn’t until the third temptation that Satan really let loose. No longer does he pose a question to Jesus. In full wrath and fury he commands the Son of God to bow down, and promises all of the world’s treasures in return. This is really one of the most genuine expressions of Satan in the entire Bible. For once, he’s actually honest about what he wants – worship. He’ll settle for nothing less than supplanting the post that God alone occupies, as supreme leader, authority, and Redeemer in our lives. For the third time Satan presents Jesus with something that could ruin everything and for the third time Jesus responds with Scripture. “You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only you shall serve!”

I wonder, if Satan offered us the same, at our weakest moment, what would we say? Obviously, we would say “no” right? But saying that in church, among your peers, is not the same as being alone in the moment of temptation. People have forsaken God for far, far, less; you and I included. Every moment of sin is an act of devotion to Satan, not God. We don’t have to bow down and worship an image of devil in order to do his will. Like we said before, often he doesn’t even need to get us to this third step before he trips us up. Usually, the simple invitation to serve ourselves is more than enough.

We could go on and on about sins in our lives and how twisted we’ve acted in thought, word, and deed. As much as this section shows the power of Jesus it equally shows our own futility when faced against Satan. Thank God that we’re in Lent. A time to redeem ourselves. A time to show our worthiness despite our failures. A time to give something up to make ourselves better, right? No. A time to receive. Receive pardon and forgiveness. Receive love and grace. Receive strength from Jesus to overcome, strength that He alone has earned by denying Satan and by dying for you on the cross.

If you desire to fast during Lent or any other time, you a free to do that under the liberty of the gospel. Fasting is a welcome way to re-focus; to more deeply consider what God has done for you. But don’t be tricked into thinking that you’re doing something more. Don’t let it be the first or only thing you think of when Lent comes around. Instead, when you think about Lent think about what Jesus gave for you. Three times in front of Satan He denied the temptations that so easily entrap us. But He didn’t stop there. He did even more, so that we could receive even more.

He allowed the sins that Satan brought into the world through us, to be placed on His shoulders. Think about that. He said “no” to sin His entire life. He did what no one else could do. And yet He still carried those sins even though they were not His fault. He felt their pain. He witnessed their effects. He lived and died under their weight. So that not only could you and I have strength against temptations of our own, but also so that we could live with Him forever. That’s what I want you to think about during Lent. Any thoughts of what we give up must come after what Jesus gave up for us.  

Hebrews 4:15: For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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