Our first reading comes from Psalm chapter 91, nine through 16.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place, the Most High who is my refuge. No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent, for he will command his Angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the Adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot because he holds I will deliver him. I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will rescue him and honor him with long life. I will safely satisfy him and show him my Savior vation the Word or the Word.
Please stand for our Gospel reading.
It’s from Luke chapter four, verses one through 13. And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for 40 days being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, if you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread. And Jesus answered him, it is written, man shall not live by bread alone. And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and said to him, to you, I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you then will worship me, it will all be yours. And Jesus answered him, it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve. And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written, he will command his Angels concerning you to guard you.
And on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone. And Jesus answered him, it is said, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test. And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Rarits and girls, thank you for reading the Gospels and the Bible reading today. I love that you’re going to have many years of reading the Word of God and it will always be rich and always build God’s life into you. Well, young people, it is time now for kids alive. So I would love to say a prayer for you. Father. We love these kids and we ask that your love would come through to their hearts, that you would speak through their teachers, you would speak in their midst. You would draw their hearts together, and they would worship you with everything they have. We commit these kids to you now in Jesus name. Amen. Are you guys go up to kids alive and don’t have too much fun? Okay. Yeah, I like that spirit. All right, let’s pray. Father, we give you thanks for the word of God in our midst. We thank you, Jesus. Word incarnate, the word made flesh. We ask that through the preaching of your word, Jesus, we would see you with the eyes of our hearts. And seeing you, we would be changed into your likeness for the glory of your father and in the power of your Holy Spirit.
In your name, we pray. Amen. Alright. Well, I have some challenges to date with this wind. So if anything blows away, somebody can help me and grab something. Isaac can be ready. Things are blowing that way. So Susan and I, we’ve got certain routines, and one of the things we often do is we’ll fix our lunch and we’ll turn on the afternoon news, the 12:00 news every now and then. Our lunch is ready a little bit before that. And when we turn on the TV, Family Feud is on Steve Harvey, and we enjoy it. So we’ll watch a little bit of it. And if you know what Family Feud is all about, it pits two families in a game show against one another, and they basically have to guess most accurately the answers that people have given to surveyed questions. Well, if one family beats the other, that one family is dismissed. And they choose two people from the winning family to then go into a $20,000 round. And what happens in that round is first one person comes, the other person doesn’t see what their answers are, doesn’t hear them, and they give the answer to five questions they want to answer as close to what people surveyed have asked.
And the closer their answers are, the more points they get. And they’re trying to amass 200 points because then the second person will come out and answer the same questions. And if together their total matches over 200, then they win $20,000. Well, this one time this guy came out, his name was Scott. He was the husband, and he was miserable. I mean, he only got 54 points. Several of the questions he got, like the least answered answer to the survey and one time, no answers to the survey. And so his wife then comes out, and his wife’s name was Annie. And Annie was full of spirit. And Steve Harvey had this look on his face like, Annie, you got your work cut out for you because basically nobody ever comes out with 54 points and scores the 146 points necessary for you to walk away with $20,000. You could just see it written all over Steve Harvey’s face. But Annie, she’s gung Ho, and he answers one question, boom, like 40 some points, answers another. Question, boom, 50 some points, answers another. She keeps getting these answers like she gets 196 points. Together they match 250, they win the 20,000, they’re going nuts.
And Steve Harvey says, I’ve never seen anything like this. You got the number one answer on each answer and basically saved your husband. So here’s the question. This is a roundabout way of getting to it. But if a survey was taken of 100 Christians about the Gospel passage that was read this morning and they were asked, what is that passage all about? In one word, what would you say? Jesus out in the wilderness, Devil’s tempting him. He’s going without food, all that stuff. What would you say is the one word if temptation is the word that came to your mind? My guess is that would be the number one answer, however, because it is so readily the number one answer, because it’s what we tend to think of. That’s the whole point of the passage. What’s going on here? Jesus being tipped by the devil. We are very likely to miss quite possibly an even more important theme. More important topic that is that Jesus was in the desert in the wilderness for 40 days and what was he doing? Survey says fasting, prayer and fasting. Fasting is not a popular answer by any means in the Christian life.
The modern Church has largely forgotten fasting. What little we know of fasting today usually has to do with dietary reasons. People go on cleansing fast so that their body might feel better or they fast to lose weight or to prepare for surgery for a blood test. But very few of us know what it is to fast, certainly for 40 days, but for a week, for three days for a meal. Fasting may be the most neglected spiritual discipline in the contemporary American Church. I can’t recall a single class or lecture in seminary, and I was at the time it was an Episcopal seminary. It’s now an Anglican seminary that believes in Lent and the spiritual discipline of fasting. And yet I can’t recall a single lecture or class on the purpose or the how tos of fasting. After I became a Christian through an Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh which observed the season of Lent, I viewed the whole thing with somewhat of skepticism and suspicion. After all, I had been born again. I had been saved. Jesus had introduced me to a relationship with the Father. I thought, what is this fasting? What’s this Ash Wednesday stuff?
What’s all this repentance about and this sorrow? We have life in Christ. So I for a long time didn’t have any understanding of what fasting was. It seemed like little more than a religious exercise. However, it is clear that fasting in the early years of the Church was a given. Fasting among the people of the Old Testament was a given. Fasting in Jesus. Time was a given. The early documents of the Church, the Dedicay and the writings of Turtoline and the Desert Fathers indicate that it was a common practice. They encouraged it for Christian spiritual formation. You know what Christian spiritual formation is? It is the practice of becoming like Jesus. Now, Jesus, when he was asked why his disciples did not fast by the Pharisees, why is it that John’s disciples fast? Why is it the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but yours do not? He said, how can the guests of the bridegroom fast when the bridegroom is with them, yet a time is coming when he will be taken away and then they will fast? So Jesus knew that while he was with them it was cause for celebration. Just like I knew inherently that being born again and being saved, like knowing what my ultimate purpose in life was caused for celebration.
Yet Jesus said there is a time coming for fasting. And Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, when he’s talking about prayer, when he’s talking about giving and calling us to do those things in secret, he said, likewise, when you fast, not if you fast, but when you fast, put oil on your head like lift up your face, don’t walk around with a sour expression on your face like the Hypocrites do, because they want everyone to know, oh, I’m fasting. It’s not the purpose of fasting. Instead, fasting ought to lead you to joy. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. So I imagine that the early Church, if they were given that same survey question, might have put temptation at number one. But they may well have put fasting right up next to it. See, we won’t fast or we don’t fast. I didn’t fast because I didn’t get the point. I didn’t understand the purpose of it. But in this passage today, we can really grasp what the purpose is by watching our Master, by watching Jesus. And it’s so interesting what it says at the end of this, I’m going to save it what it says at the end of this passage, because we’re going to see how it literally leads us to live like Jesus and to become like Jesus in this world.
So in verse one, Luke, chapter four, this is where I have to fight the wind. It says, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil. He was full of the Holy Spirit. He was led by the Spirit and he was led for what purpose? To give himself in prayer and fasting. And oh, by the way, the devil is going to meet you there. He’s going to be tempting you. So we see the fasting itself has a spiritual purpose. What it is, we’ll find out, but we see it as a spiritual purpose. It’s led by the Holy Spirit. It’s the intent of God the Father. For Jesus to enter into this 40 day fast. Now, we might ask, was he vulnerable because of that? Is that why the devil came to him? He was weak. I know I would be in the times when I have gone without food. I know that weakness, the headaches to come and all those things. And certainly the devil knows that. And he thinks this is the prime opportunity to tempt Jesus.
But it might have been the Devil’s mistake, because for 40 days he dogs Jesus steps, he’s tempting Jesus. And then the temptations are culminated with the three that we read about. And perhaps he’s doing that because all he can see in this world is the material and the circumstantial. Jesus has to be weak. He hasn’t eaten. He has to be vulnerable. He’s out in the wilderness. He’s lonely, he’s alone. This is the time to strike. But maybe he badly misread the situation. He badly misread what was actually taking place. You see, Jesus fasted to lean into the love of the Father. What he had just heard at his baptism was, you are my Son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased. And then the Spirit leads them out into the desert. And Jesus purpose there in the wilderness is to lean into that love of the Father, into his good pleasure. Verses three and four kind of shows how it plays out. The devil said to him, if you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread. And Jesus answered, It’s written, man shall not live on bread alone. Satan, it seems, attended Jesus baptism.
You are my Son, whom I love. With you, I’m well pleased if you are the Son of God. And some commentators point out that it’s not necessarily that Satan is trying to cast doubt on the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. He just heard it. But what he’s trying to do is say, look, if that’s your status, if that’s your position, if that’s your power, then take it right. If you are the Son of God. Look at those perfectly round stones there that look like loaves of bread. Turn them into bread. Take it. Satan does with Jesus exactly what he did with Adam and Eve. And exactly. Satan is boring folks, all right? He’s only got a few tricks up his sleeve, and he uses them over and over and over again. But he’s become very adept at using those tricks he does with Jesus exactly what he did with Adam and Eve. If you are God’s children, look at this fruit. It’s good. It’s there for the taking. Take it. God’s withholding from you. He does the same thing with us. But when we fast, we lean into the love of God and we say, no, God is what I need more than bread, more than material things, more than circumstantial things.
God is what I need. That’s what fasting is all about. It’s about relationship and so Jesus shows us that right there Aaron Damiani in this book, The Good of Giving Up, which I actually have a copy here today. He says that when we fast, it is not to meet God’s commands. So he meets our demands that’s often. How we use fasting, isn’t it? In Isaiah 58, they cry out, Why have we fasted? And you don’t see it God, why have we fasted? And things aren’t going right for us. Now, I’ve been there, and here’s one of the reasons I haven’t fasted a lot over the years. I went with Youth with a mission. Early on, before Susan and I were married, we went with Youth with a mission to Japan. And we were doing this outreach and I was on fire and everything, and I wanted to take Japan by storm. I told Susan, I’m going to fast for three days. And I did. For three days I fasted. And I believe that coming out of that fast, God was going to use me to reach the Japanese and particularly these young rock and rollers in the Central Park of Japan, Yoyogi Park.
I fasted for three days. We were there for six weeks. I didn’t lead a single person to Christ. Susan did. She led this one, young lady, but I didn’t and I couldn’t understand it. You know, I fasted. I prayed. I thought I was given everything for that. But I was missing the point of fasting so I could know God better, so I could love him more. And that’s what Jesus shows us. First off, secondly, in verses five to six, we see that fasting is about rightly ordering your world. The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, I will give you all their authority and splendor. It has been given to me and I can give it to anyone I want. If you worship me, it will all be yours. Jesus answered, It is written, Worship the Lord your God and serve him only now, with Satan over promising, if you worship me, it will all be yours. Well, first, John 519 tells us that the whole world lies in the power of the evil. One. Ephesians two, one through two, calls Satan the Prince of the power of the heir, the spirit now at work, and the sons of disobedience obedience.
Two, Corinthians four says that Satan is the God of this world who has blinded the minds of the unbelievers. And Jesus on his last night said, I’ll no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. And he was talking about Satan. You know, people do make deals with the devil to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their souls they make deals with the devil all the time. They serve his ways because his promises, if you do things my way, I will give you everything and in many ways it comes through on his promises. We look around and see evil that holds great power in this world and people who have given themselves the evil who hold great power in this world, we see it in corporations, we see it in relationships. We see it in all kinds of ways. People make deals with the devil. And that’s what Satan wanted Jesus to do. But Jesus doesn’t bite. Not that it wasn’t tempting. Jesus had come, after all to be the King of the world. And Satan was offering him a shortcut that wouldn’t involve a cross. And he was tempted in every way, just as we are.
But he says, no, Satan, I’m not just fasting to grow in relationship with my father, but to keep all things as my father has done, rightly ordered to keep the rightness of God. You see, when we fast, we are basically saying to God, you’re first in all things, and that’s the only way to rightly order things. All things are good. All things the Lord has given us are good. But how we use them is either disordered or rightly ordered. How we view our marriage or our jobs or the task that we’re given to do in a particular day is either rightly ordered or it’s disordered. And fasting is a tool that’s given to us to rightly order our bodies. Say, you know what we need more than anything? We need God to rightly order our minds and our intellects. You know what we need more than anything? We need God. So for the student, it means study is not the most important thing I do relationship with God. And putting God first is and for the business man, it means my business is not the most important thing I do. It’s giving my life to God, taking time to rest and live in him and listen to him.
And so Jesus said, it is written, worship the Lord your God and serve him only that he might be first in everything we do and in all that we do. And thirdly, he shows us that fasting is to prove or improve our reliance on God, not for God to prove himself, but for us to prove ourselves and approve ourselves to God. And by the way, lest you think that one of the points of this passage is scripture memory, it’s the scripture memory that Satan now turns. The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you’re the Son of God, he said, throw yourself down from here. For it is written. And he quotes Psalm 91, which Sophie read to us this morning. For it is written, he will command his Angels concerning you to guard you carefully, that they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. And Jesus response, it is said, do not put the Lord your God to the test. And here he’s quoting from Deuteronomy, where the people had put God to the test at Maraba and Masaw, where they had tested God, who told them he would provide for them in the wilderness.
But they were basically saying, Can God really spread a table for us in the wilderness? Moses, we want to go back. And they tested God, prove them right. And so Moses strikes the rock and water is given them there at Maraba, Mason. And God tells him, you tested me in the desert, but I was testing you. And Jesus was led out into the wilderness to be tempted to be tested, in essence, for his sake. He was about to go through three years of some of the hardest Ministry anybody would ever go through. That would lead to the hardest thing that anybody would ever go through the cross. And he knew he was not to put his Father to the test, but he would put himself to the test so that he would know, My God is faithful. He’s going to see me through. And I’ve been faithful to him. Forgive me. Sorry. So it’s not about memorizing scripture like the devil does, or like the Pharisees do, who probably know more scripture than we will ever know. But it’s about becoming the kind of person that uses Scripture, rightly? And it lives their lives accordingly, so that when temptation comes, we stand.
That’s what fasting is for, so that we know that we have stood the test. So then it says that when the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. That time never came. He watched Jesus, and he watched Jesus, and he tried and he tried, but there never really was an opportune time for Jesus. Life was fully given over to his father. Well, he tried. He spoke through Peter, you don’t need to go to a cross, Jesus. I’ll never let that happen. And Jesus said, Get behind me, Satan. We’ve covered this ground before. I know that the road before me is not easy. It leads to a cross, but it is my father’s will. And I’ve stood the test, and I will stand the test. And here’s what I wanted to point out at the beginning. The passage begins with this. Jesus, full of the Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. But at the end, in Luke 414, it says, Jesus returned to Galilee. Now, in the power of the Spirit, I have no doubt that you’re full of the Spirit. No doubt that the Spirit leads you and leads me.
No doubt that probably we fall down a lot more than Jesus was ever tempted to do. But I do know this, that God wants for us as children to experience the power of the Spirit. That’s the purpose of fasting, to get close to God, to know God, to be full of his Spirit, to rightly order things to live in right relationship with him and to rely on him. And coming out of experiences of fasting, we can expect an increased power in our lives that our lives will sign with the goodness of God in our families, in our neighborhoods, and our work in everything we do. That’s what fasting is all about. Aaron Damiani in his book says, Lent is a school that trains us to live as Christians, to become like Jesus. Lent is not commanded, and some people might say it’s nowhere to be found in the Bible. But Lent is biblical. The pattern of 40 days, the pattern of giving yourselves in prayer and alms giving and fasting is there over and over again. What I want to encourage you is to enter into Lent. This is our first Sunday of Lent. If you’ve never done it before, you can do it very simply.
Fasting can be very limited. It could be one meal. It could be fasting from a certain type of food that you have come to see. You’ve got a real reliance on. It can be a fasting from alcohol, it can be a fasting from any habit that you think. I don’t know if I can get through the day without, but actually give it to God and say, you know what, Lord? I want to rely on you during this time. If you don’t understand fasting, I’d encourage you to get this book, The Good of Giving Up. That really explains the ways that we can enter into a fast. But I want to encourage you to do it this season in some way, shape or form and do it understanding what the purposes of it are for, because I believe that God will meet you there and there’ll be a greater depth to your relationship with him, a greater ordering of the world around you and how you view the world, and a greater sense of your own reliance on God and a greater pleasure in it. So ultimately, fasting is for your pleasure. When we enter into fasting in this season of Lent, it’s a 40 day season.
And yet from Ash Wednesday to Easter is a little bit longer than that. I’m going to get it wrong. I think it’s 47, or is it 49 days? You know, Matt, 49, 49 days. Those other nine days are Sundays. Sunday is not a fasting day. Sunday is a day of feasting because in it we’re celebrating the resurrection. And so during the weekly fast that you have, you can know Sunday’s coming and Sunday’s that respite where you rest and enjoy the Lord and feast with him and praise him and know that he’s been with you all week long and you’re strengthened for another week. So anyway, that’s a little bit about fasting. Other people have said it much better. So that’s why I recommend this book. But I want to close with this prayer for the first Sunday in Lent. Artist of souls, you sculpted a people for yourself out of the rocks of wilderness and fasting help us as we take up your invitation to prayer and simplicity that the discipline of these 40 days may sharpen our hunger for the feast of your Holy friendship and wet our thirst for the living water you offer through Jesus Christ Amen.