“Strength in Weakness”
February 10, 2008, Matthew 4:1-11

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, the time of the year where we are encouraged to look inside ourselves, to reflect upon what the life of Jesus Christ means to us as we walk with him towards Jerusalem, and ultimately the cross.

This week we see Jesus as he enters the wilderness to fast. This occurs immediately following his baptism, it is where God has led him to go. There Jesus fasts for 40 days and 40 nights. At the end of this time, Jesus is visited by the devil. Trying to take advantage of Jesus’ hunger, he tempts Jesus with food. “If you are the son of God” he says, “command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus responds with a quote from Deuteronomy, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by the very word that comes from the mouth of God.”

But the devil is a sly beast. He takes Jesus to the top of the temple and quotes Psalm 91, telling Jesus that God will not let him perish should he jump. Jesus again responds with a quote from Deuteronomy, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Not about to give up, the devil takes Jesus to a very high mountain and he promises to give him dominion over all the nations, all he needs to do is follow him. Once again, Jesus does not give into this temptation and rebukes the devil with yet another quote from Deuteronomy, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

The devil, recognizing he cannot win this battle, leaves. And immediately angels come to Jesus to care for him.

How often in a moment of weakness do you catch yourself doing something you wouldn’t normally do? What do we do when we’re having a bad day? Maybe some impulse shopping, grabbing some chocolate bars on the way through the check-out line. Maybe go home and vegetate in front of the television. Turn to some comfort food? A bag of chips, a tub of ice cream, maybe some mac and cheese? But that’s what we do when we’re vulnerable isn’t it? We turn and look for things that make us feel better, things we find comfort in, right? For some people, the choices might be more destructive, but for most us it’s turning to maybe some junk food.

Imagine what it would have been like to be Jesus. He’s fasted for 40 days… nothing but air. How weak and vulnerable would you be? The devil chooses this moment to step in and try to prevent Jesus from performing his ministry.

Jesus clearly has to be hungry, so the devil tempts him with the option to make food for himself. Jesus is also seeking comfort, confirmation from God he is on the right path. What better way to find out than to put your life in peril too soon by jumping off a building? He’s also feeling very weak and powerless after 40 days of fasting, so the devil tempts him with power, offering him the entire kingdom if he changes teams.

But in response to every temptation, Jesus shows not only his enormous strength in not falling for these tricks, he also shows the source of his strength… even in his weakest of moments. His strength comes from God. He quotes scripture in response to each temptation. He knows the Law, and as the Child of God he will follow it to the end.

What would you do if you were in Jesus’ sandals? Where would your strength come from? Now I know it’s hard sometimes to picture ourselves in Jesus’ place, so let’s look at it like this. Maybe you’re running some errands, maybe at the post office. You’ve been on the go since you jumped out of bed, and on top of that, you forgot breakfast. You’re walking back to your car, and all you can smell is the bakery up the street. The smell of fresh bread wafting down the hill. Skipping breakfast doesn’t seem like such a good idea right now. You look at your watch, wow… it’s almost noon already! A fresh roll or a muffin would be really good right about now! You head into the bakery and realize not only did you forget breakfast, but your wallet is also in your kitchen. So know you can’t go to the bank, groceries will have to wait, the rest of your day is shot.

Oooh… look a nice big muffin, right on the table by the door. The thought passes through your mind, “Who would miss a muffin? I’m so hungry.” Does “Thou shall not steal” come to mind at this moment? Or “mmmmm… muffin…” And this has only been about 5 hours since you got out of bed. Put another 955 hours on top of that, and you are where Jesus is.

I’m not implying that I would expect any of you to steal, not at all. But temptation is in our face all the time. It might not be something as blatant as wanting to steal something. It could be very small. I’m sure Adam and Eve, when they chose to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree never predicted such a simple act would end their stay in the Garden of Eden. Temptations come in all shapes and sizes, some are meaningless, others might come at great cost. Relationships can be broken, people can be hurt, even without our intending to do so.

It could be as simple as forgetting to make a call to someone who could really use one. There are many things which can tempt us, and in doing so can pull us away from God. Which is why Lent is such an important time in the church calendar. It is a time when we should be turning to God. Reflecting on what the life and death of Jesus Christ means to us. How does it affect our lives?

People sometimes ask me if I’m giving up anything for Lent. My answer is “No.” You hear of people giving up things like coffee or chocolate during Lent. How does any of this compare with what Jesus gave up for us? Forget about 40 days of fasting, he gave up his life! What I’m trying to do during Lent is look at how I spend my time. Are there times in my life where I spend too much time doing meaningless things? Wasting time I could be using to be more productive? Maybe places where I could “trim some fat”, so to speak, and use that time to be with God? Getting into the “meat” of life, life that is lived with God as the focus. To learn more about myself and what it means to call myself a disciple of Jesus Christ. Of course this will hopefully lead into practices that extend beyond Lent and into the daily routine of my life.

This is what Lent is about for me. Walking with Jesus towards the cross, and in doing so, letting Christ walk with us as we live out our lives today.

When Jesus rebuked the devil for the third time, he said, “Away with you Satan!” He turned away from the temptations of life, things that would turn him away from God, and the angels came to care for him. We too need to turn from the temptations in our lives that keep us from God. When we do that, we allow God be with us as we journey through our lives. Just as he journeyed with Jesus after his baptism and time in the wilderness.

Let us too turn away from temptation and let God journey with us.