A Homily for Lent 1
March 1, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It was a perfect day, like any other day, and they were tending to the garden, pruning branches, fertilizing the roots, and assuring all the plants had enough water when the serpent walked up, beautiful and perfect in every way. She liked the serpent, she always found him to be pretty, and he was delightfully clever. But that day he looked into her eyes and said something that changed the world forever.
It wasn’t that he said a lot, or even made any sort of pervasive arguments, and she wished she’d known better how to respond. No, all that the serpent said was: “did God really say?” It was just a tiny seed of doubt, a tiny nudge away from the truth. They had hoped not to fail God, they had hoped not to disappoint him. He was their friend, and how they liked those walks in the garden in the cool of the day. How they liked to be with him, he loved them so, he loved them, better than she loved her children.
But that question – how it haunted her every day – how it haunted her, why did she fall for such a silly little thing – why didn’t she answer better when he asked: “did God really say?”
We have two accounts of Satan tempting people, two accounts of the devil seeking to trip up people – he first goes after Adam and Eve – he goes after the first people, our first parents and tempts them into disbelief – even if its just momentary disbelief – “are you certain?” He asks and it’s this little question that is enough to lead them into sin. Then, when, instead of telling the devil what God actually, instead of telling the devil to go away for what he was suggesting was evil, they add to what God said, the devil sees his opportunity. He tempts Eve further – he tempts her by calling God a liar, and promising her power, and she and Adam take and eat, and sin entered the world. Sin infected them, and it has infected everyone ever since. Sin has lead to death, sickness, disease, pain, anger, disbelief, war, famine, and natural disaster. Sin is deadly, sin is the dreadful infection.
But Satan also tempted the second Adam, Satan came to him in the wilderness and asked him to prove himself. But Christ owed no one proof – but rather – set for us a model of rebuke, a model of putting off the devil, a model of total dependence upon God.
The wilderness – spiritual or literal is an interesting place – because in wilderness there are deep dark dangers – there are pitfalls, there are demons, there is dread and terribleness – but too in the wilderness is the opportunity to depend totally upon God.
One of three things can happen when we enter into a wilderness season – whether it be that of the intentional abstinence of Lent – the intentional mortification of the flesh – or that of the seasons when disappointment, disaster, and darkness besets us.
First we can be tempted into hardening our hearts – tempted into death – tempted into saying God is not God – God does not love and care for us, and so in our despondency we cast him aside for this present trial seems too dark, too hard.
Second – we can be tempted into self-reliance – tempted into saying we do not need God or anyone else, but we can handle this on our own. We can find within ourselves all the answers that we need – we can find happiness in the wilderness of the world, and so we kick God out, and strive to be our own gods.
We live in a time – where everyone has their own truths, where everyone is encouraged “to be true to themselves.” We are told to find happiness within ourselves – but such advice leads to spiritual disaster. No – I think that ancient definition of happiness is far better – Christian happiness is that feeling that we get when we see a friend from afar coming towards us. And this leads us to the third thing that can happen in the wilderness – we see God coming towards us – like the father of the prodigal son – we see God running to us and we are reminded that we desperately need to learn on God – desperately need to become saturated in His word, desperately need to lean totally and completely upon Him. Desperately need the Lord to be our shepherd, need to trust that He will lead us through the darkness and into the light of knowing Him.
The wilderness has had such a power over people because it is there we can meet God, it is in the wilderness of fasting – or the literal wilderness that we can learn to become completely dependent upon God, but at the same time – it is there that we can learn total self-reliance.
It is not without some irony that some have noted that out of the desert came the great teachings of the first monks, the great teachings that came out of total reliance upon God – but at the same time – out of the desert comes the city that is completely man made, where man taught himself to be dependent upon no-one else and that city is known by the moniker of “sin city.”
It is in the desert that Jesus wrestled with Satan and put him away – it is in the desert – not the garden that Jesus overcame the temptations that Adam and Eve failed to resist, it is in the desert that Christ showed us – how to abide deeply in Him, so that we may not fall as our first parents fell.
As modern and post-modern Americans we tend to forget that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” as St. Paul so eloquently put it. We tend to forget that the devil and his minions are very real – and are like roaring lions that seek the destruction of souls.
We have reasonable explanations for everything, and as such we have taught ourselves not to put on the whole armor of God, but an even deeper self-reliance, but this is not what Christ has modeled for us, and this is not the right response that we are called to.
The great evangelical Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle summarized what first we must keep in mind, how deep and dark and dangerous the devil is:
“what a real and mighty enemy we have in the devil.” Ryle writes, “He is not afraid to assault even the Lord Jesus Himself. Three times over he attacks God’s own Son. Our Saviour was ‘tempted of the devil.’
It was the devil who brought sin into the world at the beginning. This is he, who vexed Job, deceived David, and gave Peter a heavy fall. This is he, whom the Bible calls a “murderer,’ a ‘liar,’ and a ‘roaring lion.’ This is he, whose enmity to our souls never slumbers and never sleeps. This is he, who for nearly 6000 years has been working at one work, to ruin men and women, and to draw them to hell. This is he, whose cunning and subtlety pass man’s understanding, and who often appears as ‘an angel of light.’”
Let us not have the hubris, or foolishness of our modern age and think that the devil no longer roams, think that what we see with our eyes, and touch with our hands is all that there is – let us be ever mindful of that great enemy of God and mankind, and let us take upon ourselves the whole armor of God, take upon ourselves the victory we find in Christ.
Now, St. Matthew does something interesting with His gospel. As we read it, it becomes very clear that he is writing to early Jewish believers in Christ. We know that this is his audience because he takes for granted that his readers would understand Jewish rituals and traditions, and does not take the time to explain them to his readers, where St. Mark does.
But he does something else interesting – the Old Testament is filled with men who were nearly deliverers – nearly ones who crushed the head of the serpent, crushed the head of the tempter – Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David to name a few. Each one, came close, each one models for us faith – but each one sinned, each one fell short.
But over and over again – St. Matthew points his readers to ways in which Christ fulfilled that which those who came before him failed to fulfill. He is delivered from Egypt, he wanders in the wilderness, he gives five books of teachings and two tablets of the law – for St. Matthew Christ is the new Israel, He is creating the new Israel, He is opening the door to finally and fully be that blessing to all the nations as Abraham was promised. Christ is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.
It was interesting, on Friday we were talking at the confirmation class about this passage a little bit – and the way it is written, it’s not entirely clear – did the devil tempt Jesus throughout the forty days or did the devil wait until Jesus was weakened and tired?
The first few verses are not terribly clear, they read – “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him.”
Perhaps – the devil was like St. Paul’s thorn in his side constantly tempting him, causing Him to struggle, and thereby reminding Jesus to trust in God the Father, to lean not on His own understanding, to learn not in his fleshy power, but perhaps the devil came at the end of the temptation, when his flesh was weakened, when the days were starting to feel longer, and more exhausting. I think I read it in the later way – that he was sustained until the end – and as his fasting was coming to the end – the devil came to Him and tempted him.
Charles Spurgeon summarizes this rather eloquently:
“throughout the long fast he was miraculously sustained; but at the close of it hunger began to try him. We are more in danger when our labour or suffering is over than during the time of its continuance. Now that the Lord is drained dry by his long fast, and is made faint by hunger, the enemy is upon him. The devil is a great coward, and takes a mean advantage of us.”
The devil waits until we are the most vulnerable and then launches various and sundry attacks upon us. He whispers “you are not good enough for God to love, you are too broken, to despised,” or else “you can do this on your own, you do not need him, you’re stronger, more independent, you are better than God.”
Both are insidious lies that live in our culture today – lies that say – you are irredeemable, or that you do not need redemption. My friends – we desperately need redemption – we are not otherwise fine without Christ, we are not mostly okay and Jesus is like vitamins – nice and makes us stronger, but most of us don’t really need him – No! we desperately need him in our lives – outside of Him we are dead– but there is no sin too dark, nor no depth too deep that God can not find us there – there is nothing that can separate us from His love – so do not believe the lies of the devil.
But Christ resists three temptations: the temptation to find sustenance outside of God, the temptation to test God, and the temptation to power. We face these temptations as well – and we find our hope not in ourselves but in Christ for He overcame them for us.
Ultimately. It is no surprise that Christ over comes the temptations for He is God-incarnate, Immanuel, God with us – but at the same time – he does what so many before Him had failed to do – he starts that great crushing of the wicked serpent’s head – he shows us that He will overcome evil for our sake.
He says to Satan – “God’s word is where true life comes from, not bread alone, not temporality alone,”
he says “do not test God for you Satan have already thrown yourself down from heaven, and the angels did not catch you – I have come down from heaven willingly – and on the last day I will be raised up above all others and in that raising up – I will raise all who trust in me, I will crush your head, I will destroy your power.”
He says – “no, I will only worship God the father – I will only serve Him, I and in that – I will inherit not earthly kingdoms that will fall away – but the eternal kingdom of heaven.”
Christ overcomes the devil in the wilderness for us – when so many others had failed, and as such in the wilderness of our lives – the wilderness of dreadful dark days – the wilderness of the Lenten fast – we are called not to trust in our own strength and power – but in the strength we find in Christ alone.
And he models for us that which St. Paul fleshes out in his epistle to the Ephesians – “take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.”
The devil throws at Jesus every attack he can think of – even manipulates the word of God – and Jesus responds with the word of God – rightly understood. Likewise, St. Paul paints for us a picture that knowing the word of God is an offensive way to push back the power of the devil, but too we hold faith that Christ has created in us a new heart – we let the truth of Christ bind us together – we put on Christ righteousness that it may become our own righteousness, that our inner life would be protected, we guard our mind with the fact of our salvation.
The Lord has given us sufficient protection regardless of what attacks the devil may come up with.
As we travel through this Lenten season, as we see our church blessed, as we see our lives become more rich in the Lord, let us keep in mind to put on the whole armor of God, let us keep in mind that Christ has perfectly put away the temptations of the devil, let us learn not to depend upon ourselves, but throw all our cares upon the Lord, that we may find our riches and joy in Christ alone.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.