Every single year when we begin the season of Lent, we get this story of Jesus beginning his ministry in the wilderness. When I say, “wilderness” don’t associate that word with the beautiful Hocking Hills area that we all enjoy. Whenever the Bible uses the word, “wilderness,” think more desert, more arid, and little vegetation.
When we see the word, “wilderness” in the Bible, we are also to think of the Israelites, who had spent forty years wandering through the wilderness over one thousand years before Jesus appears on the scene. They had been slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, and were led by Moses through the wilderness and after forty long years, they eventually make it into the Promised Land.
The wilderness wasn’t a place where you would rent a cabin to enjoy a relaxing week with your family. The wilderness represents barrenness, dryness, and danger at least in the context of when we see that word used in the Bible. So why would Jesus have chosen to begin his ministry in of all places, the wilderness?
It’s almost like the gospel writer, Luke is giving us a huge hint that here at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he will be representing the people of Israel throughout this story of his life.
Or to bring it a little more closer to home, Jesus will be representing you and me. This is such an important connection to make when reading the gospels and it will unlock a whole new way of following Jesus throughout the gospel story which is what we will be doing during this season of Lent. When Jesus does or says something, it’s like he is personifying the people of Israel.
So here, Jesus is at the very beginning of his journey in the wilderness, just like the Israelites centuries before him.
And while Jesus is in the wilderness, he encounters all the fears that come with being in the wilderness. And these fears come in the form of temptations. Jesus resists each one of these temptations by saying, “no.” That’s usually how we read this story. Jesus is tempted. He resists. End of story. But actually, it’s not just how Jesus responds to these temptations while’s he’s in the wilderness. It’s in how he resists these temptations after he’s in the wilderness and as he lives out his ministry.
The first temptation is when Jesus is confronted with hunger. Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread. And Jesus responds, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus will feed five thousand people with just fives loaves and two fish. Jesus’ resists the fear of hunger by turning around and feeding others.
The second temptation is when Jesus is confronted with earthly power. He is told to worship the devil and in return, he will give him all the kingdoms of the world. And Jesus responds, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”
Later in Luke’s gospel, we will watch Jesus offer his life on the cross. Jesus’ resists earthly power by freely offering himself in bringing salvation to the whole world.
The third temptation is when Jesus is confronted with self-focus. He is told to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple and allow angels to save him. A Jesus responds, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Later in Luke’s gospel, we will watch Jesus resist being self-focused by having compassion and healing others.
Notice that Jesus’ doesn’t just say “no” to each of these temptations, but throughout his ministry, he resists these temptations again and again by living fully for God and others. Jesus’ teaches us that the best way to overcome our fear of temptations is by being true to who God created us to be and to be true to the calling that God has placed in our lives.
Being faithful to God isn’t just about saying no. It’s about saying yes.
And that’s why Jesus began his ministry in the wilderness because that is how Israel was shaped and formed as well. It was in the wilderness where they were also tempted with hunger and power and self-focus. It was in the wilderness where they received the Ten Commandments and were slowly and surely shaped and formed into what it means to be the people of God.
We also have this opportunity over these forty days of Lent to be shaped and formed to be the people that God has called us to be. Like Jesus and like the people of Israel, we’re not simply observers. We are called to be active participants.
We are invited to follow Jesus from the wilderness all the way to the cross and the empty tomb as we face our fears together and allow God to shape and form us into the people that we were created to be. And it all begins here in the wilderness.
A little over a year ago, I crossed something off my bucket list. I hiked through a desert on New Year’s Day. My sister and brother in law had just moved to their new retirement home in Arizona and we decided to spend New Year’s out in the desert with them.
On that New Year’s Day, my brother in law and I followed a desert trail that included signs describing some of the plants along our journey. As we walked and walked and walked in the hot desert sun, I was thinking about this story of Jesus in the wilderness.
I especially took notice of this interesting desert plant which is known as the Crucifixion Thorn. Like many of the other plants you find in the desert, it has leafless stems to help it conserve enough moisture to survive. If you look closely enough, you can see that this plant is in the shape of the thorns that Jesus would have worn while hanging on the cross. I also took notice of the description that this plant’s fruit is dry but persistent.
This Crucifixion Thorn desert plant has given me a deeper insight in what it means to face our fears and temptations as we walk with Jesus each day. Sometimes our journey feels hot and dry.
Like the Israelites who wandered through the desert wilderness, we face our fears along the way. Will we make it? Will God continue to guide us? Will we have enough strength to endure?
Like Jesus in the wilderness, we face our fears along the way. Will God provide? Will I be able to rely on God’s power rather than what the world has to offer? Will I remember who I am and who God created me to be?
The good news is that God always empowers you and me to be faithful and to live out our true calling and purpose as we face the many fears in life, like temptations that will come our way. And during this season of Lent, we will also be exploring how God can lead and guide us as we face the fears of doubts, fruitfulness, forgiveness, generosity, confidence, serving, and death.
Whenever someone joins the church, they respond to some membership questions. One of those questions is kind of heavy and it makes me hesitate before asking it every single time.
The question is, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins?” How’s that for a first question? I don’t often use the words, “renounce, reject, and repent,” in a sentence, but I do every time I ask this question. By the way, those are season of Lent type of words. Repent, Reject, and Repent. Such heavy language.
But on the other hand, I can’t think of more appropriate words when you think about the darkness, the brokenness, and the evil that we encounter through life. We are better at seeing these things in other people and in other places and situations rather than thinking about how it might be residing in our own thoughts and actions in subtle and not so subtle ways.
If you think the first church membership question is a doozy, remember that there is a follow up question that offers us some relief. And the second question is, “Do you accept the freedom and power that God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
The key phrase there is “the freedom and power that God gives you.” “The freedom and power that God gives you.”
Say that with me… “The freedom and power that God gives you.” One more time. “The freedom and power that God gives you.”
Here is the awesome good news of our faith. In any given situation and in any given moment and in any given temptation that we face, we have the freedom and power to resist. God’s grace is always being extended to us to be true to ourselves, to be true to who God has called us to be, and to be true to our calling as followers of Jesus.
Did you notice how our Gospel reading ends? Jesus does just that. He resists those temptations in the wilderness one by one because of the freedom and power that God gave him to resist.
But then notice that last verse of our Gospel reading. “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him UNTIL an opportune time.”
Like Jesus, we are called to receive the freedom and power God gives us again and again and again and again and again. It’s not just for forty days. It’s about following Jesus every day.
When I was thinking of a title to give this series, that beautifully worded phrase from the hymn, “Amazing Grace” came to mind. It’s from the 2nd verse, “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.’”
It just hit me how beautiful that phrase is. “My fears relieved.”
When I started working on this first sermon, I remember accidentally typing “My fears relived,” instead.
I laughed out-loud when I noticed my mistake because that’s the exact opposite of what I’m hoping to get across during this sermon series. I don’t want us to relive our fears. We do enough of that, I’m sure!
No, instead of reliving our fears, my prayer during this holy season is that we will allow the freedom and power God gives us to “RELIEVE” our fears. And may we all be able to say at the end of our journey together in the words of that wonderful hymn, “How precious did that grace appear.”
My Fears Relieved: Temptations
Sermon Discussion Questions
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 & Luke 4:1-13
March 10, 2019
During the Season of Lent, we will be focusing on eight different fears which focus on temptations, doubts, fruitfulness, forgiveness, generosity, confidence, serving, and death. For this first Sunday in Lent, we focus on the fear of temptation. Jesus begins his ministry in the hot and arid wilderness and was tempted by the devil for forty days. He was tempted with hunger, earthly power, and self-focus.
Share how you have experienced one or more of those temptations in your life. How did you respond?
Pastor Robert shared how Jesus didn’t just say “no” to these temptations when he was in the wilderness, but he also said “yes” to serving others throughout his ministry. For example, Jesus didn’t just say no to the temptation of hunger. He also said yes by feeding the hungry. He didn’t just say no to the temptation of earthly power. He also said yes by dying on the cross for the sake of the world. He didn’t just say no to the temptation of self-focus. He said yes by having compassion and healing the people he encountered.
Share ways that you say YES in how you live out your faith. Share a new way that God might be calling you to say YES and serve others during this season of Lent.
Pastor Robert shared about a desert plant that he saw during a hike through the desert in Arizona. It’s called “Crucifixion Thorn” because it looks like the thorns that Jesus wore when he hung on the cross. This desert plant is very dry but is also known to be very “persistent.”
What are some ways that God helps you to be “persistent” like that desert plant in resisting temptation and being true to who God has called you to be?
Whenever someone joins the church, they pledge to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of their sins. They also pledge to “accept the freedom and power that God gives them to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” This is the good news of our faith that in any given moment, God’s grace is being offered to us so that we can be the people God has called us to be.
What helps you to remember to accept the freedom and power that God gives you in any given moment? Why do you think we sometimes forget that God’s grace is being offered to us?
The title of this sermon series during the season of Lent is “My Fears Relieved.” This phrase is in the 2nd verse of the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Sing this verse together and close in a prayer thanking God for offering us his grace to us whenever we face fear along our faith journey.
“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”