What if We Couldn’t Trust?

Apr 15, 2014 2284

jesus-in-the-desert-luke_1393774098by Edwin Zackrison

Dayton Community Chapel

March 1, 2014

TEXT: Matthew 4:1-11


My talk this morning is entitled, “What if we couldn’t Trust?” and my text is found in Matthew 4:1-11.

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall 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 and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “If you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

*   *   *   *   *   *

In our scriptural passage for this morning, we find Jesus in the wilderness, led by the Spirit, to be tested for his loyalty to God. This passage is a prototype for every Christian alive on this earth in any age. We have all read this story at some time or other. We have all faced the same kind of temptations Christ faced though geared to our particular situation.

The setting is the desert and the situation is aloneness. Jesus is alone. He is like Elijah in the desert alone. He is like Moses in the desert alone. He is like us in the desert alone. He is like John the Baptist in the desert alone. He is like Paul in the desert alone. We all have our deserts when we feel alone.

Being together gives us faith and strength. There is something about the strength we draw from others that gives us courage and togetherness. Being together has become a saying in our language. It can refer to a social group and it can refer to ourselves. We are impressed by people who “have it together.” But much of that personal togetherness has been gained from the strokes and acceptance we have received from being together.

In our story this morning Jesus is alone, in the desert. He is embarking on a journey which will end in his death. And he is alone. He has no one to draw strength from that is the setting and it is one in which the devil works well.

Why did Jesus go to the desert alone?

Many people say they think better when they are alone. They don’t go to church because they like to be alone on Sabbath morning. They like to spend time alone with God. And there is something to this. There are times when we all like to be alone.

Matthew writes that Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This would suggest that there was a purpose for his being alone.

He was to face the issues of life in the desert, alone. And there he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Some people fast because they have no food. Some people fast because they feel the need for cleansing the mind. Some people fast as a means of repenting. Others fast for the purpose of mourning. Some people fast for spiritual reasons. Jesus was alone in the desert fasting—apparently for all of these reasons.

This morning we have come to what Christians call the Lenten season—when many Christians practicing fasting.

The season begins with Ash Wednesday (next Wednesday) and lasts for 40 days, to commemorate this 40-day fast of our Lord.

Jesus is not the only one who fasted for 40 days. Moses fasted on Mt. Sinai for 40 days.Elijah journeyed for 40 days in the desert on his way to Mt. Sinai. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert.

Those who follow the Christian year do not consider Sunday as part of Lent because Sunday is a day when Christians celebrate the resurrection. Sunday is in Lent, not a part of Lent. Lent started as a period of deep thought, fasting, repenting, careful consideration of one’s life. By the fourth century it was considered a part of the Christian’s yearly duties much like the Jewish Yom Kippur.

We are not told if Jesus ate nothing. Fasting doesn’t always involve total abstinence. Often it is abstaining from certain kinds of food—meat, wine, eggs, etc. But our passage says that at the end of the 40-day-fast Jesus was hungry. And so we have the setting: Jesus in the desert, alone, hungry.

The Devil comes to tempt Jesus.

Whether this is a literal story or not I leave with you. But I do know this, from Scripture and personal experience; the temptations often come when you are alone in your desert and hungry.

You may be run down because you haven’t taken care of yourself either mentally or physically. You may be spiritually spent by what seems overwhelming circumstances. You may even feel that somebody is picking on you. And if you are in any of these categories, this passage has a lot of encouragement if you can get to the issues involved.

But know one thing; the devil of temptation often hits you when you are down. Jesus did not have the benefit of Paul’s writings at this time. Paul would write later, in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Indeed, it may well have been that this experience of Jesus is what inspired Paul to write that passage some 25 years later.

It is hard to tempt someone to doubt God unless the setting is right. When we are dwelling on God’s goodness and God’s blessings and God’s guidance, when we are seeing God’s answers to our prayers each day, we often feel invincible. But when we are in that desert of sorrow, of self-pity, of confused relationships, or mixed circumstances, when the money isn’t there, and the food is sparse, and the loved ones are gone, that may be another story.

My mother outlived all her immediate family and most of her friends. I never saw her depressed but I remember her saying, “It is a strange feeling to look in your address book and realize that practically everyone there is either dead or dying.” And now I look in her address book and she too is gone. And there are times I wish I could discuss some things with her. That can be a desert.

And it all started with the simple thought of mistrusting God. God is withholding something from us—I guess we are learning what that was!

Jesus is our Example.

In the Christian faith we have two great truths we look to. First, is that Jesus is our Savior.This is the gospel. Whatever happened between God and humanity as corrected by the mission and ministry, the life and death of Jesus Christ. That is the story of Easter that mercifully ends the Lenten Season on a triumphant note.

The second great truth is that Jesus’ life presents us with an example. Some have gone overboard on this. Jesus never married so they don’t marry because Jesus is their example. Jesus wore long hair so they wear long hair because Jesus is the example. Again, you can struggle with that. But at least, we have in Jesus an example for dealing with the desert in a hungry state.

The issue in all of the temptations recorded in the Gospel of Matthew deals with trust. The devil comes to Jesus and attempts to undermine the believer’s trust in God. Remember this story follows on the heels of the baptism of Jesus where God has declared in a dramatic fashion, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Gospels show us Jesus’ messages—that God can be trusted because God is faithful to the human race. We can depend on him no matter what the desert is that we are living in.

And now Jesus has that supreme test—this is how God treats his son? Why not take care of yourself?

Isn’t that one of the greatest temptations today? Who needs God? We give lip service and utter occasional loyalties to God and that is not bad. But we have computers and business and marketing and legacies, and insurance, and the free-enterprise system, and doctors, and hospitals, and penicillin. Where exactly does God fit in? Even if a president remarks about the importance of God in his life people have a hard time even relating to it.

As one of my Seminary teachers used to say—we often act like “functional atheists.” Post-modern man can be religious but live like there is no personal God.

So the Devil came with a master temptation—“Command these stones to become bread.” Perform your own miracle or you will probably die. Perhaps at the beginning of this Lenten season we could ask ourselves, what part does God really play in our lives? Is he in the desert with us? Do we relax in his presence? Is he integrated into our personal lives?

If you are a Christian why does God abandon you in the desert? That’s the devil’s temptation translated for you and me. There is that gnawing wonderment—God led you to the desert to be tempted by the Devil. For Jesus, the devil said it over and over, “If you are the Son of God,” do this, do that, change these stones, jump off the temple, prove you own this geography. We see our own form of that temptation when we are down.

And Jesus is our example, he is not intimidated. Instead he draws upon his relationship with his father—he quotes the scriptures which he has learned at his mother’s knee. And the temptation dissipates. It’s a temptation to lose his trust in his heavenly Father. And in time is dissipated by his exercise of that trust.

I saw a motion picture once in which a young man’s complete world was swept away. He worked for an undercover governmental project. He went out to get some food for the office staff and when he got back everyone in the office had been murdered.

As he surveyed the destruction the bone chilling thought hit him that had he been there he too would have been murdered. And then he realized that somewhere whoever did this dastardly deed would soon realize that they had missed him and they hunt him down and take him out. For the next two hours you got to experience what it was like if you couldn’t trust anyone in your present life.

The Lenten season reminds us that we not only can trust but that we must stop and realize that we must trust. Our experience can and should be that of Jesus our example, that when the devil of the desert, the devil of temptation comes to us and aims at destroying our trust, we look at him and say, with Christ, “Be gone Satan, for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Our great consolation comes in the end of the story, v. 11: “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.”

Edwin Zackrison


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