Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11
There are some days where there it seems as if the sun is moving in fast forward. You know those days, the ones where you have a doctor appointment, an interview, a paper to write along with a book to read, and about when you think you have gotten caught up you have three reports to run and five last minute clients that need your attention immediately. Then after work just when you might think you could catch a break you have supper to cook, laundry to wash, and a toilet to fix at home. So I just explained your typical Tuesday, I won’t mention the typical Monday because that would be too traumatic for us. The point is we are busy. From the fifth time we hit the snooze button until we finally get to bed around midnight we are running. Busy is the term most of us would use to describe the way we feel any given day. Even those of us that are retired seem to be busy.
We are stretched as a culture, stretched between our jobs and family, stretched between school activities and community events, and stretched between various tasks at home. We feel stretched thin, nearly to our breaking points, and then just one more thing happens and we snap. We yell at a child when all they wanted was a cup of water, we refuse service to a client and let them know what we really think, and our spouses see the side of our personality that we try so hard to keep hidden. Usually the breaking point is able to be mended, but there are times when real damage is done, words are said that cannot be taken back, and sometimes someone ends up with a frozen steak resting against an eye.
These days where we are stretched to the breaking point and beyond are the days where our disciplines kick in and our true character is shown to those around us. How we respond during the trials of our lives are the things people remember the most. That is why today’s passage is so encouraging. Jesus was tested, He was tempted just like we are, and He had to face trials as we do every single day of our lives. I find that little bit of information quite refreshing, knowing that God understands what a bad day feels like and there is a way to move forward. Scripture even says in Hebrews 4:15. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested a we are, yet without sin.” Jesus understands that we have bad days; He understands being stretched, and being brought to a point where we just want to scream. He was tested or tempted in every respect as we are.
After John baptized Jesus, Jesus was lead by the Spirit to the desert, where he fasted for forty days and nights. While out in that deserted placed the tempter came to test Jesus, after forty days it says that Jesus was famished. Jesus has a real need, he has not eaten for an extended amount of time and there are rocks just sitting there. They are shaped in such a way that they look like loaves of bread and the very thought makes one’s mouth water and stomach to growl. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Just think about that for a while. This temptation is one that we are faced with all the time. It is the temptation to satisfy our needs quickly. It is only bread you might say. It is not a big deal, but the tempter is encouraging Jesus to use a means to gaining what he wants and needs illegitimately.
This temptation is the most common temptation. There is a hierarchy of needs as humans. Food, water, shelter, and others some are greater needs some are lesser but if one is missing we tend to do whatever we can to obtain it. Now most of us could not turn the stones into bread, but we do have other means. We have little cards in our wallets that can magically give us whatever we want. With just a swipe we can have a steak, or new shoes. The temptation of using credit to obtain what we need could lead into a temptation for us to use it to gain what we want, illegitimately. Eventually the bill will come and we will be faced with reality. You are hungry and you don’t have cash, just swipe the card and you will have what you need.
So many people in our community have become victims to this vicious cycle, I know it all to well myself. What we once thought of as a safety net has become a snare that keeps us from really being free. You might say that Jesus using his divine power and you using a credit card are not the same thing but they are similar. With every action there is a reaction, this applies not only in physics but also in relationships and life. If we try to get what we need through illegitimate means, there are consequences.
“Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…’” This second temptation we may have a hard time relating to, because not too often do we find ourselves standing on a pinnacle contemplating a jump. Many of us have gotten involved in risky behaviors though. How many times have we woken up late and sped to work praying earnestly, “Please don’t let there be a cop.” Or have you ever written a check and hoping that you had just enough time to make a deposit before the check cleared? We tend to proceed with actions expecting God to bless us, when maybe true obedience was something else. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” We have each tried to reason with God, “If you do this then I will do that.” This is a temptation that we easily fall into and often it is the very thing that causes us to lose faith in God. We pray for something and it doesn’t work out the way we hoped, so we assume God either doesn’t care or that he doesn’t exist. But in reality when we enter into those types of activities we are not trusting God, but instead we are jumping off a building expecting nothing bad to happen.
Jesus is then taken to a high mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. The devil says to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” This temptation is one that we so often face especially in the corporate world. Power and wealth are very attractive. If only I were to do this I could move up a step. If only I turn a blind eye to this action, I could gain more money. If only I vote this way I could have it all. Power and wealth have tempted us all at some point. We may not have been tempted to the same degree we may not even know that we have been tempted. We may think this is only a problem for politicians or company executives but it can happen to us all. When I worked in the lawn care business we had to meet certain production goals to have the weekend off. The temptation was to cut corners to get more lawns done in less time, many would just spread fertilizer on the lawns and neglect to go back over the lawn to spray the weeds, but the customer paid for both. This is similar to the first temptation but instead of our needs it focuses on our desires.
Jesus was tempted by needs, desires, and our methods. He needed food and all he had to do was say a word and the stones would turn to bread. He had the power to fulfill his need but to do so would be an illegitimate use of the power. He was tempted to force his acceptance as messiah by jumping from the roof of the temple testing that God would protect him and the people would be amazed, but to do so would be unethical and an illegitimate use of his power. He was tempted to gain become the King of Kings and Lord of Lords at that very moment if only he would bow a knee, but to do so would not truly satisfy the mission set before him. Every day we are stretched thin and are tempted in these very same ways. Each is focused on our own selfish needs and desires at the expense of someone or something else. If we were to succumb to the temptations there would be a consequence to the actions, consequences that we did not intend but they happen just the same. But when we are stretched thin we are not always thinking clearly and that is when unlike Jesus we miss the mark and sin.
This passage reassures us that God understands our condition but it also tells us how to combat the temptation and train our bodies and spirits to face the various trials of life. We now need to hit the rewind button and go back to the beginning of today’s passage. What was Jesus doing in the desert? He was fasting. A fast is something that many people do not understand. In simple terms it is abstaining from something for a time, to focus on something else. Many see a fast a way to convince God to do their wills, but that is putting God to the test. I want us to look at it in a different way.
Let us remember back to the days when we were first developing our relationship with our spouse, I apologize for those that are not married but I hope you can follow along. Remember the activities you would do together? The time spent with each other? You would sacrifice an evening out with your friends at the drop of a hat, just to spend time with the one you hoped to marry. You would spend your last dollar to give them a gift that would express your devotion to them. You may skip a meal so that you could get off work earlier so you could spend more time with the one you love. You would stop doing some activities so that you could afford to invest in them. You sacrificed something and invested that into a relationship. We sacrifice without any question, because they are more important.
That is a fast; it is sacrificing something to build the relationship. It is giving up a meal so we can spend that time nourishing our relationship with God. It is giving up something that brings us pleasure for the moment so that we can instead gain that pleasure from God. Is it difficult yes, but it is worth it. The sacrifice does not force God into doing something, but it instead opens our spirits to hear from Him in a deeper way.
Now let us look again at the passage. Jesus went out into the desert and fasted for forty days and nights. Many will say that there is special power in this number, citing that Moses was on the mountain with God forty days while he received the law from God. Or that Elijah spent forty days in the cave, or that it rained for forty days on Noah and his family in the ark. I will not dispute or confirm the special-ness of the number forty. That it occurs so often in scripture is important enough, but what is forty days? It is over a month. It is a significant amount of time. Time is the key word. In our culture where time is in short supply this is significant. Waiting and listening, conversing with God and listening for the inner voice to speak is a discipline that we so often neglect. This unhurried ability to wait is what causes us so often to fall into the snares of the temptations around us. We feel there are pressing matters and we must act now! But what if we were to just wait, listen and seek for the right timing. Many very bad decisions could have been avoided if only we would have waited. Wait. For many of us in our busy culture wait is one of those four letter words that we do not use. We are a people of action, and to wait is just not in our make up. But Jesus spent forty days waiting, fasting, and praying. In the waiting he was tested; obtain your needs, your desires, and take matters into your own hands. Through the waiting Jesus was able to confront those tests with wisdom and integrity. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God… Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test… Worship the Lord you God, and serve only Him.”
For many followers of Jesus, we no longer understand what it means to fast. For many of us we do not know how to wait. For many of us we pervert the fast into methods of control and means of power. But a fast is to wait, to sacrifice, and to give oneself for the benefit of others. It is disciplining ourselves so that when the trials come we can face them without sin, not because we are that good, but because we love God and know that he loves us. It is in this waiting, meditation, contemplation, fasting, and listen that we find the answers we seek the wisdom and light springing from the very spirit of God. It is in that place we can find acceptance of the situations around us, and the strength to face the challenges that threaten to break our stretched lives apart. Jesus knows the trials we face because He has faced them. He knows the pains we feel because He too has felt them. He knows and is the way through and forward. Let us now wait with Him as he waits with us during His own fast. Let us draw on His strength as he faces his trials and as we face our own. And let us know that God does know us, He knows our pain and our weaknesses, He knows our desires and our needs, and He loves us. Let us rest in His love and accept that through our relationship with Him we will find all that we truly need.