John 4:5–42 (ESV)
5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
This week has been one that has really caused my mind to real. I walk through the store and shelving that is usually loaded with paper products, cleaning supplies , bread, and meat were empty. A few weeks ago I took on an additional part time job that I could do on my own time where I pick up grocery orders for others. I thought that this would basically be picking up a small order after work and dropping it off, but it has morphed into a job that is quickly becoming the method people are using to shop so that people can limit their contact with people outside their family units. I am not used to living in a community where people are advised to stay home, or where cultural traditions are disrupted over an illness. I have been on the phone with people seeking assistance, where their only hope is to get home and all their options have dried up. This new reality we live in has driven me to prayer.
This era of history is causing us to reexamine aspects of our lives. It is bringing awareness of our vulnerabilities, our fears, and our faith. As I sat with today’s passage I really thought about the woman at the well. We do not know fully who she is, we do not even know exactly what her situation might have been. Was she a widow multiple times over, or was she someone that just had trouble committing in a relationship. When we read through this passage we can become judgmental to a degree, and I will be honest I have always considered her to be a sinful woman but recently I have come to realize there are other possibilities to her current condition. The one thing that we do know is that she lived a life separated from the larger community. She is at the well hours after the rest of the community has been there.
Is she a caregiver? Has a plague entered the sleepy Samaritan town and she has cared for her husband only to have illness take his life? And as a result and righteousness she married her brother-in-law only to watch as the illness spread through the town so fast that she has not had time to officially marry the youngest brother? We just do not know. All we know is where she is and that she is a woman with a heavy burden placed on her shoulders. A burden she might not have wanted, and a burden that she willingly lives through even when the community looks toward her in disdain.
It’s interesting how the idea of a voluntarily quarantine can really change a perspective. It is interesting how one can assume to know something as truth, only to find that there are more possibilities when a different situation is introduced.
It is difficult for us to grasp the ancient world when we benefit from many scientific advancements. Although there was medicine in ancient times, it was not until the late nineteenth century that people really began to understand what was causing illnesses. At the birth of our nation doctors believed that “bad air” was the cause of many illnesses. Even the idea of sterilizing medical instruments was something unnecessary until a Quaker born doctor, Joseph Lister, took the theories postulated by Louis Pasteur and applied it to the washing of instruments and wounds to prevent infection. Yes, Lister’s concept of sterilization was what eventually became the popular mouthwash Listerine.
Prior to germ theory, and the discovery of microbiological life illness was believed to an imbalance of biles, bloods, and vapors. And many of these concepts would often get spiritualized making the cause of illness the work of demons. Imagine if your entire family suddenly without warning was infected with some sort of illness. Imagine if that illness began to snuff the life from loved ones. Imagine if your entire community saw you and your family as cursed. Then imagine that the illness spread from your family to another, you have moved from just being cursed by God to being a practitioner of the works of Satan.
This woman for some reason was not in good standing within her community, we do not know why and at best all we can do is speculate. But we do know that various superstitions placed wedges of separation between people, communities, and nations. This woman was of Samaria, we do not know as much about the people of Samaria as we do their distant cousins of Judah. The Samaritans were from the northern tribes, that through out scripture were regarded at those that displeased God. As a result of their disobedience they were conquered by Assyria, those vile people that the Prophet Jonah was sent to minister to. They displeased God, they were conquered, they were integrated to some degree with their conquerors and they were not pure. In the eyes of Judah, they were cursed people, people that should not be associated with. Their very presence in the general area of Judea was often considered a problem. If only they conformed to the ideas of Jerusalem and stopped their rebellion, then Messiah would come.
Jesus sat there by the well and he spoke to this woman. He spoke to her not as a Samaritan and Jew, but as a human being to another. He was tired from the journey; he was thirsty, and he did not have the tools to get a drink. Here comes this woman, possibly rejected by her community, Jesus knew her, he knew who she was and what others thought about her, and he did not allow perception to interfere with her humanity. He spoke to her as he would anyone that might have come to the well.
This action surprised her. She could not believe that he would speak to her. Immediately she became defensive, why are you a Jew asking me for a drink? She tries to establish that they have history and promise too, Jacob dug this well do you think you are better than him? He shares with her a teaching of the Messiah, and she basically laughs and says, “Whatever, you do not even have a jug, but if you can bring me living water sign me up because I’m tired of living through this life as it is right now.”
Jesus accepts her as a person. He does not allow ancestry or nationality divide them, when this is brought up, he points to what they have in common. When they connect in this area he then begins to work on changing aspects of her life.
We want people to be righteous. We want people to live a holy lifestyle, but often we want them to be righteous before they are even aware of the benefits of a different lifestyle. We push for change, but we have not inspired a reason for it. I can know a great deal of information about many things, but it is not until I am shown the true benefit of change that I invest.
A worldwide health crisis threatens us. I have a degree and education that has given me a basic understanding of various aspects of microbiology. I know what viruses are. I know what bacteria are. I know what to use and how to act when potential pathogens are around. I have even participated in growing some of pathogens for the sake of research. I have knowledge, but the reality of my lifestyle did not reflect the knowledge that I have. I will be honest; I did not make it my custom to sing happy birthday while I washed my hands. I knew it was important but it really did not matter because I’m not going to perform surgery, but then all the toilet paper is gone and suddenly I realize that if I do not change my behavior I might contribute to the illness of others.
I had knowledge but the reality of my lifestyle did not really matter, because it worked for me. The same could be said for this woman. Her life was not great, but she was resigned to it. She did not care if others accepted her lifestyle or not. Then a man asks for a drink and tells her to go get her husband. Notice if you will Jesus, knew full well that she was not married yet he accepted her lifestyle at face value. She was living as if she had a husband, but it was not reality. She brought up the fact that it was a relationship that many considered sinful, Jesus did not have to point it out to her. But once it was, he did not shy away from the truth. She quickly understood, and then she gets into a theological debate. The Jews say that we must worship in Jerusalem, but we have our own way here. You have your tradition and we have ours, how dare you come here and tell me I’m wrong. And Jesus responds with something that has often been at the center of my faith, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. ”
Spirit and truth. That is what we should focus on. We can get caught up in many things, but what it comes down to is Spirit and Truth. Are we living and worshiping like this? This idea has been central to the testimonies of Friends from their very beginning. If we believe that it is true, then we should live it out every day not just on a day that tradition says is holy. Our lives, our faith, our beliefs, and our actions should all be one. I cannot go to Target and cease to be a pastor for five days out of the week, I am who I am wherever I am. And so are you.
Then there is truth. What is truth? This question has kept philosophy students occupied for centuries. Even scripture recognizes that humanity struggles with knowing truth. For centuries the greatest medical minds believed that illness was the result of bad air or imbalances in your bile levels. When scientist began to say that illness was caused by germs, they were laughed at and ridiculed. It took time and a great deal of research to convince people that what they thought was true was not true at all.
This is where the harvest field narrative comes to play. Some labor at planting and others reap the harvest. Some do research and others practice. Some speak and inspire, and others apply those concepts in life. Lister learned about germs from Pasteur and became a successful surgeon. Pasteur’s ideas were not accepted until Lister used it in a practical manner. The gospel is foolish until someone sees it lived out in front of them.
We have a great deal of fear griping our community and nation. We need to be mindful of this. The truth is that there is a pathogen, a virus that can make people very sick. The truth is that it affects some worse than others. The truth is that we are not immune, and we do not have a proven method of healing. The truth is that God has provided in our DNA the ability for our bodies to handle pathogens through our immune system. The truth is that if we provide environments of sanitation and hygiene, we can reduce the severity of this fearsome virus. Should we not be concerned? We must be concerned because our lives mater. How you live your life within a community affects those around you. The truth is that if I do not show a different lifestyle to the world, they may not realize that there is hope.
Jesus shows us how to approach life. He shows us how to interact with those around us. And he encourages us to be active in our lives. Build relationships even with those that might have different perspectives and live in truth. As we enter this time of open worship let us recognize how our lives are intertwined. Let us recognize that though we have different perspectives that God is focused on something more important. Let us embrace the spirit and truth and live it out in our daily lives. Knowing that encouraging people to eat, and wash their hands is not being led by fear but promoting truth. And encourage people where they are to focus on life with God and their community is the most important work they can do.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 8, 2020
John 3:1–17 (ESV)
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe; how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Have you ever had a conversation that changed the direction of your life? You may or may not fully remember it, but there was probably one conversation that set things in motion. What caused you to decide that your spouse was the one you wanted to spend life with? What prompted you to stay in a career that you were ready to leave? Why did you decide to give that church another chance, and then another for the past twenty years? We often do not think about these things too much. Sometimes they fade back into the distant memory that we rarely consider, but conversations and relationships are at the root of many of our decisions.
This conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is probably the most important conversation in human history. I say this because this conversation contains the first verse that you probably memorized. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” How often to we recognize that this recognizable verse came not from a sermon, but a conversation.
Nicodemus was a pharisee, and one of importance. He was considered a ruler of the Jews, which means that he had a seat on the counsel that governed the religious and civil relationships within Israel. This group had power, because it was the body of representatives that met with the Roman officials to transmit the edicts to the populous as well as taking the concerns of the people to the governor’s court. They also were the arbiters of the understanding of the Torah. This counsel of various traditions would define what was acceptable practice within the teachings of the faith. Nicodemus was an important figure in the Jewish community.
I have often heard, and probably said myself, that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he wanted to be secret. I have thought about this more as I reflected on this passage this week. I have considered more deeply because I am on a board that speaks to the practice of our faith, so I have a perspective that I did not have before. I love the church, I love meetings for worship, I love meetings for business, I love area meetings, and I love yearly meetings. I love everything about how the Friends Church does things. I am weird, and that’s ok. There are very few things that you can get me engaged in long conversations, if you do not know what those are you probably have not engaged me in a conversation about church. The thing about being on the elder’s board, is everyone wants to talk to you. When I go to an area meeting, I am usually the last to leave because someone needed to talk. When I am at Yearly Meeting, I rarely get to bed before midnight because someone or several people had stopped me to discuss something. When these conversations occur, I lose all track of time because in that moment that conversation is the most important thing. Nicodemus is a ruler of the Jewish people; he is one of those people that holds a position on a counsel that is recognized as being a father of the faith. His entire life is devoted to interpretation of the laws of Moses and how to practice that lifestyle in your daily life. I imagine he loves his position and his job. I imagine that Nicodemus would probably turn a simple question around to take you deeper in your spiritual understanding of life.
I imagine that Nicodemus was the type of person that would encourage you to love your faith. He had heard about the teachings of Jesus, and the signs that he had performed, and Nicodemus wanted to talk to Jesus. There is a problem though. Nicodemus is a public figure. He is walking out to Jesus and along the way people are meeting him, and suddenly the simple task of walking out to speak to this wondering teacher named Jesus has taken the entire day. Now the sun has set, and Nicodemus has finally come into Jesus’s presence.
This is not the traditional understanding of this conversation, but I want us to consider it in this manner. Nicodemus did not approach Jesus in a way that other religious leaders did later in Jesus’s ministry. Nicodemus approaches Jesus not to test him, but to listen. When he approaches Jesus, he treats him with respect. He says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” He calls him Rabbi. We might not think of this as being a big deal, but you do not call just anyone Rabbi.
Nicodemus and those that are within his community, had heard the teachings of Jesus up to this point, and they had been impressed. They had heard or may have witnessed some of the miraculous signs that Jesus had performed, and we greatly impressed. They had decided in their minds, that Jesus deserved the title of Rabbi, even though the fully knew that he had not had the traditional training that was required for that title. Nicodemus and those he represented were open to the possibility that God could do things in untraditional ways.
Nicodemus had spent the entire day, talking to the people. He had spent the day listening and teaching. He had encouraged and blessed. He was a man that many looked to for the answers of life, the universe, and everything. He was that guy. And he recognized that he just might not have all the answers. He left room in his interactions with those around him, for a possibility that he might be wrong. And when Jesus came onto the religious scene expressing a form of religious teaching that took a different approach, he did not immediately oppose it. Instead he took the time, he took his personal time, to learn. And he did not just take the interpretation of someone else, he went right to the source, he went to Jesus.
“We know that you are a teacher come from God.” He says to Jesus. Think about this for a moment. Nicodemus speaks to Jesus in an inclusive manner. The word, we, is first person plural. I’m not a grammar expert but to say we means something important. It identifies yourself as part of a group for one thing. And in this case, it is accepting Jesus into that group. “We know that you are a teacher come from God.” This goes with his address of Jesus using the term Rabbi. He is acknowledging that God has anointed the teaching in some way, and that the authority of Jesus does not come by human tradition but comes from a tradition that supersedes their tradition. He is recognizing that Jesus is speaking from a position of a prophet.
Nicodemus knows that the teachings Jesus encourages are not traditional, but he also knows that they could still be within the veil of orthodoxy. So, as a ruler of the Jews he wants to know more. And Jesus welcomes the conversation.
Nicodemus starts by saying, “We know that you are a teacher come from God…,” And Jesus responds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This response is very strange. First off Jesus is saying things like being born, and Nicodemus was talking about Jesus being a teacher and signs. What could be born have to do with anything?
Do you remember the idea of Jesus calling the disciples to be Fishers of men meaning something to the effect of like a fish out of water? Nicodemus is coming to Jesus for one reason, and Jesus knows this. Nicodemus knows this as well. They both are very aware that the reason Nicodemus is coming to visit with Jesus is because Nicodemus is a ruler of the Jews and he wants to know if Jesus’s teaching will fall within the acceptable traditions of their faith. As far as Nicodemus can tell there is nothing wrong with the teachings of Jesus, but there are a few things that kind of seem out of place.
If we were to review the first few chapters of John, we would see a couple of things happen to this point. John the Baptist testified that Jesus was the one that he was saying would be even greater than himself, Jesus called the disciples, and they went to a wedding. At that wedding the wine ran out and Jesus’s mom decided that Jesus needed to do something about that oversight, so Jesus turned some water into wine so that the celebration could continue. After this wedding, according to John’s Gospel account, Jesus made his way to the temple during the Passover Feast, and he became upset with the religious industrial complex that was found in the temple courts. He was irate about the livestock being sold, and the money changing that was occurring. And he began to turn tables over, and he drove people out of this sacred space using a whip made from cord. Jesus had challenged the entire expression of Jewish faith.
This is the rabbi that Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to see. Jesus had challenged the very foundation and authority of the priests. He did this during the festival that the greatest amount of people could see, during Passover. Josephus, the Jewish historian, estimated that during the feast of Passover there could be as many as 2.7 million people passing through the temple complex. Meaning there would have been livestock available for 2.7 million people. And the money being changed was enough for those 2.7 million people to have temple currency enough to purchase a perfect sacrificial lamb for their Passover celebrations. We are talking a disruption of the equivalent of a multi-million-dollar conference of trade. Some of Jesus’s teachings were a bit out of place with the traditional teachings of the religious leaders.
Yet, Nicodemus recognized that there was authority in Jesus’s teaching. And Jesus responds, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This throws Nicodemus for a loop because Jesus uses words that can mean multiple things. This statement can mean two things. Born again or born from above. Nicodemus takes the born-again train of thought. How can a man be born when he is old?
“Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” This second statement of Jesus during this conversation where it becomes a bit clearer. To be born of water is an expression of physical birth. When the water breaks the baby will so emerge. That is the first birth, the physical or natural birth. The birth that Jesus is speaking of is the birth of the Spirit.
To Nicodemus and to everyone in Israel to be born into their nation was the only birth required. They were children of Abraham, they were the hires of the promise, God’s chosen people. Jesus is telling them unless you are born of the water and the spirit you have nothing. It is not difficult to understand that Nicodemus struggled with this. We all struggle with this.
I am a good person. Surely that is enough right? I do not steal; I have not murdered anyone doesn’t that mean that I am good enough? These are the things we say today. In Nicodemus’s era they would say something similar, well actually they would have more to do with I remembered the Passover, I offered the sacrifices, I gave a tithe on everything I owned even the mint that grows wild in my yard. I have done everything right. Yet, Jesus is telling Nicodemus that it is not enough. Just being born is not enough to get one into the kingdom of God.
Jesus then mentions the serpent that Moses lifted in the wilderness. I have mentioned this serpent before. It was the salvation of rebellious people. They grumbled against God, and God allowed them to face the world without his protection and their camp was infested with venomous snakes. When they were bitten by these snakes, there was no remedy and death would soon meet them. But God provided a way. He instructed Moses to form an image of their curse and to hold it up on a pole for all of them to see. And when they were bitten, they could turn and be saved. They could turn back to God, return from their rebellion and the venom of rebellion would not cause their ruin. But if they relied on their own merit, death awaited them.
Jesus uses this image to illustrate the concept of being born from above. It is a turning from our worldly understanding and returning from our own rebellious ambitions. It is a return to the things that matter in God’s economy. What exactly does God value?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God values the world. He values the world to such a great extent that he came to live among us. He lived a complete life, from being formed within a womb, being born, he grew from an infant and experienced childhood. He went to work with the family and worked at that business for seventeen years. He was known as a carpenter. For thirty years he lived life as a common man, and then he entered ministry. He was tempted just as we are tempted. And he showed us how to live life with God. He did all of this because he wanted the world to turn.
But the venom of rebellion still courses through our veins. We like to be in control. We like to pull the strings and to make the decisions. We like people to acknowledge our greatness, and we want the respect that we feel we deserve. We like ourselves, and if we are honest, we do not like when someone suggests that we might not be enough. But there is not a single person here today that is enough in themselves. Yet God loves you. Even though you rebel and reject him. He loves you enough to live for you. He loves you enough to die for you, and he loves you enough to raise from the dead to give you hope.
Nicodemus looked at Jesus with questions in his eyes, and Jesus said that he needed to be born again. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jewish people; he was the most religious as you could be. Yet even he was not where he needed to be. He had the venom of rebellion in his veins. The venom coursed because he like so many failed to realize that God loves the world, not just us. And if we cannot look at the person across from us, the person across the ocean, or south of the boarder as a person loved by God and worth living and dying for, we are not able to see the kingdom before us.
Nicodemus spent his entire day teaching and investing in the lives of Israel. He spent the entire day encouraging them in their faith and at night he finally was able to speak with Jesus. Nicodemus is a man we should want to emulate in many ways. We should invest our lives in those around us, just as Jesus did. But we need to always remember that we can invest all we want. We can serve all day, for our entire life, but if we do not turn to God, and love the world as he does, the venom of our own rebellion will take our lives and condemn us.
As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, let us consider the conversations we have had. Are we encouraging the world to turn to Christ?
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 1, 2020
Matthew 4:1-11 ESV
Then 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, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “’Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “’You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Now what? This is where we left off last week. This is often where we find ourselves throughout our journeys through life. You are born, now what? You enter school, now what? For nineteen years you are in school you graduate, now what? College, now what? Job, now what? You meet a wonderful person and the relationship grows, now what? You get married, again now what? Kids are added to the family, you scream in the night NOW WHAT? Your career draws to a close and retirement is just over the horizon, now what?
Every mile stone we experience in life is coupled with choices. With each choice we make a pathway opens before us that ushers in infinite possibilities. It does not matter if you are religious or not each individual has to come to some sort of conclusion as to what direction they will go. How we make those decisions speak a great deal about the character of the individual.
Last week, Jesus was up on the mountain of transfiguration, and the disciples saw a glimpse of his full glory. A voice spoke to them on the summit and told them, “This is my son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” They wanted to remain on that mountain, but Jesus left their retreat to re-engage the world. This was his rhythm of life. This was and is his lifestyle. He made it his custom to worship with the community at their synagogue, he withdrew often to the isolated places to pray, and he would minister to the needs of the people within the community. This is the life he called the disciple to participate in. This is the lifestyle that he told Peter would change the world to such a degree, that it would make one feel like a fish out of water, because it would change the very perspective, we approach the world with. That was last week. That was near the end of Jesus’s ministry. That was something the disciples experienced after they had already experience so much. They had already determined in their own minds that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. They knew and experienced much, yet they still struggle
Today, we meet Jesus early in his ministry. We meet him after his baptism. He had lived thirty years in the family of a common laborer. He had spent seventeen years mastering the family trade and he was known as the son of the carpenter. Jesus had lived and experienced a complete life up to this point. We should always remember this as we reflect on the life and lifestyle of Jesus. He experienced a full life; he was not someone that lived a sheltered or cloistered life. He lived in the world. He had similar struggles, similar problems. He had clients who did not clearly communicate their desires, and he was required to deescalate the situation. Do we recognize that Jesus really did exist as a man?
Jesus had lived and entire life, and as he approached the waters of the Jordan, as he descended into the stream and emerged from those depths, Jesus faced one of the greatest trials of his life. I often do not fully appreciate this era of Jesus’s life, we just quickly read these verses and we understand that Jesus was tempted, but do we sit with it? At this moment Jesus walks out into the wilderness and he is facing the question we all face, now what?
Jesus is about to turn from thirty years of his life. He is about to walk away from a job he had participated in for seventeen years. Leaving a business that the people closest to him for the past thirty years depended on for their survival. He knew the destination, he knew the plan, but that does not lessen the real emotions and trauma of the process. His family would not fully grasp why he needed to leave them to pursue this divine journey, to those closest to him, to those in his community this new journey would appear to be contrary to reason. He was a carpenter, not a rabbi.
When we face crossroads in life we do not fully know how to proceed, when we have faith, we have a place to go to help us in our discernment. This is what Jesus shows us through his trials of temptation. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan and was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness. I want us to really think about that. He was led by the Spirit to the wilderness. There is something very symbolic about the wilderness. It is the unknown place. It is that area veiled in darkness. It is like walking in the night and trying to see beyond what is illuminated by our flashlight, that area just beyond the light is the wilderness. The wilderness has risks and dangers, storms could come in, flash floods, tornados, lions and tigers and bears oh my. The wilderness is filled with unknowns, but the wilderness is also filled with awe and wonder.
For forty years, Israel wondered in the wilderness. They wondered that wilderness because they were not yet ready to enter the land of promise. They were not prepared. We look at their lack of faith and think how could they not trust God? They had seen the most amazing things human beings had ever seen. They literally saw their God bring the greatest nation of the world down to their knees and provide their freedom from bondage in a manner of days. They had walked out of Egypt, not only free, but with the wealth of Egypt and went out into the desert being led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They made it to the shore of the sea only to find that the greatest army of the world was chasing after them, and they had nowhere to go. Yet in that great trial God parted the sea and provided a path through the waters where they could walk to the other side. Then when they reached the other side, they turned only to find Egypt still in pursuit, taking the very same path that God had provided for them, and all at once the military might of an empire was covered under massive waves.
The story is amazing. If God can do that why did they struggle, why did they lose faith? They were in the wilderness, the unknown, and as they walked, they began to realize we do not have enough food, we do not have enough water, we do not have… They had watched God do something amazing, but life came crashing in on them, reality set in and they were out in the wilderness and all they no longer knew what to expect. They had fear of the future as they walked across the sand, because they did not know what was in front of them, but at least in Egypt they knew what to expect.
They grumbled, they worried, they acted like each of us. Yet in their fear, God provided. We do not have food, they cried, and God provided manna from heaven. We do not have meat, and God provided quail. We do not have water, and God directed Moses to touch his staff on a rock and the water flowed. They had seen God do amazing things, yet they grumbled.
They wondered because they had to learn to become a people of faith. They had to learn to trust God, with the big things and the little things. They had to become a people whose identity was on God and not themselves. They wondered because they did not trust. God showed them the destination and they said how? There are giants in the land we cannot possibly take the land. God showed them the destination and they said there is no way that we can do it. God showed them and they had not yet trusted God.
Jesus was led by the Spirit to the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil. We often become fearful of the word tempted. We approach the word cautiously because we perceive it to be a trap. But temptation is not all bad. Temptation is simply a choice, a decision that must be made, that has consequences attached to it. We are tempted every moment of every day. Lunch is approaching and my stomach is growling, I need to eat, but what? There is a McDonald’s across the street and a salad in the deli cooler. What do I do? But there are even more options available to me. Each option will fulfill my need, but which will I choose? Why did I go to work without a lunch in the first place? Temptation and choice whatever option we choose is the path we now walk.
Jesus was led into that wilderness to be tempted, and after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. As I contemplated this passage this past week, the concept of fasting resonated with me. Fasting is not something unique to our faith. To fast is an activity that is found in most ancient religions. The basic meaning of the word is, “one who has not eaten, who is empty.” We often think of fasting in terms of not eating food. And usually we participate in this discipline because we hope to have some return. Many ancient cultures believed that demonic possession could occur from eating. So, they would fast before they would participate in religious rituals so that they could enter their various temples pure from corruption. This idea did not originate in the Hebrew culture but it did become incorporated to some degree, and Jesus addressed that when he said that what we eat does not make us unclean because the food goes into the stomach, but what makes us unclean is what fills our hearts.
Fasting became to many cultures, including the Jewish culture, a type of magical rite. I will not eat, and this will force God to answer my prayers. This idea is not at all what the discipline of fasting is about. It is the discipline of emptying. I will abstain from something, empty myself from my desire so that I can replace it with that of God. I will fast from food, not because there is some magical property that will force God’s hand to answer my prayers because He is concerned that I am hungry. But I fast because by abstaining from food for a period I am saying my life and sustenance comes not by my own hand but God. I will empty myself, I will abstain, not to force God, but to redirect my attention to God.
Jesus fasted for forty days and nights and he was hungry. Jesus abstained from worldly pleasures for forty days and nights out there in the wilderness, in that place of unknowing. He went out there to show us how to approach our own lives.
While he was in that isolated place in prayer, while he was out in that place embracing the life and preparing for what was to come, he was met by the tempter. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus is abstaining from food, and he is hungry. Is it a sin to be hungry? I am hungry pretty much ever four hours. If I do not eat within six hours, I will likely have a sever headache. Hunger is a primal need that often drives us. To abstain from food for a set period we will know the temptation to eat. It does not take long for our minds to become distracted and while we attempt to abstain so we can become closer to God, our selfish desires scream out at us. Get a sandwich! What do we do in that moment?
We empty ourselves, because that is what Jesus commands. If we want to be his disciple, we must take up our cross and follow him. We must die to ourselves and live through him. To be his disciple we must empty ourselves so that we can be filled. And the first thing that comes to mind as we try to turn to God is, eat! It does not matter if we abstain from food or any other activity we regular partake of when we abstain it becomes a distraction to us. All you want is that one thing. The practice of fasting shows us just how addicted to things we can become. Abstain from TV if you like to relax in its glow and as soon as you get home the first thing you will want to do is watch a show. Abstain from alcohol if you drink that and the first thing you will want when you want to relax is a drink. Abstain from coffee, and someone will probably die if they get in your way. We struggle with a fast of any type because we have become comfortable with those things.
Jesus answers the temptation to eat with scripture. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” When we fast, when we abstain, or empty ourselves of our own desires, if we do not fill that void, we have created with the word of God, we are left empty. If we abstain only for the sake of abstinence what do, we accomplish? Notice he said, man shall not live by bread alone. We need food, but we need more than food. The fast is there to show us our need. To fulfill our desire alone will still leave us empty, because we need the guidance of God. We need to empty ourselves so that we can allow God to fill those areas of our life. And it begins with trusting God with the little things, like what we eat.
Jesus was led out to the wilderness for more than just a fast. He was preparing his body to embrace the mission set before him. His destination is to bring Israel and the world back to God. Every aspect of Jesus’s life and lifestyle is dedicated to bringing people to God. That is the end goal. It is a wonderful goal, but how does he get there? We often find ourselves at crossroads like this. We know where we are supposed to go. We have prayed and we have discernment and clearness in ministry. Maybe we have had a longing in our spirit for years, but where how do we get to that destination from here?
Jesus is wanting to bring all of Israel into a right relationship with God. How will he attract their attention? Well there is the long game, where you build relationships one at a time, or you can go all in with a bang. “Throw yourself from the pinnacle of the temple, because it is written that he will command his angels concerning you and on their hand they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” The temple is the greatest attraction of Israel. People from the entire empire travel to see the Temple. If Jesus jumped off the top of the temple and landed without a single scratch or bump, he would have had the attention he desired. People would marvel and say wow look at that he jumped and didn’t get hurt, he must be very important. But they would only be following the celebrity not person. They would miss out on life with God because all they would want is the miracle. Jesus would often tell people not to speak about the miracles because he wished to avoid that. He would heal not for the show, but to prove a point and if that point was not needed to deepen the faith of that person, then the miracle did not happen.
How does this temptation apply to us? How many times do we act before we pray? How often do we plan before we take the time to seek the guidance of the Spirit? How often do we argue in a business meeting when our testimony is that we make decisions under the guidance of the Spirit? We often jump before we think. We assume it is the right direction, but we rush in.
The last temptation mentioned, not that these were the only three temptations Jesus faced but it is the last mentioned, all the kingdoms of the world were shown to him in an instant. This was the ultimate end goal that Jesus had. For God so loved the world that he sent his son, all the nations of the world we shown to him, in an instant because it was not just Israel, but the whole world that Jesus was coming to save. Does the end justify the means? Is it ok to let one thing slide for the greater good?
We each face crossroads in our journey through life. We each have goals and destinations we believe are placed before us. We all have dreams and desires that we feel are directed from God himself. But along the pathway we walk through the wilderness. We walk through areas where we do see clearly, or we do not know exactly how to proceed. What do we do? Jesus approached the crossroads of his life through fasting in the wilderness, in the isolated place. He abstained from personal pleasures and desires for a time to realign his focus. He did this not because he needed to but because we needed him to show it to us. We have left the season of now what and are starting down the mountain to enter the world. We are being led by God, but life’s distractions are pushing in. How are we going to face our world, so we get to the destination Christ is calling us to? We take on the lifestyle of Christ. We worship, we pray, we minister. And at times we should abstain so we can recognize where our true strength comes from.
Let us now enter this time of open worship, seeking communion with God. Allowing his Word to satisfy our desires in a way that the things of this world cannot alone.