First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sunday Sermon Notes (First Sunday in Lent ~ March 1, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Deuteronomy 8:1-5; Matthew 4:1-4
As you know, today is the First Sunday in Lent. Lent is a 40-day period, from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, that is observed by most Christians. Lent is supposed to be a time of intense spiritual reflection. If you were here last Wednesday, I pointed out that Ash Wednesday is a great opportunity to consider what it means to be human redeemed by the cross of Christ.
The ashes on Ash Wednesday remind us of two great realities. On one hand, ashes remind us of our mortality. As your forehead was marked with the sign of the cross on Ash Wednesday, you heard the words of Genesis 3:19, remember “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” For lots of people, this reality is a sad and troubling one. It means the end. It means defeat. It means brokenness and hopelessness. But on the other hand, for us, followers of Christ, we know that death is not the end of the story. We live in the promise of hope and we proclaim hope. For us, hope is not an abstract idea, it is actually a person, and His name is Jesus Christ, who, through His death, conquered death and won our victory. These two realities, mortality and hope, fall and redemption, are central to the Lent season.
The temptation narrative, the story of Jesus being tempted by the Devil in the Judean wilderness, has been a key Scripture in Lent throughout the long history of the Christian Church. There is a parallel between Jesus being tempted in the Judean desert and Christ’s followers being tempted in the wilderness of this world today. Leaning on the means Jesus used during His forty days in the desert, we need to learn how to conquer our own temptations today. Yes, in His humanity, Jesus was tempted like us. Nevertheless, He never surrendered to temptation. This Lent, we will be looking at the 3 temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. Let me very briefly this morning underscore two observations as we examine the First Temptation of Jesus.
First: The Universal Nature of Temptation
Temptations are all around us. They come in all different shapes and sizes. I heard a story of a little boy named Bobby who desperately wanted a new bike. His plan was to save his allowance until he had enough money to purchase the new bike. Each night Bobby asked God to help him save his money. Kneeling beside his bed, one night he prayed, “Dear Lord, please help me save my money for a new bike, and please, Lord, don’t let the ice cream truck come down my street again tomorrow.”
It doesn’t really matter whether we are young or old, poor or rich, a male or a female, temptation bangs on the door constantly. A husband and his wife got up one Sunday morning and the wife dressed for church. It was just about time for the service to begin when she noticed her husband hadn’t moved a finger toward getting dressed. Perplexed, she asked, “Why aren’t you getting dressed for church?” He said, “Cause I don’t want to go.” She asked, “Do you have any reasons?” He said, “Yes, I have three good reasons. First, the congregation isn’t very friendly. Second, no one likes me. And third, I just don’t want to go.”
The wife replied wisely, “Well, honey, I have three reasons why you should go. First the congregation is very friendly. Second, there are a few people there who like you. And third, you’re the pastor! So get dressed!” Even pastors are humans. They are tempted like anyone else. Temptations are all around us. No one exempt even the Son of God in His humanity.
Second: Satan Tempted Jesus to Doubt God’s Provision
The first temptation could not have been better timed. Jesus had been fasting for forty days. He was hungry. He was entitled to eat. The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Although the first temptation, to turn stones into bread, is often understood as challenging Jesus to misuse His miraculous power to satisfy His own need, His hunger, I believe the temptation goes beyond that. I believe Satan tempted Jesus to doubt God’s provision. Deuteronomy 8:2-10 is very much the background against which Matthew 4 must be understood. The temptation refers to the grumbling of the Israelites in the wilderness complaining to God that they were hungry to which God responded by graciously sending manna and quail. After escaping the bondage of Egypt, the Israelites failed to trust God for their daily bread.
In the wilderness, Satan was tempting Jesus to rely on His own strength rather than allowing God to meet Christ’s needs in God’s way and timing. Satan was tempting Christ to doubt His Father’s sufficiency just like Adam – and the Israelites – doubted God’s sufficiency. Will Jesus, the Son of God, fail the test that Israel failed, or will Jesus continue to place His trust in His heavenly Father even in the wilderness?
Jesus responded to the first temptation by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth.” In other words, Jesus was saying that God’s Word should orient our perspective—what we want, what we hope and fear, what we love, what we value, etc. God’s word should be our compass.
Jesus is not teaching here a spirituality which overlooks physical needs. Jesus declared that people do not live by bread “alone.” The word “alone” is a key word in both the gospel narrative as well as Deuteronomy. Certainly, we do need food to survive. So did Jesus. We must eat or we will die. The point we should not miss here is that Satan tempts us to place our trust in things other than God. Things that have proven to be just shifting sands; things like our health, our wealth, our savings, our family, our job, etc. Food or no food, God is trustworthy. Health or sickness, God is trustworthy. Money or no money, God is trustworthy.
Lent is a time to experience God in new ways. Lent is also a time of turning to God, to God’s promises, to God’s commandments with a repentant heart. And my friends you are not in this alone – you are empowered by the Spirit of the living God, the same Spirit that led Jesus through His own temptations. Amen.