We come together this morning on the precipice of yet another Lent. Lent is a forty-day season of preparation for the celebration of Easter. During this time, we are called to reflect, repent, examine our souls, and take God’s call to discipleship very, very seriously.
If I’m honest, there have been seasons in my life where I have been wearied by Lent. The call to fast from things that distract me from God has sometimes felt like a call to abstain from joy. Even the music for Lent is written in a minor key! Of course Lent isn’t a call to abstain from joy, as we all know, but it still has a spirit of solemness and silence which needs to be respected. Lent appeals to the Eeyores among us. I, unfortunately, am a Tigger.
Lent is an invitation to return to the practices of worship, prayer, self-examination, repentance, fasting, Scripture study, and service. Each of these things are designed to draw us closer to Jesus’ heart, where our joy is made complete.
We start this journey on Ash Wednesday, and so today we get ready by remembering a forty-day period where Jesus experienced a wilderness of temptation as he was challenged by Satan:
Luke 4 (The Message)
4 1-2 Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry.
This is the difference between me and Jesus. I can guarantee that after forty days of not eating, I wouldn’t just be hungry … I would be hangry. I love how Peterson calls this time ”forty wilderness days and nights.” Just as Jesus was in a physical wilderness, he was in an emotional-support wilderness as well. There were no friends to listen to him, no disciples to offer comfort, no followers who would come along to mop his brow, and no one to bring him food. Have you ever been there? With no one nearby to console you, talk you through a rough time, hold your hand, or offer a tissue until you felt better? If you have experienced that, you know how Jesus felt. Just think of it: Jesus chose these wilderness days for our sake.
3 The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.”
4 Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to really live.”
This is a striking reminder of why we need to be in God’s word every day. Jesus rebuked the Devil with Scripture. You can, too … if you know it.
5-7 For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, “They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.”
8 Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”
If you could distill the purpose of Lent into one sentence, it might just be verse 8. Lent is a time to return to serving God with “absolute single-heartedness.”
9-11 For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone’?”
12 “Yes,” said Jesus, “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’”
13 That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.
And of course that opportunity came on the night that Jesus gathered his friends in the Upper Room and one of them betrayed him. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. For now, may we commit to making this a holy, transformative, and significant Lent season by giving God our single-hearted attention, obedience, and love.