One More Day

Heritage Presbyterian Church

March 1, 2020
First Sunday in Lent
Scripture reading – Matthew 4: 1-11

A common expression when someone has passed away is to ponder: “If I only had one more day with him or her…I would love that.”  This is a sweet, nostalgic thought and one that can sometimes ease the pain of that loss.  It can trigger our dreamy imagination of that missed person sitting with you on a park bench on a bright, sunny day…or walking through a cool, shady set of woods out in the country…or hanging out on the back porch like you both used to do back in the day…or maybe sharing a delicious meal that includes those favorite foods you once shared.  It can also summon older, similar memories when perhaps a very special hour was spent. 

I truly wish this was that sort of sermon…the kind that can summon sweet thoughts and memories and soft smiles.  Unfortunately, this is the season of Lent, and we have some work to do in order to process some of the horrific things that we have heard about in the times of Jesus of Nazareth. 

In today’s Scripture reading, we are examining a 40-day stretch of the ultimate in human endurance, a punishing test of the human spirit, and torture test of the limits that any human can be pushed.  In those situations, the phrase “one more day” can indicate someone who is nearing the limits of what can be done, and either complete collapse or total giving up – or both – are not far away.

Believe it or not, there have been several Christians who have attempted to recreate Jesus’ 40-day fast in a wilderness area somewhere.  Most of them either ended up in the hospital well before the 40-day goal, or they actually died because of their insistence on following a similar fast to the one Jesus endured.

I remember watching a television show on one of those cable channels that explores the great outdoors like Discovery, or National Geographic, or something similar.  In this particular case, the young man and his crew tried to recreate the setting of Jesus’ time in the wilderness as closely as possible.

First of all, the young man was in his early thirties, in good physical condition, and wearing ordinary clothing (no special survival gear, in other words).  He placed himself in the wilderness area of Israel or the West Bank, approximately where Jesus might have been.  He brought water because Scripture doesn’t tell us that Jesus fasted from liquids…just food.  And he walked from place to place with no supplies and nothing except a sturdy walking stick that he fashioned by hand from branches in the area.  The young man actually made it through a 40-day fast, but he was hallucinating and staggering when he finally stopped.  His friends quickly whisked him off to a medical facility with a series of IV’s inserted into his veins to stabilize him and save his life.

Afterwards, he marveled at how difficult it had been; he probably had the phrase “one more day” going through his mind as the time passed slowly.  He could have quit at any time, but he stuck to it to see if it could have been done.

He proved that it was possible.  So suspending our belief that Jesus didn’t actually do this is not entirely fair.  Just because most of us couldn’t do it…doesn’t mean Jesus couldn’t.

That phrase one more day kept running through my mind as I read this very familiar passage.  Matthew and Luke give it much attention and include a variety of vivid details; Mark barely mentions it, almost as if it were not even that important.  But in the two detailed accounts that we have, I keep picturing Jesus struggling to even walk toward the end.  He was probably delirious and staggering.  That was when Satan showed up to torture him with an easy escape: “Just do this and you won’t have to wait one more day for it to end.”  Of course, Satan waited and waited until Jesus was at his most vulnerable point.  I doubt Satan would even get Jesus’ attention unless the Lord was in an extremely weakened state.

That’s not hard to imagine, is it?  The Devil doesn’t play fair, does he?  That’s not how he rolls at all!

So Jesus is at the end of his physical limit, and how he hears the reasonable – so very reasonable – voice of Satan:

  • “If you will just do this…it will all be so much easier…”
  • “If you are truly the Son of God, then…”
  • “My way will accomplish the same goals you already have, but my way will do it without any suffering or sacrifice at all.”
  • “If God truly loved you, would He do this to you?”
  • “Are you certain you can even make it through one more day?”

Scripture only tells us of the three specific temptations that Satan introduced to Jesus, but it’s not hard to imagine others.

Surviving one more day…making it through one more day… plowing through one more day… suffering through one more day.  We know what that’s like sometimes:

  • When the child is very sick, and we sit by the bed or tend to that poor child for a day or two or longer, it’s understandable to tell yourself, “If we can hang on one more day, maybe there will be some improvement tomorrow.”
  • When you work a job that is really tough – either every single day or just for a stretch – you tend to watch the clock.  If you can just make it through that day, just one more day, maybe tomorrow will be better.  Or maybe you know when things will end, so you try to hang on until that distant date arrives.
  • When you are in school, and your classes are really hard.  You have to hang in there because these classes will get you the training you want or the degree you need or the next classes can’t be taken until you finish these, that makes for a long time.  Then each and every day that you make it through those assignments, tests, lectures, papers, and final exams can seem like a victory…or a defeat… sometimes both in the same course!  “One more day of this” becomes your mantra.  Vacations and holidays become virtually sacred in your heart because it means you don’t have to face that “one more day” grind, at least for a while.
  • When something is wrong and you are troubled because of some heartbreaking issue, sometimes you reach the point where you might say, “I can’t deal with this for even one more day.” That’s when a decision has to be made, and often it’s not an easy one. 

In all these scenarios and a hundred more, the concept of “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” is a little more than we can handle.  In days like this, we probably don’t understand that we are being tempted by Satan, and we are tempted because we are being brought down into a vulnerable situation.  Maybe we haven’t fasted for forty days in the wilderness, but we are weak and vulnerable…and Satan knows it.

That’s when the easy way, the short-cut method, the “no-one-will-find-out” temptation, the sweet sultry voice full of the non-righteous ideas can flow into your mind like rushing water down a hillside.  That is what Jesus must have felt like.

But remember that Jesus was the obedient Son of God.  He had no intention of straying from his chosen path.  He had just been baptized by the prophet John the Baptist, the Elijah of Jesus’ day.  He had just heard the voice of his Heavenly Father say, “This is my Beloved.  In Him I am very well pleased.”  Jesus may have been weakened at that moment when Satan arrived, and as a fully human being – he was at his most vulnerable.

And isn’t that just how it always happens?  We seldom receive much strong temptation when everything is going well.  Why should we?  Everything’s going well!  We’re looking very good! No, it’s when we’re at our lowest, our worst, our weakest that temptation can work.

Maybe as we begin to think about all the events that will happen in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, maybe the idea of Jesus understanding our own weakness as we face our own temptations is something we need to start thinking about.

Again, I’m not saying we are the same as Jesus; facing the idea of giving up or chanting “one more day, if I can make it just one more day” does not put us on the same level as Jesus.  Even the individuals who have attempted to recreate Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness do not get that recognition.

What we do get is a Savior who truly understands us and what we go through – because he did the same things – and more!

A Savior, the Son of God who truly understands each of us… that’s a Savior any of us should worship easily and consistently, especially when things are hard.

Then one more day means one more day of living and serving and following Jesus Christ.