Preparation: Cleaning Out the Mess

Heritage Presbyterian Church

March 10, 2019
First Sunday of Lent
Scripture reading – Luke 4: 1-13

Medical science tells us the following about the average human body in the best of situations:

  • The body can last no more than 5 minutes without oxygen.
  • The body can last no longer than 3 days without water.
  • The body can last about 3 weeks without food.

So, it would seem that Jesus being without food in the wilderness for 40 days would be impossible.  

Except that it has been done…

Throughout biblical history, human being have attempted to literally imitate the various acts that Jesus did during his lifetime.  On Good Friday, this includes horrifying accounts of fanatical Christians having themselves crucified.  But a few years ago, a researcher wondered if it was possible to survive in the Middle Eastern wilderness without any food for 40 days, as Scripture tells us Jesus did.

The experiment was filmed and broadcast on one of those minor cable networks such as National Geographic or Discovery or one of those (the exact episode escapes my memory).  But a well-nourished, 30ish year old man attempted to imitate Jesus’ 40 days fast in the wilderness.  He was given plenty of liquids, mostly water.  What was discovered was that yes, it was possible to do this!  It was obviously very dangerous, but it was possible. The subject found that he lost quite a bit of weight, and toward the end, he began to hallucinate.  When he finished the 40 days, he was examined by doctors, who were surprised to find that he could have actually survived a few days longer.

What this shows us is that the biblical account of Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness for 40 days was possible.  But what we should also realize that this experiment did NOT duplicate what Jesus did.

The man who subjected himself to imitating Jesus’ 40 day fast was not subjected to mental and spiritual torture the whole time.  He was encouraged and followed and monitored. He was supported, in other words. Jesus was NOT.

Yet, as we begin the season of Lent, there is much we can learn from Jesus’ quest that we can apply to our own lives.

Let’s examine the three great temptations that Satan threw at Jesus.  As we do, please notice the obvious: Satan only went after Jesus once he was extremely weakened, hungry, and possibly even hallucinating; Satan often comes after us when we are at our worst, so that ignoring his vicious whispers is a greater challenge.

And let’s also take note that none of us…is Jesus!

First temptation: bread

Pretty simple: you are hungry…turn the stone into bread and eat something.  This temptation reminds us that there are no shortcuts, no easy ways through the various problems that will plague us during our lifetimes.  There will always be the temptation to cut some non-obvious corner in order to get ahead or to get through something.  But we all know that the proven path means we will have to work at it and work hard and probably work for a long time.  We can’t usually do something difficult without taking some significant time.

Think of a job you wanted.  Chances are you didn’t get it easy or quick.  Chances are you had to start out at the bottom and work your way up. Chances are you have to try and fail and try and fail and try again before you learned.  Chances are you became FRUSTRATED and wanted to QUIT. But sticking it out, especially when it gets really, really hard is the best way to go.  Like I told the children: how do you eat an elephant?

Answer: one bite at a time.

Jesus had no shortcuts, no easy way out. 

Most of us don’t either.

Second temptation: All the kingdoms of the world 

This one is tough for all of us.  It is SO tempting to become part of the world and to look out for number one.  In business and in baseball, it is said, “Nice guys finish last.”  This may be true.  It is difficult to be a successful business person or a successful capitalist or a successful anything without driving over others as you do it.  The remarkable individual is one who can actually collaborate with others smoothly and successful, one who takes care of others, one who believes that the success of one should include the success of others. This is NOT how it is usually done. You can be a good person, but you had better have some “cut-throat” in your heart if you expect to get anywhere in this life!  You gotta get down in the trenches and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Success takes a lot of hard work!

When Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, it must have been extremely tempting.  Jesus could have the world without suffering, without being beaten, without dying by crucifixion…without any hard work at all.  Jesus could have it all…except he had to worship Satan.

There is a good reason why the first commandment is the first: You shall have no other gods before me.  This one has hurt and bothered and infuriated God throughout biblical history, but we keep doing it.  Even in his weakened state, Jesus rejected Satan’s second temptation because he kept hiseyes on the prize: salvation for all humankind.  He avoided the easy path which might have included military battles.  After all, the believers of Jesus’ day were looking for a warrior Messiah, not one who would tell them to turn the other cheek, forgive 70 times 7, love your enemies.

They wanted a warrior Messiah like King David.  Instead they got a Messiah of love who recognized that pleasures of this world are nothing compared to those of Heaven with the Lord.

Jesus kept his eyes on the prize, and we should do…because it’s so easy to become distracted – and even lost – when we are weakened.

Third temptation: throw yourself down…God will save you.

Way back in 2009, my wife and I packed up a 27-foot moving van and two hysterical cats and prepared to drive to New Jersey so I could attend seminary there.  On the very last day, our emotions were so great that all four of us had great difficulty even talking.  Jeanne and I hugged our two kids long and hard, even though we knew we would see them soon.  When my daughter finished hugging me, she stood back and told me something I have never forgotten: “Dad, don’t forget what you already know.”

You see…Megan Plunkett wasn’t a bit impressed with seminary or Presbytery or any of that stuff.  She had seen me work in churches, and as far as she was concerned, I was already trained.  She didn’t want seminary to change me.

I have never forgotten her words…even though I learned a LOT during those seminary years in New Jersey.  But I never forgot what I already knew.

Jesus didn’t either.  To throw himself down so that his Heavenly Father would save him would prove nothing at all.  Besides, exactly what did Jesus already know?  That you should not put the Lord your God to the test.  Scripture forbids it.  End of discussion.

Even in his weakened state, Jesus remembered what he already knew.

And so should we all.

When things get very difficult, we should never forget what we already know.  The Innuit Native Americans of the polar regions call this “forgetting your father’s face.”

To forget what we already know is to be untrue to yourself. What we believe, what we think is important, how we want to behave and act is something each of us has figured out for ourselves.  Each of us has determined – or we are learning to determine – what we know.  

But when we are weakened, when we are down, when everything seems to be going wrong and we don’t know which way to turn, the quickest and easiest temptation is to forget what we already know.

None of us is Jesus Christ.  But we already know that he expects us to be true to ourselves and what we already know.

So, as we begin our journey through the season of Lent, with all the emotion and all the lessons and all the pain that it contains, remember that the Lord is showing us how to clean out the mess in our own lives:

  1.  There are no shortcuts.  It will take work.
  2. Keep your eyes on the prize.  Avoid the battles of the world.
  3. Remember what you already know.  Be true to yourself.