First Sunday in Lent
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
THE HOLY GOSPEL
1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. 3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. 11 Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. (Matt 4:1-11 )
The Collect for today aptly points out the cardinal principle of Lent – a time to abstain from the excess in material blessings to which we have become so accustomed in order to focus on that Passover sacrifice which Christ made of us on Good Friday. A staff officer to General Robert E. Lee once asked, “General, how oft ought a man to fast from eating?” to which General Lee responded, “If a man will but fast from his sins, he may eat what he pleases.” Simple enough, but who is able to keep that fast from sins? The Collect reveals not only that we should fast from time to time, but also it informs that our fast is personal and not public. Holiness is a personal quality and not one of which we should boast. Once we begin to boast to others of what we forego during fast, we have lost whatever blessing God would grant and have opted for the reward of a good opinion from our fellows. I urge each of us to read the Gospel for Morning Prayer today from Matthew 6:1-16 for a deeper understanding of Christ’s counsel on fasting and the means by which we are to keep our fast secret as we do our personal prayers. In this way, we will avoid the sin of the Pharisee in boasting of his better worth than the publican at the Temple.
We see in the Gospel text how our Lord was driven into the Wilderness to be tempted. He did not willingly place Himself in the way of temptation, but the Spirit led Him there for a purpose. He was thereby subject to every temptation to which the flesh is heir so that He could be an example in the flesh of every human challenge. The temptation was greater for Christ since He could have remedied His misery in the wilderness by the simple utterance of a Word.
So now is the time to enter upon the Lenten Season with earnest. Is it a time of sorrow and remorse? Yes, it is such a time. But it is also a time of deep love and joy that you are so much loved that a Personage so great as the only Begotten Son of God loves you so much as to die such a horrible and humiliating death for you. As the Epistle for today reads: “….behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation;) giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor 6:2b-10) Do we even imagine what riches are made available to us through the privileges merited for us by Christ?
Being covenanted as infants into the Kingdom of Heaven through Baptism, many of us may not recall that work of grace performed on our behalf; however, did we not seal those promises and that grace at the time of our Confirmation? In the years of our lives before Confirmation (or even adult baptism) did we not grow in, as did Jesus from twelve years of age, wisdom and favor with God? And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:52)
Today’s Gospel from St Matthew IV: 1-11 contains some cardinal truths that should aid us in keeping a Christian witness as well as in overcoming temptation.
1) We must remember that Christ was forever sinless though subject to temptation just as you or I. Could Jesus have sinned? Of course, Jesus COULD have sinned, had He succumbed to temptation, else there could have been NO temptation to sin. But Jesus did not sin, though tempted in every way as you and I are tempted. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15) So how did Christ OVERCOME temptation? This we shall learn from today’s text. If you have read it thoughtfully, you will already have discovered the Approach Christ took to temptation.
2) We should note, secondly, that, though Christ was forever without sin, His ministry did not begin until the moment of His Baptism in Jordan Waters. Following John’s Baptism of Christ, confirmed and attested by the Voice of God and the Holy Ghost, there was a great CHANGE in the direction of His life. This was the point in time that the ministry of Christ began in earnest. The Holy Trinity, it will be acknowledge, was present at the Baptism of Christ just as with your own. Baptism and confirmation in the Gospel of Christ should result in a change of our behaviors. Has it done in your life?
3) We must, thirdly, observe that the same Holy Spirit that witnessed the Baptism and glorious recognition of God of Christ was the same which drove Christ into the wilderness (a place of private fasting). Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil The day that we agreed, with our eyes open, to follow Christ was a wonderful day in our lives and one which was worthy of celebration, was it not? At that hour, did not the Holy Spirit attest to us in our heart of the greatness of our calling in Christ? But, that same Spirit will, at times, drive us into the Wilderness of our Christian walk. Like Job, we shall undergo want and testing. If we falter not, we shall overcome to the joy of the angels in Heaven.
4) Can we agree that the Wilderness of life can be a place of great want. When our souls and our flesh are in great want, we are made our weakest. When is it that Satan considers the moment most opportune to tempt us? At our moments of weakness. So he tempted Christ when He was in want of bread and water. You will note that Satan did not approach Christ at the beginning, or at the middle of His forty days and nights, but at the end of that period when Christ would have been most susceptible to temptation. So Satan deals with us. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. 3 And when the tempter came to him…..” Satan knows you. He watches day and night. He knows your moments of weakness, and he strikes at those moments whether it be moments of great loneliness, sickness, financial loss, or even success and opulence. He cannot read your heart as does God, but he has witnessed your actions. He will always come to you in the Wilderness as well as on the high mountain.
5) Fifthly, we must note that Satan loves to initiate his temptation with a question. “Yea, hath God said…” (Gen 3:1) Absolute truths have never been Satan’s strongholds, but if he can only create doubt and question, then he knows he is on fertile ground to turn our hearts from righteousness. As Satan approaches Christ, he opens his deleterious argument with a cunning question: “If thou be the Son of God.” There was no question in Satan’s mind as to whom he was speaking, but the “if” is uttered to tempt the pride of Jesus. “IF” you are the Son of God, PROVE IT! Pride is the devil’s axe handle. So Satan loves to create doubt and question. When you have served God faithfully, and the storms of life descend, and thunder booms down from Heaven in response to your prayers, do you not wonder, “Does God really care for me? If so, why do I suffer, as did Job, these terrors?” When you ask the question, you are simply falling for Satan’s trap.
6) Please observe with me how Christ handles the temptation of Satan: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. Christ is literally famished for hunger. Bread would be such a delight at this moment, but not at the terrible cost Satan would exact. So Christ is tempted three times during this confrontation. What is the common thread that runs through all three responses of Christ? IT IS WRITTEN! When this nine-tailed fox confronts you with a question, where can you find the answer for his question? In God’s Word – IT IS WRITTEN! This was the response of Christ in all three temptations of the Adversary. When men and society tempt us to compromise on lifestyles and values, where do we find the answer for our retort? The Bible! It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. No we do not live by bread alone, but the Bread of Heaven! We cannot pick and choose which counsel of God to obey. We must obey ALL of God’s counsel! We live “…by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Any questions Mr. High Churchman? Any questions, Higher Critics? Any questions, revisers of God’s Word (NIV, NASB, ESV, TEB, etc)? But couldn’t we accommodate those two men who wish to be in a “meaningful relationship?” What saith God’s Holy Word throughout both Old and New Testament – it is abomination before the Lord! So what of abortion for the sake of saving a young unwed mother a lot of grief? What of God’s counsel against adultery, or murder? Shall we obey God or man?
7) It must be known by the people of God that Satan not only twists Scripture, but also quotes it accurately at times with a twisted meaning. 5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Please note the correct quote of Psalms 91:11-12. How many devils have we in the pulpit today doing the devil’s service by misapplication of Scripture via the name-it-and-claim-it so-called gospel? In this particular instance, Satan is tempting, not only Christ, but God the Father as well. Have you ever tempted God” “O, Lord, if you are truly there, please give me this one desire of my heart.” Does this prayer not tempt God to prove Himself. If we pray in such a manner, it is likely that God will, indeed, prove Himself; but in a way that we would rather He not do. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Even the Son of God did not tempt the Father, and neither should we!
8) In the next passages, in the final temptation, we learn that Satan will promise ANYTHING – even that which he is unable to deliver – to cause us to sin. 8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. If we lose our souls to the devil, does it even matter if we inherit the kingdoms of this world, and even if Satan cannot deliver them? For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt 16:26 (KJV) There is no quicker, or surer, way to lose your soul than to bend the knee to Satan. With the loss of soul goes all other possessions (including kingdoms). 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve
9) What did we learn from this last temptation of Christ is the Wilderness Fast? Even good friends, such as the disciple Peter, may act and speak the devil’s part. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. ( Matthew 16:23) Our very best friends are capable of tempting us as Satan does. Whether spoken by friend or foe, we must rebuke the devil’s temptations with the Word of God. We learn also from this last temptation that the Christian is sanctified, by and by, by the Word of God. He grows stronger in the face of temptation. The devil values his time highly for he is anxious to find other souls to lead astray. If we constantly rebuke him with the Word of God, he will finally give up this moment of temptation and come to us less often to tempt us.
10 Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. The devil will leave off tempting those who stand staunchly by the Word of God. Then what? God will comfort us in the joy of our faith.So we have learned from Christ today that there is a time given over for private (wilderness) fasting. The Wilderness is just as much of God as is the Green Pastures. We learn further that the devil will always come to us in our times of stress and need. We learned that he loves to cause doubt and question in our hearts. We learned that we are defenseless before Satan unless we resort to that mighty Sword of the Lord – His Word. And finally, we learned that every time we resist temptation, we grow stronger – so much so that each succeeding temptation becomes less of temptation to us, and the devil will tempt us less as a result. How about you, friends, are you very often tempted, or have you discovered that temptations come less often when you rebuke the devil to his face with God’s Word?