the first test

March 5, 2017 | Matthew 4:1-11 | Lent 1

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.” – The Message

As we begin this season of Lent, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) takes us to a familiar story: Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert wastelands where he will fast and pray for forty days.  It is this physically weakened state of Jesus that the Devil “took advantage of in the first test” as The Message translation so aptly puts it.

“Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

The mere thought of tests takes me back to my younger days where I often dreaded participating in the universally accepted method of assessing one’s knowledge or abilities.  I remember walking out of my very first Chemistry midterm in college brimming with confidence.  I got my test scores back and I received a 97 – out of 200.  After that first semester, I would ending up transitioning into the humanities.  A medical doctor I most certainly would not become.

One thing I have learned about successful test-taking is that it is absolutely critical that you understand what is being tested.  You don’t go into a biology exam by cramming Shakespeare.  Realizing what is being tested is half the battle in one’s preparation.  Armed with that understanding, I have looked upon Jesus’ testing in the wilderness with new eyes during this Lent Season.

Through all my years in reading this passage, my focus has always been on the latter half of this temptation – turn these stones into bread.  I have often thought that was the crux of the temptation and it makes sense.  Jesus has fasted for forty days and nights.  He is weak.  He is hungry.  The devil wants Jesus to do something, perhaps to use His powers for self-sustenance.  But the main point of this temptation is not Jesus’ hunger – it is His identity.

IF you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.

Jesus’ identity as God’s Son is being called into question.  This line of reasoning is insidious, a slippery slope that – if Jesus were to fall into – would cast doubt on his true identity as God’s Son – and God’s goodness as a faithful father.  Remember that immediately preceding this testing in the wilderness is Matthew 3:13-17, the baptism of Jesus.  As soon as Jesus is baptized, he comes out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  This first test, therefore, is the devil basically saying, “You sure ’bout dat?”

We see echoes of this temptation in an earlier time, in the Garden.  “Did God really say, ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” the serpent asked Eve.  You see, in the Garden, it wasn’t about Eve being hungry.  The subtle accusation in the serpent’s questioning (test) was that somehow, God was denying Adam and Eve.  Satan’s ploy was effectively to convince Eve that God the All-Benevolent Creator was actually holding out on her, that she was missing out because God wasn’t for her, because God wasn’t good.

Let me pause here and redirect your attention to our 2017 Annual Theme: Sons and Daughters, Sisters and Brothers.  That’s a lot of words and it’s not even a complete sentence.  I’m sorry about that.  But I am excited about this theme and I hope you will be too.  What I am trying to convey with SDSB is the idea that, in Christ, we are made to be Sons and Daughters of a Heavenly Father who is good, who loves us.  Moreover, as a church community our identity is also about growing as Sisters and Brothers in Christ, becoming a family of faith.  It is my prayer that we grow in deeper understanding of what it means to be Sons and Daughters of the Most High God, Sisters and Brothers through Jesus Christ.  And if the devil tried to call into question Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, then we need to be prepared for a similar testing.  But thanks be to God because in Jesus, we have One who has taken the test – and exceedingly passed.

It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

Specifically Jesus was recounting the story of Israel – recognized throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as God’s Son – and how God proved Himself faithful by providing for His child by giving them manna from heaven in their 40-year journey through the wilderness.  In giving this bread from heaven, God was trying to show the Israelites that He could spread a table of provision for them anyhow, anywhere.  God would always sustain them and care for them.  But what was crucial for Israel to know was that they needed to trust in God, to believe that there was something they needed even more than mere manna from heaven – and that was the steady stream of words from God’s mouth.

Beloved community in Christ, may Jesus’ response remind us that the same answer holds true today.  May we be known as Sons and Daughters who seek the steady stream of words from God’s mouth.  Through Scripture study, worship, prayer and meditation, let us seek to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.  And during this 40-day season of Lent, may you draw closer to Jesus.  Thanks be to God.

 

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