1st Sunday in Lent

by Crossings

Matthew 4:1-11
(First Sunday in Lent)
analysis by Shane Pierce and Ed Schroeder

1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you,” and On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, Worship the Lord you God, and serve only him.” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

DIAGNOSIS: Temptation

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Hungry in the desert
Jesus (and we as Christians), all of us baptized and designated as God’s “beloved” sons and daughters, find ourselves still “in the desert” and still “hungry.” Here we see Jesus famished after his long period in the desert (right after his own baptism), apparently alone, with the temptations of the world presented to him. Like Jesus, all that we could ever wish for is now presented to us through the worldly powers and attractions that we see. This begins to look like the “real fun.” And we are tempted to doubt our own baptism as the source of power and attraction for our souls. If this hungry and deserted state is what God gives to his “beloved” children, who needs it?

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Tempted
Worse that that, we are tempted to give up on the “bread” of our baptism. We ask God to deal with us by some alternative method, something other than what we have in the Word of our baptism, something a little more tangible and a little more like the powers and attractions of our world. But if God were not to deal with us by mercy, there is only one other option. That is to deal with us in terms of our “heroic” achievements and “great” performance records. Which is offering God the option of letting us go “smash” on the pavement.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Deserted
Worst of all is to join the Tempter in his program to give God’s children “bread.” Trying to cope with our wilderness to get “real life,” we are led to “falling down and worshipping” God’s arch-enemy. Switching is better than fighting. But that leaves us hooked to the Master of the desert, and here we find that the desert means our death. Still, that tempting choice is made by us, choosing to starve to (just-desserts) death by feeding on deceitful bread. When we desert God, God does not force us to change. God, too, does not fight but switches, switches us off. God-deserters are finally left to their desert, deserted by God.

PROGNOSIS: Word for our wilderness

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Jesus–Bread for us is our deserts
What this gospel holds up for us, however, is that Jesus is in our desert from Matthew 4 to the cross. He enters our God-forsaken world, and is himself deserted by God (Matthew 27:46). But he does so in order to save us God-deserted sinners. He exchanges what he has by divine pleasure: his sonship, his Word, his Bread of life so that we may have those for ourselves, and takes our lack of all this (and our death by deceitful measures) as his own. His cross is his marvelous desert rescue mission. The Tempter forfeits his otherwise “rightful” authority over sinners when he exercises his power of death on Jesus. But Satan himself is breaking the First Commandment, and he’s got no hold on Jesus any longer. Therefore, “all authority on heaven and earth” (Matthew 28:18) now belongs to the Christ, Risen from death’s desert! And we Christ-connected sinners are home free.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Trusting God’s Bread, worshipping God’s Word in Jesus
Trust and faith have now replaced the void/desert of our lives. The bread we seek will not be the false bread of the Devil but that of the crucified-and-risen Jesus, our “Lord and God.” Through Christ, and in Christ (by faith), we are not “tempting” God to deal with us by some alternative method or system (for which there is only one alternative). Instead, living by faith in the Gospel, we live as God’s baptized children in the world. The temptations of the “old world,” the fruit of evil, the sin of the flesh that hold or corrupt power, all have been defeated through the faith in Jesus the Christ and the power of his gospel.

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Serving God alone
Now comes the real fun. We get to join Jesus in his gospel-project to roll back the deserts of the world. Christ’s Spirit leads believers back into the world’s wilderness, into the God-forsaken places, where many others are still hungering. We are not surprised that “it’s a jungle out there,” since that is our world too. But authorized and empowered by Jesus the Christ, we join him in his desert-rescue operation, making a restored oasis out of Satan’s world-wide operation to make deserts of our God’s good creation. Christ’s mandate for this, and his encouragement, are present in his authority — “all the kingdoms of the world” are his, after all (Matthew 28:18-20).


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