Sermon: Series #1: Lessons from the Wilderness: What are the lessons we are to
Scripture: Luke 4: 1-13
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: March 10, 2019, The First Sunday in Lent, Year C
It has taken three chapters for Luke to build up to today’s launching of Jesus. All the birth narratives are behind us as is Jesus’ baptism and family genealogy. The first three chapters have duly announced the coming Messiah and now in Chapter 4, he is launched.
Our text comes from Luke 4: 1-13 and is often referred to as “the temptations of Jesus”. Jesus is returning from the relatively lush Jordan river valley and as he heads up the long dirt path, the Spirit of Baptism compels Jesus to go bushwhacking; in other words, the Spirit has Jesus leave the obvious road and head off into the wilderness. The wilderness in Judea is not like the lush wilderness of the Appalachian Mountains; think instead of the timeless Black Hills of South Dakota. Think of the red, rocky Martian landscapes the Curiosity Rover sends back of the Red Planet. We are talking remove, rough, wild and exposed. This is where the Spirit leads Jesus. Listen to the Word of the Lord from Luke 4: 1-13:
Luke 4: 1-13
4.1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5 Then the devilled him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devilsaid to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9 Then the devil c] took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Jesus’ ‘first act’ of Messiah was to take his spiritual LSAT and Bar Exam; i.e., he had to pass the Jewish law exam. If he was going to inaugurate a new kingdom, he had to demonstrate to his Heavenly Father that he was up to the task. Jesus was confronted with the same evil in the world you and I have to face each and every day; yet the stakes were much higher for the Messiah. The late Catholic priest/author, Henri Nouwen spoke about these temptations in his thoughtful book entitled, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. Nouwen believes that Jesus was given three tests to determine the mettle of his spiritual depth.
By turning stones into loaves of bread was the temptation be become relevant.
By forsaking God to rule the world was the temptation to have power.
By throwing himself off the Temple’s pinnacle was fighting the temptation to be spectacular. Nouwen is absolutely correct in that leaders have to fend off those temptations to be relevant, to be powerful, and to be spectacular. The reality is, as Luke’s story continues to unfold in the Luke-Acts narratives, we will see Jesus confront earthly leaders who have succumbed to the exact temptations he overcame in our story today. Whether Roman officials or members of the religious and social leadership of Jesus’ day, each of them failed – from Pilate to Caiaphas – and fell victim to the temptations to be relevant, powerful, and spectacular. It was imperative for Jesus to get this right before he began to do and execute God’s work in earnest. It was vital that Jesus follow the path to and through the wilderness as his ancestors did. The wilderness exposes you and your weaknesses. The wilderness pushes you to reach down into yourself and find the true essence of who you are. The wilderness is the place you and I get to road-test our faith in very real ways.
Wilderness has always been important in the lives of God’s people. Ironically, it’s often in the most god-forsaken places and times the resplendent light of God shines most brightly!
It was wandering in the wilderness Abraham and Sarah were given the promise of a great nation.
It was in the isolated wilderness Jacob wrestled with God and saw angels descend and ascent to and from heaven.
It was only after the Hebrews left the safety of what they knew in Egypt and entered the inhospitable environment of the desert did they learn about God, learn about sin and waywardness, and learn about trust and obedience. It was in their wilderness time their character as the people of God was formed and expressed. It was in the hardship of wilderness where they received the beautiful Torah of God, the Law of God. It was in the wilderness they were uniquely shaped as God’s chosen people. This is why Jesus had to go to the wilderness. God shapes his people, his children, in the wilderness! It was the time Jesus could demonstrate his fealty to God. It was the time he could prove he wasn’t on some Messianic power trip. It was a time he demonstrated that he completely trusted God would do what God promised.
Friends, this past Wednesday, we began the season of Lent – the forty-day spiritual gymnasium whereby we, just like Jesus, head into the wilderness and determine how spiritually “fit” we are. We are invited to walk into the wilderness and risk becoming exposed to the elements at best, and the fears and temptations of evil at worst. Lent is the time we become vulnerable to God and let it all hang out with what we struggle to believe in. Spiritual wilderness, beloved, is barren but it doesn’t have to be scary. Remember, Jesus did not go into the spiritual wilderness alone as he was lovingly led by the Holy Spirit. The evil one may trick us into thinking we are abandoned by God and left all alone, but let’s remember our story: The Spirit led Jesus there and didn’t abandon him. What a wonderful reminder for each of us! The very wild, remote wilderness is the place God journeys into with us!
Poet/Mystic, Thomas Merton once wrote, “The desert becomes a paradise when it is accepted as a desert. The desert can never be anything more than a desert if we are trying to escape. But,” Merton says, “once we fully accept it in union with the passion of Christ, it becomes a paradise.” In other words, my friends, even in the midst of our spiritual deserts and wilderness experiences, the embryo of God’s Spirit and presence is there!
For those of you who don’t know, I suffer from chemical depression induced by PTSD. I personally know what emotional, spiritual deserts and wildernesses feel like. I also know that the wilderness is the best University of the Holy Spirit there is to matriculate in as well. You see, in the depth of my pain in my emotional, spiritual wasteland, at the place I felt most abandoned by God, the Spirit revealed to me something beautiful. It taught me that in the midst of my darkness and gloom, I was actually being given a gift. You see, I learned form the Spirit in my desert that in my deepest pain, I could feel the very tears of God that God felt when Jesus was tried, beaten and killed. Feeling the tears of God in the midst of pain, my desert had been transformed into paradise – the place of Eden where God dwells.
My sweet church, let the Spirit lead you into the wilderness where you spiritual roots can be stressed and yet strengthened. The wilderness has as lot to teach us, bestow upon us, share with us if we accept the wilderness for what it is: A place to walk with God. A place to affirm what Jesus himself affirmed: Jesus affirmed that God will meet my particular needs. In the wilderness, Jesus affirmed there is no God but One – the Lord Most Holy. In the wilderness, Jesus demonstrated that we don’t have to test God but to simply be aware of the Most High’s companionship on the path that feels like it’s leading to the Valley of Shadow and Death.
Are you willing to head off the routine way and be led into the wilderness this Lent and learn, discover more about God and yourself than you have before? Then come on! You’re not going alone!
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
The New Revised Standard Version.
Please see availability on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Name-Jesus-Reflections-Christian-Leadership/dp/0824512596/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=In+the+Name+of+Jesus%3A+Reflections+on+Christian+Leadership&qid=1552417411&s=gateway&sr=8-1
This quote was written in a notebook. I cannot attest from which of Merton’s works this came from to accurately cite it.