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First Sunday In Lent Reflection

By 26th February 2023Reflections

Bible Readings: Psalm 32  Matthew 4:1-11

Sin is one of those old fashioned words that few people use or speak about today, a word from days gone by. Which is perhaps why people seldom think about the consequences of their sinful actions and how they can affect, not only others, but themselves.

There are few descriptions more vivid in depicting the struggle that sin brings to our bodies, hearts and minds than Psalm 32…’body wasted, groaning all day long… strength dried up…’ And if we are completely honest with ourselves in our acknowledgement of our sin, we can surely identify with the aftermath of our poor choices, can we not.

But I wonder also, if we had been there in the wilderness as Jesus was, with his divine power available to us. In our state of tiredness and hunger, would we have fallen for the old, turn the stones into bread temptation…Would we have succumbed, just as we have on so many other occasions over the years.

Yet in a sense that’s kind of the point on this first Sunday in lent; we weren’t there in the wilderness, Jesus was, and crucially, he didn’t fail the test. He accomplished what we cannot – completely and in every way.

What we say and do, what we believe and how in general we behave, is a large part of how other people will think of us and define us and the biblical position on this is that, essentially,  we act out of our identity. That who we believe ourselves to be, is the determining factor in what we choose to do. That who we think we are does shape our behaviour…

The only problem is, the Bible tells us clearly that Satan knows this too.

So what then do we take from our Gospel passage.

Perhaps the key to beginning to understanding the story of the temptation of Jesus and what it means for us, lies in three small words, if you are…

If you recall our passage last week about the Transfiguration of Jesus, a voice was heard from heaven saying, this is my beloved Son…this is my beloved Son…’ And here we are now just days later the devil saying to Jesus, if you are the Son of God. In effect presenting Jesus with the opportunity to define what it means to be the beloved Son of God. But there is more to it than that.

Here, in these temptations, Jesus is given the opportunity to win popularity by turning stones into bread – feeding the masses and feeding his ego at the same time. He is given the opportunity to achieve great power by worshipping the devil, thus turning his back on trusting God to provide. He is given the opportunity to achieve great fame by throwing himself off the temple and showing himself to be God’s chosen one by letting the angels catch Him.

But here’s the thing, is it not the case that the temptations that Jesus faced are, to all intents and purposes, the same ones that we face – and fall victim too – on a daily basis.

Are we not guilty at times of seeking power, status, popularity, material goods – whatever – as a means of hedging our bets against the complete uncertainty of the world we live in. When we tell ourselves that in the midst of such uncertainty there is no harm whatsoever in wanting a little more control over our lives. Of  grasping whatever opportunities come our way. Is that so bad…

Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of faith, of trust, of belief and confidence in the promises of God – to love and care for us throughout life’s trials and temptations. The things the devil wanted Jesus to do as the Son of God are selfish, and self-serving and ultimately self-glorifying. But Jesus rejected them because being centred on self is inconsistent with being the Christ – the beloved, the Son of God, the one sent to save others…

During his time in the wilderness, as we do on a daily basis almost, Jesus would have struggled with his identity in the face of such temptation. But because Jesus knew exactly who He was, the question of what he should do was already answered. And when He came out of that time of testing, absolutely clear on who He was and why He had come, He began to preach the Kingdom of God at hand – He behaved in accordance with his true identity. To be the Christ, the Son of God meant following a certain path laid out for Him. A way of being in the world that led him to do certain things – preaching, healing, confronting evil.

Throughout these forty days of Lent we too are called to contemplate the life of Jesus – His path of service and obedience to God, His living out His identity as the Son of God. But as we do that, we must ask ourselves some identity questions, both as individuals and as a church – a gathering of god’s people.

Who am I, who are we, really, and what is God calling me / us to do…

Are we disciples of Jesus, a people whom God has called together to be the body of Christ in this world today?

And if we are indeed the beloved Children of God, what is God calling us to do. And perhaps more importantly are we prepared to do it…..