Vol I No. 7

A Sermon for Lent I

by William J. Martin

Our Lord never dictated to His Father, and we are not here
to dictate to God; we are here to submit to His will
so that He may work through us what He wants.
When we realize this, He will make us broken bread
and poured out wine to feed and nourish others.
(Oswald Chambers: My Utmost for his highest)

The whole meaning of Lent, which we begin today, involves our journey up to Jerusalem with Jesus. We journey up to see and experience the passion and agony in the garden, the Crucifixion of God’s Son on Calvary, and His Resurrection from the dead. We go up to see and experience the manifestation of God’s love for us in a series of pieces which, being woven together, comprise the seamless robe of God’s love for us. God’s love is the forgiveness of sins and the rising up to new life. The forgiveness of sins is broken bread and poured out wine. The forgiveness of sins is the broken heart of God and the poured out blood of His mercy made flesh in Jesus Christ. Jesus is our broken bread and poured out wine, that we too, embracing Him as the forgiveness of sins and the love of God made flesh, may become broken bread and poured out wine for others and our world.
But before we can see and embrace Jesus Christ as broken bread and poured out wine, we must remember that for Jesus to become our forgiveness of sins, He would have to assume and endure all of the false temptations and expectations that befall human beings who search for and desire the mercy of God. Jesus was tempted in all ways like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebr. iv. 15) But He resisted all of our temptations to turn God’s will against the salvation and redemption of the whole human person. The forgiveness of sins is what the Father wills for us in Jesus, and the manner and timing of it all is absolutely essential to our salvation. Jesus will become the broken bread and the poured out wine: He is the forgiveness of sins to be fully expressed in His death on Calvary’s tree. But before He offers himself to us in that perfectly unique way, He will be tempted to give it to us in other ways, no doubt, with us, being enticed to want it sooner rather than later, and on human terms and not God the Father’s.

So Jesus is tempted to become broken bread and poured out wine long before He mounts His Cross of love. And in today’s Gospel we read about how He was tempted to frustrate God’s purposes in three ways. He had been fasting in the wilderness for forty days, far removed from the busy-ness, noise, and movement of human affairs, in order to perceive and grasp more clearly the Father’s will for Him and us. Times of fasting are idealized in our minds as times when the Devil is far away and removed from our intimacy with God. But such is not true. If one reads the literature of the Church Fathers, who took themselves out of the world in order to find God, one learns that it is in the fasting of the desert that the Devil is most challenged and stimulated to sever the human mind and heart from God. Jesus the Son of God, by joining Himself to our humanity in order to redeem it, would, of necessity, then be subject to the temptations of the Devil. So we read: Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (St. Matthew iv. 1) As we shall learn, temptation is not sin, but only the process and trial by which man comes to see himself more clearly in relation to God.

So Jesus, having fasted for forty days and forty nights, grows hungry, like every human being. The Devil says to Him, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread, (Ibid, 3) in order to satisfy His human hunger. So He is tempted to reveal that He is the Son of God in a way that wholly ignores God’s will. He is tempted to become broken bread – a heart broken open to overcome human hunger, pouring Himself into physical needs without first discerning the will of His Father for His spiritual mission. Hunger is not the evil that the Son of God comes to resist, forgive, and overcome. So Jesus resists Satan. Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (St. Matthew iv. 4) The true hunger and thirst is to be fed and nourished on God’s Word and will. The broken bread that satisfies it is not ready to be offered fully. The wine that overcomes spiritual thirst is not ready to be poured out. Jesus and all of us may be tempted to think that God’s mercy exists to meet our earthly needs, satisfy our human hunger, or make our physical existence more comfortable and painless. But Jesus knows that men, when true to spiritual natures, are restless, irritable, and discontent until they hunger and thirst after righteousness (St. Matthew v. 6), and thus feed upon the bread of angels.

Jesus is tempted a second time. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 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. (St. Matthew iv, 5-7) If the first temptation is to pray for an absurd miracle that would make stones into bread, or to suppose slothfully that God should feed our bodies before he had healed our souls, the second is a temptation to spiritual pride. Satan’s idea is that if indeed you are not interested in earthly food or the well-being of your human nature, then eat the bread of angels, provoke and tempt God to prove that your soul-food is enough to sustain you. Throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple, and let your angelic food-bank save you. If your bodily, physical nature is of no importance, then no matter what you do with it, God will save and deliver you. If the flesh is carnal and sold under sin (Rom. vii. 14), it will play no meaningful role in salvation, so let it go. Jesus says, No. Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (Ibid, 7) If the first temptation is to worship the body, the second temptation is to worship the soul. But soul and body together make up human nature. And if Jesus is going to become broken bread and poured out wine, He will have to become broken body and poured out blood as body and soul together. If Jesus is going to redeem human nature, the body and soul united must travel into offering and sacrifice to the Father. As George MacDonald says, As Jesus refused to make stones bread, so throughout His life he never wrought a miracle to help Himself. (Sermon Lent I) The tension, warfare, and struggle that tempt every man to divorce his soul from his body, his spiritual life from its natural habitation, and the glory of God from creation will be resisted by Jesus at every turn.

Jesus is tempted a third and final time. 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; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fail down and worship me. (Ibid 8,9) Jesus shows us that if the body and soul are to be offered to God in obedience and trust, this can come about only when the spirit conditions both. The body reveals man’s animal nature, the soul his intellectual uniqueness, and the spirit manifests His heart’s true desire. The final temptation is, as Canon Crouse reminds us, the temptation to be as God…[to see oneself] as the absolute measure of all things.(Par. Sermons) Many men think that the mercy that Jesus brings to the world consists chiefly in alleviating the hunger of the body. Others think that His mercy generates a theological transcendence and mystical release of the soul from the body. But here Jesus shows that only when He surrenders His whole human person – body, soul, and spirit, to the Divine will, in the face of all rejection to it, can He reveal and manifest God’s mercy and forgiveness. The temptation here is, of course, to live to and for oneself, manipulating and controlling others through a truth that changes and alters at the expense of all others with every attempt to advance and promote the selfish and narcissistic ego. The implications of this temptation are crystal clear to Jesus. Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Jesus comes into time and space to redeem the whole of man – body, soul, and spirit. For the forgiveness of sins and the Resurrection and the Life to be offered to man, Jesus Christ will have to resist any temptation to make a false god out of the world, the flesh, the Devil, or even Himself – as severed or separated from that obedience to the Father that will enable Him to become our broken bread and poured out wine.

As we conclude, we do well to remember one more thing that Oswald Chambers says about Christ and His temptations. He writes, [Our temptations] are [Christ’s] temptations, not temptations to us, but temptations to the life of the Son of God in us. (My Utmost. Sept. 19) Temptations threaten the life of Christ’s Spirit in us. Christ rose from the dead, ascended back to the Father, then began the real work of our salvation. What we need in this life, through the risen and ascended Christ, is the forgiveness of sins. He offers this to us, but only if and when we discover that we are sinners with sins that need to be forgiven. And in order to discover that, we had better “fess up” to our temptations, locate our weaknesses, identify our danger zones, and confess our sins. For only when we offer ourselves in this way to the Spirit of Jesus Christ who dwells in us, will He give us Grace to use such abstinence, that our flesh being subdued to His Spirit, we [will] ever obey His Godly Motions in righteousness and true holiness. (Collect) Then the powerful Love of God will steer us away from temptations, the devil will leave us, and God’s angels [will come] and minister unto [the Christ] in [us].(Ibid, 11) And having humbly received the wholly unmerited forgiveness of sins, we shall become broken bread and poured out wine, Christ’s broken body and poured out blood, superabundantly filled with God’s unending desire to feed the world on His saving Word of Love. Amen.