(Note: This Bus Stop is giving up internal pictures for Lent.)
We are now into our fifth day of testing, at the first Sunday of Lent.
We read the Gospel of Luke and see how Jesus spent forty days and forty nights being tested in the wilderness, but that reading is nothing like what any of us face today, or faced in the past four days, or will face in the next thirty-five days.
We have not given up all food, I am sure. Maybe one type of food, like Facebook?
Please, do not see this holy period of time as like a New Year’s resolution. There is no comparison to be made to such whims. No one expects you to sacrifice for forty days. It is completely voluntary; but entering a wilderness means going into a place of difficulty.
We read from Deuteronomy today, which might not seem to be a good match to Jesus in the wilderness.
The word “Deuteronomy” means “Second Law.” Therefore, we are reading what Moses was adding to the laws he had previously brought down from the mountain. New laws were reminding the Israelites of the Covenant they had with the Lord and how that must be maintained forever.
Moses wrote to the Israelites as they were about to embark into the Promised Land. Thus, what we read today is the addition, as what they must then do to remember God had fulfilled his end of the bargain for gift land.
They had to make an offering of the harvest, “the first of the fruit of the ground that the LORD had given.”
What we have to realize is that the first fruit of the ground comes after hard work and good weather. Therefore, the Promised Land, “flowing with milk and honey,” was their wilderness.
The Israelites were not going to be given squat, without them earning what they got. Every blessing from the LORD would come from a test of their faith.
We too live in a land flowing with milk and honey, which makes our testing in that kind of wilderness more difficult to prove one’s faith. Our land makes sin so readily available that our focus is distracted. It moves away from within, where external food does little to feed the soul. Instead, our senses are lured by all the shiny lights and catchy sounds that are external to us. All that delight and din catches our eyes and ears.
I recall one of my aunts talking about a “sugar teat” when I was a young boy. The term has been replaced by “pacifier” today, as both were and are forms of keeping a baby pacified … calm and quiet.
One reason babies cry is because they are hungry, with the most natural form of food for an infant being its mother’s breast. Mother’s milk is sweet to the baby’s taste.
Babies, of course, are not expected to be left alone in a wilderness for forty days. A baby is only concerned with growing its physical body, not its spiritual body within. After all, it just came from the ethereal into that new body.
Adults are expected to grow into a sense of sacrifice for other bodies, where the inner spiritual needs of one will become the food for thought a tested servant of God will take to the world, out of the wilderness.
But, adults have a tendency to grow into bigger babies. Their cries for self-serving needs never seems to stop.
A sugar tit was a cloth with some sugar placed in it, tied with string so it formed a bulb, which was placed in the baby’s mouth. It’s sucking activated saliva, which dissolved the sugar and satisfied the baby’s hunger needs.
It was a surrogate for flowing sweet milk … milk and honey … mother’s milk. It is not a necessity for the baby … in fact it can cause harm to a baby, for it to suck on sugar too often. It is then a quick fix to a problem that cries, “Give me the proper attention I need!”
While we like to think we adults have outgrown such baby desires, just look in your pocket or purse and see how near you keep your cell phone.
It pacifies you needs. Lose a cell phone and watch someone cry … incessantly.
“Somebody … PLEASE … get that baby a new cell phone!” others shout after the crying goes on too long.
Such distractions make doing the hard work one of faith is responsible for difficult. We seek quick fixes to how God calls to us, “Give me the proper attention I need!”
Thus, we find Lent as our “quickie fix.” It becomes an official time when we allow ourselves to be tested by God. We get to prove to God that we can work the hard ground and take Him the first fruit of the ground, to honor our commitment to God, as His priests.
We mistakenly call a “New Year’s resolution” a first fruit.
We say things like, “God, I am too fat to please you; so I am going to try real hard and give up sweets for forty days.”
Well, that is what I told God this Lent. Maybe you committed something more substantial?
The problem is YOU are already supposed to be completely devoted to God … fat, skinny, tall, short, smart phone in hand or rotary dial phone on your wall.
Lent is not about how God can attend to your needs, like that of a crying baby. Lent is about growing into maturity in Christ, as a dedicated priest of the Lord.
The true first fruit of the Israelites was not supposed to be barley grain or grapes. That was metaphor. The first fruit of the ground was intended to be the spread of the message to others; that there is only One God … come and serve our God as yours.
That is why Moses told the Israelites, “Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.”
Lent is about turning a wilderness of faith into a garden of worship to the LORD.
When Jesus was tested by Satan, he was offered challenges to turn rocks into bread; but can diamonds become food that nourishes one’s spiritual needs?
When Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone,” the meaning was ans still is that there is more to life than the material and physical.
Satan offered Jesus all the glory and authority of kingdoms, if Jesus would worship the gods of the worldly domain – Mammon, Baal, and all others since. Modern kings hold the glory and monthly payments for worshiping gods called Lexus, Mercedes, or BMW. They live in grandiose palaces in exotic places where the common masses only dream to live. Some earn scholarships to schools for the intent to play pro ball, without any true natural God-given talent. Or, some become rich and famous as pretenders in Hollywood, acting as if they were someone who is or was real, fictional, or somewhere in between.
The list of gods who serve Satan goes on and on, infinitely. Many people serve those gods from the time they leave a church, until the time they come back. They love the wilderness because they have all the illusions necessary to make rocks seem tasty and they rule over kingdoms called banks, industries, and marketing.
All of the THINGS Satan offers is theirs and can be yours, if you just bow down and pray to worldly gods.
But, with your hands full of illusions, you will be unable to do the necessary hard work required by the LORD, so there will be no real fruit from the ground. No others will have been led to Christ by anyone so selfish.
No first fruit of labors.
Jesus knew that. Tell me why you are not supposed to be as special as Jesus … if you can. Did Jesus not come to show us it is not only possible but necessary for us to be able to enter Heaven?
Satan then created the illusion of Jesus being at the pinnacle of the Temple, telling him to leap off and trust that God will rescue him before injury or death.
Jesus IS the pinnacle of Christianity. He is high above the Temple dedicated to the LORD our God.
How can anyone ask Jesus to leap from such a “high place,” and fall into the gutter surrounding his Church, without his Church then no longer being able to be born up? The Church of Christ would have been dashed to pieces, at the feet of Jesus … just like the Temple of Jerusalem had been and would be again …when the Jewish leaders plotted to have Jesus thrown down.
When Jesus told Satan, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” you have to see how you cannot plan on God bringing you things, as rewards for going to church. You cannot expect to receive tenfold from God, because you give $100 to charity.
Expectations like those test God. You throw Jesus off his high pinnacle.
The wilderness is filled with non-believers and those whose faith is in human wiles. God does not need priests who will maintain that status quo or add to it. God needs priests to make the wilderness become fertile from faith in the Holy Spirit.
In Paul’s epistle to the Christians of Rome, he said, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”
It is important to realize that the Greek word written by Paul, translated as “the word,” is “rhēma.” The Greek word written by John to begin his Gospel (“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”) was “Logos.” There is, therefore, a difference to be read into Paul’s statement today, based on understanding that difference.
The Greek word “rhēma” means, “a thing spoken, (a) a word or saying of any kind, as command, report, promise, (b) a thing, matter, business.” (according to Strong’s Concordance) The Greek word “logos” means, “speech, oration, discourse, quote, story, study, ratio, word, calculation, reason.”
The “Word” of John was the “Reason” for Jesus. The “thing commanded” by Paul was the precursor of Jesus.
From this understanding, we can see how Paul meant that the Commandments of God … the Laws of Moses … were “near you, on your lips and in your heart.”
The word “Near” is actually the capitalized word in that statement, such that the capitalization puts greater importance on that “Closeness” of “the word.”
That is a statement of having placed God in one’s heart, so God’s business is what we speak … as CHRISTIANS. We speak for God because God is “Near” and dear to us. God is with us through the Holy Spirit, when we have become his servants, like Jesus. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was call into the wilderness for his testing.
Paul wrote, “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” This is more than being led to memorize, “If I say I believe God raised Jesus from the dead, then I will be saved,” or “Jesus died for my sins so I am saved because I believe that.”
A true CHRISTIAN believes in his or her heart. A CHRISTIAN knows that God raised Jesus from the dead because it is written into one’s heart, burned into one’s sight, and infused into one’s feelings. Our whole being is possible because of the heart.
Thus, a true CHRISTIAN IS a first fruit of Christ brought to the altar of God as a sacrificial offering.
A true CHRISTIAN has passed the test of God, survived the temptations of the wilderness and is ready to serve God and Christ, through the Holy Spirit, as a new Jesus reborn.
That is not like a newborn baby that cries to be pacified. A true CHRISTIAN spits out the sugar tit.
“Because you have made the Lord your refuge, and the Most High your habitation, there shall no evil happen to you.”
Four days down … a lifetime to go.