First Sunday in Lent
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
February 25, 2023
As we begin our forty days and forty nights in the wilderness of Lent, we hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. But first is the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. They are in paradise, and all is well in the world. Along comes a serpent with cunning words, and the next thing you know, Adam and Eve fall for his lies and treachery and paradise is lost, seemingly forever.
Then we hear the story of Jesus’s temptation by the devil. While Adam and Eve are in garden with all of the sustenance they need and all the beautiful weather they could ask for, Jesus is famished in the wilderness left to struggle with his temptation alone.
In the first temptation, the tempter quotes Scripture and encourages Jesus to satisfy his physical hunger by turning stones into bread. He says, “If you are the Son of God,” but this doesn’t mean that he’s expressing doubt about who Jesus is. The word “if” could be translated from the Greek as “since” – “since you are the Son of God.” He’s rather trying to deceive Jesus into using his power to satisfy his own physical needs rather than trusting God the Father for them. Jesus responds not with his own words, but by quoting Scripture, affirming that life is sustained by more than physical food; it is sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus will not misuse his power to satisfy his own physical needs.
The second test focuses on the need for security and safety. The devil quotes Scripture again, and this time, he tempts Jesus to make himself safe from injury or even death. Jesus recognizes once again that the devil is taking Scripture out of context: the Hebrew Bible does not endorse testing God’s protective grace for the sake of self-protection. Jesus will not misuse his power to make himself safe and secure.
In the third temptation, the devil tries to seduce Jesus with prestige. He offers him control over all the kingdoms of the world, along with the glory and splendor that comes with that, if he will only swear allegiance to the devil. Jesus rejects the tempter’s deception and quotes Scripture again in context saying, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Jesus will not misuse his power to gain earthly power and prestige.
Just as Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, so we will be this Lent. Jesus didn’t respond to temptation as Adam did by succumbing to it, or fleeing to another selfish vice to escape, or by complaining to God, or by wondering what he may have done wrong to deserve it. He responded by deepening his dependence on God. The very temptations he experienced – materialism, false security, and prestige – are not foreign to us. We experience them every day. Consumerism is ubiquitous in our culture, something I’m reminded of when I look at my Amazon purchase history. In the richest country in the world, we often misuse our vast resources to try to make ourselves safer at the expense of the vulnerable and marginalized. And as Fr. Sean mentioned last week, Christianity isn’t looked upon favorably by many in our culture. We are regularly subjected to temptations to compromise our faith or values in order to gain prestige before others. We learn from our Lord that the appropriate response in resisting these and all temptations is to turn to God for help instead of relying on our own power.
Unlike the other accounts of Jesus’ temptation in Mark and Luke, Matthew’s account tells us Jesus being tempted after having fasted for forty days and forty nights. For Matthew, Jesus’ time of fasting was a time of preparation for temptation, not the means by which it happens. It was his intentional forty days and forty nights of fasting that prepared him to endure and ultimately overcome these temptations by the devil.
Intentional self-denial is helpful in the spiritual life because it reveals the things that control us. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but by denying ourselves, the things that control us come to the surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during intentional periods of fasting and self-denial. When they surface, we will be tempted not only to stop denying ourselves, but also to sin. If we’re properly prepared and watching for these things to surface, we can then respond as Jesus did: we can turn to God for help and rely on his grace to strengthen our will to choose to overcome all assaults and temptations of the devil. Self-denial reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4). Whatever it is that we’re giving up – that is not what sustains us; God sustains us. When we give something up during Lent, we are learning to rely on God to give us everything that we need and more. 
During the coming weeks, our fasting and self-denial will engage the dark places in our hearts, giving us an opportunity to come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them. We will be tempted to rely on our own strength rather than the grace of God to overcome temptation. We will fall into sin and then be further tempted to allow the guilt we feel to hold us captive. Rather than being about guilt, Lent is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us. It is about the amendment of life and new beginnings.
…new beginnings which are possible because as we will sing in our offertory hymn, in the “loving wisdom of our God, when all was sin and shame, a second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.” Friends, paradise was not lost forever when Adam and Eve sinned. Human flesh and blood failed in Adam, but we strive afresh against that ancient foe, again and again, knowing that we will ultimately prevail not because of anything we’ve done, but because God’s free gift of grace redeems our flesh and blood through the one man Jesus Christ.
Dear friends, as we are tempted this Lent, let us ask the Lord to come quickly to help us, and as he knows the weaknesses of each of us, let each of us find him mighty to save. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett, and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, 47-49.
 Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, pp. 54-55.
 Feasting 48.
 “Praise to the holiest in the height” by John Henry Newman.
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