WHERE DOES LIFE COME FROM?
In the United States, we have our Thanksgiving feasts, along with traditional Christmas & Easter dinners, but those invitations go out mainly to family & friends. In Middle Eastern & African cultures, food is often used as a symbol of hospitality & for the welcome of a stranger. For them, what the devil is doing in this text from Matthew is so very wrong.
Instead of providing hospitality, Satan uses food to begin his attack on Jesus. Instead of welcoming a stranger to his home, the Devil brings temptation deception. Even our cat, when he catches a mouse, brings it to us & offers to share. Satan, as he did in the Garden of Eden, uses food to destroy, “...command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3 ESV)
In spite of having fasted for 40 days & nights, recognizing the deadly intentions, Jesus answered Satan, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” So, where does your life come from?
During this season of the church year, it’s a tradition to give up something for Lent. A purpose in that is for helping us realize that our life does not come from whatever earthly thing it is that we value so highly. If we give up chocolate for 40 days & 40 nights, hopefully we realize that we do not live by chocolate alone. Chocolate is not where our life comes from.
Evolutionists believe that life evolved out of a random combination of chemicals & mutations. The current consensus is that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old. However, some evolutionists are now admitting that’s nowhere near long enough for all the living creatures we see today to have evolved into being. So, a theory gaining traction lately is that alien civilizations came to earth & planted life here. In their mind that’s where life comes from. In asking us to trust their theory, essentially, the evolutionists are asking us to “...command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3 ESV) They are literally tempting us to find the source of our life in something other than “every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
We don’t actually need any help in doing that, because, as sinners, it comes to us naturally. Sin, & doubting God’s Word, is what sinners do. Apple trees bear apples. Sinners bear sin, corruption, bitterness & self-righteousness. Satan is only too happy to prod us along.
After a long hard day of work, or school, or raising children, where do you find life again? Where do you turn for renewal & rest & re-creation?
As a child, growing up where auto factories dominated the employment landscape, it always struck me how many bars & liquor joints there were around every plant. My parents had to explain that a lot of men spent time there to unwind after each day’s shift at the factory. In a way, for those workers, it’s where they found life again.
Samson was searching for life in his relationship with Delilah. King David sought life in his affair with Bathsheba. King Solomon sought life in the 700 wives & 300 concubines that he kept. Plantation owners used to seek life in the number of the people they enslaved. It’s estimated that over a million people in the US are seeking life in using methamphetamines.
You name it, human beings are searching for life in it – sports & exercise, sexual identity, whom to affiliate with in politics. Sinners are very adept at separating themselves into differing tribes, as the saying goes, ‘There is strength in numbers.’ We attempt to find security by joining with others who share our beliefs, democrat or republican, UM or MSU, & so it goes.
We believe that in strength we will find life. You may never have thought those exact words, but you have lived them. We all do, especially when we are forgetting that life actually comes from our heavenly Creator. It is sin that brings weakness & death. Trying to find strength in numbers is folly when everyone you are joining with is also a sinner. It is God’s presence, here & now, that gives us life, strength & peace.
Life always comes from God wherever we may be. So, God’s children pray before their meals, because we recognize that our heavenly Father is blessing us, & sustaining our very lives, through the food that He provides. Even unbelievers recognize that they need to eat, & eat in a healthy manner in order to survive, but they refuse to recognize where that life comes from.
In the sermon text, when Satan focuses Jesus’ attention on how hungry He is, & Jesus’ human body is no doubt ‘screaming’ for food, even then, Jesus focuses on the Word of God. Praying before you eat certainly won’t make you holy like Jesus was, but it will help you to retain your appreciation for the true source of life.
Jesus elaborates on this truth a bit later in Matthew, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, & your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God & His righteousness, & all these things will be added to you.” (6:31-33 ESV)
That text really gets us to the point of “What do we do with this?” Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4 ESV) So how do we put that into action? How do we live that way? What does it mean for our day-to-day decisions, hopes & dreams?
The late Henri Nouwen described Lent as a time to re-focus & to re-enter a place of truth. Here in the house of our heavenly Father is where we find our true identity. Until we know that, we cannot know how to live, how to hope or how to dream. That’s why Jesus taught us not to be anxious about what we eat or drink or wear. And when we feel anxious, what did He say we should do? “Seek first the kingdom of God & His righteousness, & all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 ESV) If you’re feeling anxious it’s because you are drifting away from the presence of your heavenly Father. So turn back to Him. If you’re afraid, it’s because you’re drifting away from your heavenly Father, so turn back to Him.
In all the things of life we should first seek the kingdom of God. In His righteousness we will not be anxious, not be afraid. In God’s righteousness we are holy & without sin. In God’s righteousness, we do “…not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 ESV) That is our saintly nature, given to us by our Creator.
It’s just that, for now, you & I also have a sinful nature & much of our time here on earth is spent feeding that nature. Lent is about recognizing & confessing that. Lent is about acknowledging that in feeding our sinful nature we are simply feeding dust & to dust we shall return. Feeding our sinful nature truly is a dead end.
But Lent is also about realizing that our saintly nature needs to be fed as well. After baptism, our saintly nature is our true & eternal identity, & it lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God. But that is not easy to see with our physical sight, so Lent is a season that is meant to refocus our mind & heart upon our spiritual sight & our saintly nature.
In Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Satan is trying to get Jesus to make His own path through life. The devil wants God’s Son to become independent of the Father. Effectively, Satan tells Jesus, “Your father sent you here into this wilderness to die. He has abandoned you. Just look around & see where following him has gotten you? Turn these stones to bread & live.”
All of us have faced similar temptations & rejected our heavenly Father’s plan. Jesus knew that we would so He defeated Satan’s temptations for us. Jesus kept the heavenly Father’s plan. Now, Jesus offers the credit for that to you, & He does so through every Word that comes from the mouth of God. This reading from Matthew is not about teaching us how to defeat the Devil. God already knows that you & I cannot defeat the great deceiver. This reading about the temptation of Jesus is about reminding us that God’s Holy Son has taken our place here on earth in every way, in every temptation, & He remained Holy on our behalf.
When our courts allow a violent & unrepentant murderer off the hook, how is that justice for the victim & his family? Because Jesus was tempted & did not fail, His crucifixion in our place allows the Holy & Almighty God to give us eternal life without violating perfect justice. That justice was paid for by the death of the innocent Son.
The nation of Israel, in their travels through the wilderness, & later in the Promised Land, often failed to trust their heavenly Father to provide for them. They sought to serve their own needs rather than wait for the Lord. This was exemplified by the Golden Calf incident, where they thought Moses would never return from Mt. Sinai, so they made a new god to worship.
Life in this sinful world is frustrating. We too become impatient with God. Then we forget that we are His children, & we forget how to live like His children. It doesn’t take long & all we know is forgetfulness. Being a sinner is basically spiritual Alzheimer’s. No matter how often we are told that God’s loving plan is best, we instantly forget & try to make our own way.
At Jesus’ baptism, which occurred right before His temptation, the heavenly Father spoke, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” In the wilderness temptation, Jesus obeyed His Father perfectly. Then, at our baptism, the heavenly Father said to you, “This is my beloved daughter or son, & because of Jesus, in you I am well-pleased.”
Thus, St. Paul wrote, “…by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19 ESV) Though many things cause us to be anxious, we have no godly reason to be. Yet, Jesus knows that we still suffer from it, in spite of all that He has done. And our anxiety is just another reason for Jesus to take our place & pay for our sins. As the angels came & ministered to Jesus once His temptation was complete, so will they come to us. Remembering that we are dust & to dust we shall return helps us to realize that we need God’s angels to minister to us, especially when we have sinned.
All of God’s children have all of God’s promises & Yahweh, the Lord of heaven & earth will keep them. No one, not even Satan, can snatch us out of the Father’s hand. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
O Christ, You walked the road our wandering feet must go. You faced with us temptation’s power & fought our ancient foe. No bread of earth can fill our hungering hearts. Lord, help us seek Your living Word, the food Your grace imparts. When lures of easy gain with promise brightly shine, Lord, help us seek Your kingdom first; our wills with Yours align. O Christ, You walked the road our wandering feet must go. Stay with us through temptation’s hour to fight our ancient foe. Amen. LSB 424:12, 4-5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet