(many of the thoughts came from this sermon by Rev Timothy Pauls)
Sometimes at Church you hear a Scripture passage and wonder what it has to do with your life. Not today, as we hear of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness each year on the First Sunday in Lent. You and I face temptations. Constantly. And so listening to Jesus oppose our temptations for us and our salvation is a good thing.
Many of your temptations revolve around the things that you have, or do not have. Today’s Old Testament is both a warning and a blessing in reminding us that everything that you and I have is a gift from God. Six times in 11 verses God is said to be giving land and crops to Israel. Moses is teaching about worshipping the Lord in thanksgiving. There is nothing they would possess without His blessing. When the Israelites brought their firstfruits to the Lord, they were to praise Him saying, “A wandering Aramean was my father.” Without the Lord’s blessing, their ancestor Jacob would have remained just a drifting traveler who never amounted to anything and would probably have died in a famine. But God provided. The words they were given to say at worship acknowledge that everything that they have was undeserved gift. Likewise, we often begin our services by saying, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You, and justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment.” With those words, we are saying that everything good that we have is an undeserved gift from God.
Moses commanded an offering of firstfruits. Before the people enjoyed the full harvest, they were to take a portion of the best of their crops and offer it back to God. Note that this is not a bribe to buy God’s favor and grease His palm, so to speak. The reason they had firstfruits to offer was because God had already given them His favor.
And so it goes with our own church offerings. The nuts-and-bolts reason for the offering is that while God’s grace in Christ is free, it does take money to run the furnace and pay the electric bill. We financially support the spread of the Gospel. Not just here among us, but around the world. We do it so that people will be told that God raised Jesus from the dead and they learn to call on the name of the Lord with us and be saved (Romans 10, Epistle) – even as past generations of Christians gave offerings that made it possible for you to hear the Gospel and be saved. The Gospel reason is that Christ has set us free from sinful doubts so that we trust that God has given us more money than we need to for ourselves – and that the Lord will provide tomorrow as well. Our discipline of giving further impresses upon us the truth that everything we have is a gift of God. Giving it away reminds us that money is not an idol to cling to.
But you know how the Devil uses all of those “daily bread” sort of gifts – from food to clothes to cars and medical care - to provoke covetousness, jealousy, discontentment and doubt. He exploits them as false evidence that God is no use to you. When you lack the things you would like, the Devil will suggest, “Are you really sure that you are a child of God? It seems like you should have more good stuff if you were. Maybe God does not care about you.” And when you happen to suffer misfortune, then the Devil tempts you to drop God and set off on your own. On the other hand, when times are good for you, the Devil tries to seduce you all the way to Hell, saying, “Look at all the things you have gotten for yourself. You did this without any help!” Left unrepented, these sinful thoughts would lead to flat out unbelief that imagines you do not need God. Why deal with annoying commandments and God’s talk about sin and grace if you get by on your own?
However, to all these temptations, you can respond with Jesus today, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD!” (Matthew 4:4). By the word that comes from the mouth of the Lord, you know that Jesus has taken His place with sinners, for you. Immediately after He was baptized at the Jordan River, Christ was tempted in the wilderness – not only with the physical comfort of food when His tummy was growling, but He was also tempted to pride and power, idolatry and the testing of God as St. Luke tells us. Tempted continuously for 40 days by the Devil. As the Son of God, He should have everything. However, as the
You have heard the words that come from the mouth of the Lord, and so by that word, you know that Jesus resisted perfectly. By the word of the Lord, you are told that Jesus gave you the credit for it – as if you have been perfectly obedient to His Father. That word declares to you that God’s Son died in your place – not by falling from the top of the Temple, but by being lifted up on the tree of death outside of Jerusalem. That word tells you to be certain that there is no condemnation against you for any of your sins
The Lord speaks His Word personally to you, so that you can be sure that He cares for you as one of His children – because He said to you the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!” As the Father called Jesus His beloved Son at His baptism, so the Father has also declared you to be His beloved child at yours. And God speaks His word to tell you that His favor for you has not changed – each time He declares, “I forgive you for all your sins!” As long as you are in this wilderness, you know that you are not forsaken. The Lord is with you, near you, as near as His Word – so near as to give you His own body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. God’s word promises these works of salvation for us – a grace that is far greater than the great deeds, signs and wonders that He performed to free His people from Egypt; for by His Word, God has freed you from sin, death, and Hell. Eternally.
Everything you have is a gift from God. An undeserved gift. As long as the Devil tempts you and me, that will be tough to believe all the time. Yet no matter whether God gives you to be a steward of many things or few in this life, you have the Word of the Lord which promises that you are a child of God. That is why you live by every Word that comes from the mouth of the God Who has forgiven you for all of your sins. Amen.