Mar
21

Stones and Bread

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Text: Matthew 4:1-11

Very often, our worship of God includes the Lord’s Prayer, in which we pray that God will not lead us into temptation. When we say these words, we are making an earnest appeal that we not be subjected to temptation – more temptation – because it’s something we know a lot about. Temptation tries to lead us down the road that leads to the unholy trinity: “Me, Myself and I.”

Yet, in the account of Jesus’ temptation and victory in the wilderness, there’s hope and inspiration because in the stones of the wilderness, a life of meaning can emerge where we’re no longer held back by the failings of the past. It’s a time where, again, God turns the world on its ear by accomplishing things opposite to the expected course of action. Where the world would expect Jesus to achieve success by using His abilities to get ahead, he instead makes a statement of faith and purpose by NOT using them. Where he could make things easier on Himself, He instead used that moment to remind his tempter that the right thing to do was to let God give him strength for the journey.

Jesus went into the wilderness with purpose.  He went to be prepared for His ministry; he went, knowing that as the Son of God, he would have to live accordingly, and understand what that means. This time was a confirmation that He was to serve God in a special way.

Temptation by nature is a test; when it’s offered, the expectation is that the person being tested will fail.  But, as is so often the case, God used the ill intentions of others – even those of Satan himself – to advance His purposes.

There are three temptations in Matthew’s account that Jesus underwent:

  • The temptation to outspoken conceit (“vainglory”)
  • The temptation to tempt God – misuse Scripture to your own ends
  • The temptation to promote Himself over God’s desires

In all of these temptations, it all comes down to whether or not we place our priorities before or after God’s priorities.  Jesus was brought into the wilderness for a purpose; if he were to turn stones to bread, he would be denying his true identity. If he were to jump off a high tower to prove that God would send angels that would arrive before he hit the ground, he would be manipulating God into miracles that only served to raise himself up, not be a source of hope to the world that so needed it. And if he were to actually believe that the devil was going to give him the world in exchange for worship… foolishness! How could the devil take everything away from everyone and give it all to one person? No way! That’s only living a life guided by the belief that the ends justify the means.

Just like Jesus, when we’re baptized, we’re sent into the wilderness in preparation for what is to come in the future.  Just like Jesus, we experience temptation – and really, this is the natural course of things. The only way to navigate these straits is to look to the example of Christ and live by the truth that true victory doesn’t come through power, but through humility. Instead of overcoming his adversary by destroying him, Jesus prevailed by suffering him for a while.

Just like the Israelites in the wilderness, it’s not what we gather on our own that saves us, but the Word of God that comes from heaven. Keep in mind, manna isn’t bread, it’s a word – a word from God. The bread God provided kept the Israelites alive, but it was the Word that saved them. Jesus said “no” to the stones because he already had what He needed from the bread!

How might this take shape for us?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Saying no to drugs because you have said yes to clean living.
  • Saying no to revenge because you have said yes to forgiveness.
  • Saying no to temptation because you have said yes to self-control.
  • Saying no to Satan because you have said yes to the Spirit.
  • Saying no to racism because you have said yes to love.
  • Saying no to oppression because you have said yes to justice.
  • Saying no to crankiness because you have said yes to kindness.

 

Jesus is our God, our Savior, our teacher, our healer, our friend. He is not a TV show we just sit around and watch, waiting for him to perform his next big miracle, or proclaim the next great truth that will enrich our lives. Jesus’ words and witness call us to action, not atrophy.

Jesus calls us to live in faith that, at the right moment, God will take the stones in our lives and turn them into bread.

Sources Consulted:

“Fearless: The Courage to Question” UMCOM, 2011

“Necessary NOs,” Homiletics, February 1999

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Vol. NT-1a, Matthew 1-13 (IVP, 2004)

Morris, Leon The Gospel According to Matthew (Eerdmans/IVP, 1992)