First Sunday in Lent (A) February 10, 2008
Visioning the Future….Overcoming the Immediate (Matthew 4:1-11)

On my first trip to Israel the tour bus rocked its way to have lunch and ride camels if we wished. Once situated in the parking space designed for large tour buses, we rambled out and stretched. The tour guide told us that across the way was “The Mount of Temptation,” and the view fascinated me! It was too far to walk from our location and we didn’t have the time to see it up close, but I could stand at a distance and “feel” the encounter of Jesus and Satan had taken from the account in Mat. 4:1-11.

William Barclay describes the scene from the eyes of Sir George Adam Smith who traveled over the area decades ago. The area stretches for miles. He saw the same terrain that I viewed the day I stood at a distance. “It is an area of yellow sand, of crumbling limestone…contorted strata, where the ridges run in all directions as if they were warped and twisted. The hills are like dust heaps; the limestone is blistered and peeling; rocks are bare and jagged…it glows and shimmers with heat like some vast furnace.”

I could not imagine any place in all of the area where Jesus could be more alone. He had been led there by the Holy Spirit to consider how He would make a difference in the life of all humanity. This awesome task given to Him by the Father had to be His and His alone. He might not have understood all the fine details that lay ahead of Him to accomplish the task, but He had to be positive that this was what the Father really wanted. There could be no mistake…eternity was at stake for all humankind.

Soon He would be distracted by noise, sounds, sights, people and enemies tugging at him from all directions. But now at this moment He needed to be alone. There are moments when each of us must stop acting and start thinking…visioning what it is God wants for us.

I. Visioning the future begins by focusing on God (v. 1-4).

The spiritual autobiographical material that Jesus relates to His disciples explains Satan’s testing points. Those points included the self-power, self-ability and self-aggrandizement of who Jesus was to become. He had to turn the tables on Satan and put the focus back on God, not on what He could do in His own strength.

Myron Augsburger writes that Jesus is attacked on three different angles. First was to use His powers selfishly by becoming a “bread Messiah,” a king who would use his power to meet men’s material needs and thereby secure their service in His kingdom. The second temptation was to make Jesus a “wonder-worker and thereby attract people to follow him.”

According to Augsburger, the third temptation focused directly on Jesus’ ultimate mission. Satan attempted to convince Jesus that if He would worship Satan he would save the lost and reconcile the human race to God, but he would not have to go the way of the cross; rather, He could accomplish His mission by an easier route.[1] But Jesus realized that if the future was to be saved, it was to be done the Father’s way.

If we are writing a spiritual autobiographical journal, how are we faring in this area of temptation? Do we see ourselves? Are we attempting to take the power from God in the area of the church? Have we become the “church boss” because we know what is best for the church…more so than the pastor, any church member or church leadership? Oh, we would not call ourselves that, but can you be honest before the mirror of your soul?

Do you want people to follow your strong dynamic leadership no matter where it may lead them? After all you know what is best! Has the true mission of the church been lost because it does not follow your prescribed pattern of success? What if God wants to go a different route to save the lost and the perishing? Would you follow? Does your vision begin with God or has the vision taken a different route?

II. Visioning the future begins by focusing on the power of God (v. 5-7).

Power is not found in “tradition” nor in its counterpart “contemporary.” We have lost emphasis from the power of God to the power of conformity or non-conformity, depending on our perspective. Church music, liturgy, tradition, non-tradition, preaching or teaching will not save anyone without the infusion of God’s power!

Over the years, I have worshipped in traditional, contemporary and liturgical services that were alive and where people were challenged to accept Christ. It is not the elements of worship that drive us to God; it is God getting into the elements of worship and driving us with His holy power.

In his book, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ, Norman Vincent Peale wrote about a rough character named Dave Henderson who would “go on regular drunks.” His speech was profane and he was always ready for a fight. He had a mean streak that was revealed in violent outbursts of temper. His wife was faithful to the church and for some unexplained reason, Henderson agreed to go to church with her one night where Dr. Peale’s father was preaching.

Peale’s father preached the Word and the power of God came upon the service. Dave Henderson got up from his seat and made his way to an altar, where he began to tell God all of his sins and bad qualities. After a while Henderson began to say, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!”

As a young man watching this take place, it made an everlasting imprint on the younger Peale’s mind and heart. He wrote, “It was so incredibly wonderful that tears welled up in my eyes. The feeling I had was one of wonderment, astonishment. How could this be? Surely this wasn’t happening to this man! And just what was happening? The answer is the positive power of Jesus Christ was happening. A man was being changed.”

When is the last time that a life has been changed by the power of Jesus Christ in the church service you were attending? Is Jesus the focus of power in your life of the church you are attending? Isn’t it time to rekindle the flame of God’s power? As laypeople we need to pray for our pastor, the musicians, the leaders, and for ourselves. We need to ask God to send His Holy Spirit to work among us!

III. Visioning the future begins by focusing on the victory Jesus has already accomplished (v. 8-11).

Our future has already been won by the power of the resurrected Jesus. Phineas F. Bresee reminds us that, “The battle is the Lord’s. We bear our testimony, we strike our blow, but the residue of power is with him…Whenever there is real faith, God begins to issue the bulletins of victory from the throne. The news of victory is not from the battlefield, but from the throne.”[2]

We can sing, “Victory in Jesus,” because the ultimate victory is already ours if we are in Christ.  (Derl G. Keefer)

[1] Myron Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary (Wac Word Books, 1982), 50.

[2] Harold Ivan Smith, Compiler, The Quotable Bresee (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1983), 214.

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