Sermon 9: Launch (Matthew 4:1-2)

1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

So, straight up, the first temptation for me would have been to say, “Uh, uh. Not me. No desert for me. I’m not facing down the devil. Fasting 40 days. Uh, uh. Not me.” This story has always intrigued me. Jesus does what is probably the second greatest act of humility in recorded human history (the greatest being his crucifixion) by submitting to a baptism he not only doesn’t need, but which to the observer could imply things about him that simply aren’t true. His great act of humility is met with what might be the greatest Divine affirmation in history, with an audible voice and a tangible presence of the Holy Spirit coming down on him. So Jesus loves and humbles himself to demonstrate his love. The Father affirms that act with his love. Jesus submits to the will of the Father as expressed through the Holy Spirit. There is a tremendous love relationship in the making here and’s launch time. It is time to begin the ministry that will change the world. And “Bam!” The first act of the Father, through the leading of the Spirit, is to send his Son out into the desert to be tempted by the devil and to call him to fast for 40 days before that happens. Kinda redefines love, doesn’t it?!

Friday I was painting at my daughter and son-in-law’s home. As an act of appreciation, Krista bought me a bag of chocolate covered coffee beans. So, after a long, long day of work, I got to relax, have a meal and then sit down to watch some hockey and munch on chocolate covered coffee beans. Mmmmm. Mmmmm. See, I humbled myself, taking on the form of a servant. Krista said “thanks” with a treat she knows I love.

When Jesus humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant, submitting to a baptism that didn’t belong to Him, God says, “I love you Son. Here’s my Spirit. He’ll lead you to where I need you to be. Follow Him.” I got supper and chocolate coffee beans with a drink in my La-z-boy. He got an all expenses paid trip into the wilderness, on foot, to spend forty days fasting, getting ready to go toe to toe with the devil. At the end of my reward I was full. He was hungry.

I wonder if that isn’t the difference; why Jesus, and some Christians are world changers and why some make very little impact; why some see an aggressive advancement of the kingdom of God in and through their lives, while others hide in the shadows trying to be nice. I wonder if the difference is that Jesus and some Christians see this life as a mission requiring radical obedience and a lot of discomfort, while others look to stay safe, avoid conflict, hardship and trial, and for goodness’ sake three square meals a day, with snacks in the evening.

1. Are you being led by the Spirit? What can you say you have done this past week where you knew, without doubt, that the Holy Spirit was leading you? The chief characteristic that marked Jesus’ ministry, was that He lived in a flow of revelation of the Father’s will coming from Holy Spirit. He didn’t hear a Divine voice when it came to ministry. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.

I think most of us would have trouble believing, let alone following that lead. Here son. The Father loves you. So follow me. I’m taking you into the desert for forty days to fast. Seriously, can you say you have had one clear lead from Holy Spirit this week? Definitively? If you are going to make your life count for Jesus, you have to answer that question “yes” every time it is asked. God is never still. God always has works that He has prepared in advance for us to walk in. And He is please to reveal them to anybody who will take the time to seek Him and humble themselves and wait for the revelation to come.

2. That raises the issue of fasting, because fasting is the pathway to focus on His presence. Jesus did not make this optional for the church. In Matthew 6:16 Jesus said, “When you fast....” He didn’t say “If you want to fast.” Again in Luke 5:35, Jesus said, “The day will come, when the bridegroom (meaning himself) is taken away from them. They will fast in those days.” Fasting is not peripheral to Christianity; or an optional discipline for the truly spiritual. It is the portal into intimacy with God. That’s why it came first in Jesus’ ministry. He set the stage for us: “If you want to overcome the devil, face him down, then obey the leading of the Spirit and fast.” That’s the message of His life. It’s how he did it and we are certainly not above him.

Fast anything. The most obvious is food. And we should all fast food on a regular basis. But there are all kinds of fasts that, with prayer, can take our focus away from this world, get our focus on Jesus, and increase our ability to hear the Spirit leading. Fast TV. Fast movies. Fast sports. Fast relationships. Spend the time praying instead, and you will be amazed at how dramatically you see the increase of the Holy Spirit working in your life.

3. Are you ready to face the devil’s temptations? How are you doing on the temptation front? Some people aren’t even in the battle. If you haven’t been tempted - seriously tempted - in the last month, in some way that taxed every reserve of strength in you, I’d ask God if there is something wrong.

From 1739 on Wesley and the Methodists were persecuted by the church and the legal system, attacked in sermons, tracts, and books, mobbed by people, often in controversy, always at work among the neglected and needy, and it kept getting worse. They were denounced as distributors of strange doctrines, fomenters of religious disturbances; as blind fanatics, leading the people astray. Wesley was frequently mobbed, and great violence was done both to the persons and property of Methodists. Seeing, however, that the church failed in its duty to call sinners to repentance, that its clergymen were worldly minded, and that souls were perishing in their sins, he regarded himself as commissioned of God to warn men to flee from the wrath to come; and no opposition, or persecution, or obstacles were permitted by him to prevail against the divine urgency and authority of his commission.

One day Wesley was riding along a road when it dawned upon him that three whole days had passed in which he had suffered no persecution. Not a brick or an egg had been thrown at him for three days. Alarmed, he stopped his horse, and exclaimed, "Can it be that I have sinned and am backslidden?" Slipping from his horse Wesley prayed, asking God to show him if he had sinned. Some guy heard him praying took a brick and threw it at him. It missed, but Wesley leapt to his feet joyfully exclaiming, "Thank God, it's all right. I still have His presence."

Wesley and many, many other Christians in history have understood the stakes. Eternal lives hang in the balance of the decisions we make. Facing the devil always means temptations and persecutions. Are you ready to face him?

I went to the cottage two weeks ago to close up. I had been avoiding it. And I was in my La-z-boy after church, had a nice lunch and was watching the Dolphins play. It was a gorgeous afternoon and a great day to pick to go up to the cottage and get the close up work done. I was not motivated. I kept putting off moving out of my chair while Janice kept nudging me to get going. I just didn’t want to move. Finally I did. We went up, got all the close up work done, came home, put stuff away and I felt fantastic. I had been putting off getting the fire alarms system at the building in Carleton Place all up to standard for the insurance company, which mean installing CO detectors and changing batteries and all kinds of stuff. It was hours of work and I had been avoiding it. But I began. And it felt good. This week I neared completing that work and I spent several of my leisure hours painting for Andrew and Krista. And it felt good. And suddenly I found myself more and more motivated to spend less time watching TV and more time working. At some point in the process of doing all this physical work the last couple of weeks I said to Janice, “You know, I was so unmotivated. But when I pushed myself to do it, it felt so good. I feel more like a man now. Maybe I’m just lazy.” She didn’t encourage me. She said, “Maybe you are.” Hmmmm. Maybe I am.

Maybe, in the spirit realm, we all are. Maybe we avoid discipline. Maybe we avoid fasting. Maybe we avoid the leading of the Spirit because it will cost us. Maybe we avoid getting ready to face the devil, strengthening our souls through obedience and fasting because it puts us out.

What if we went for it? I wonder if we do the spiritual and relational work with God, face the challenge, tough out the exercise of our will and do the fasting and seeking until we get the leading, the anointing in power and overcome the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil if we then won’t accomplish things with our lives that will make us feel like real women and real men; just like I experienced in the physical. I wonder if we won’t experience the glory of the Father’s presence Jesus did as He came through the trial into the fulness of His call? Do you think?