1st Sunday in Lent
February 7, 2016
“What is He Doing Out There?”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today on the 1st Sunday in Lent is the Gospel lesson for today from Luke 4, that is, the familiar account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Len Whipple lived alone in his 2 bedroom brick home at 1706 Sewell Street. Not too long ago he had filled his days with maintaining his flower beds; collections of roses and daisies and tulips whose colors had once been the stuff that dreams are made of. But now the flower beds, and Len, were both dormant. The stroke had occurred last year, and Len never fully recovered. Every day was a struggle just to do simple tasks. And as far as taking care of the flowers…forget it. The neighbors, who once marvelled at the fantastic flower beds, now took to calling him “whip the crip” instead.
Len spent his days in his small home keeping to himself. He got around okay with the help of a cane, but tending flowers was out of the question. His anger and resentment grew, especially at the neighbourhood kids who tried to sneak a peek inside Len’s house as some kind of rite of teenage passage. But one day, Len observed that one of the kids didn’t dart up, ring his doorbell, and take off again. Instead, he was standing right there in Len’s yard! It was that Tim Sandburg from down the street. Tim was walking in Len’s yard in broad daylight! Of all the nerve! What was he doing out there?
Given the content of today’s Gospel lesson, we too have to ask, “what is Jesus doing out there in the wilderness?” Well, He is out there for a reason. Jesus is out there because it was God’s plan for Him to be there. Jesus was led to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit for the sole purpose of being tempted by the devil (4:1).
Doesn’t that sound odd? Isn’t His passion and the cross going to be enough? Why is God the Father subjecting Jesus to this, too? Glad you asked. Jesus is out there in the wilderness being subjected to all this because we all have failed.
Yep, that’s right. The reason Jesus is out there is because of us. Jesus being out in the wilderness is precisely the setting in which God’s people – Israel – failed to be what God called them to be. He called them to be holy, to trust in His provision, to follow Him and Him alone. But we know that they failed; they didn’t trust, when He did provide they complained, and they did worship other gods.
Like Israel, so often we too turn away from our identity as Christians. We forget who we are and whose we are because that identity makes it inconvenient for the plans we’re making for the weekend or under the cover of darkness. We set aside our Christian identity on public issues of morality and stay silent in the face of immoral behaviour and ideology. We conveniently forget who we are, and we boldly live in that forgetfulness. In our sin, that’s us out there in the wilderness struggling with Satan, and if God left us out there in conflict against the old, evil foe we would absolutely perish. No question.
Len Whipple had a few ideas about what to do regarding the “Tim Sandburg Affair” as he began to refer to it. He could call the cops. Also, he thought about setting up a hose to spray Tim with through a window. He thought about calling Tim’s parents to come and get him out of there. But he doubted they would listen to a crabby old cripple. As Len continued to consider his options, he saw the top of Tim’s head pass by the window again. He took his cane and whacked the window frame. Miserable kid! What is he doing out there anyway!?
And just what is the Son of God doing hanging around, if you will, with the devil? Why on earth is Jesus, God’s only Son, nearly starving to death and having to deal with Satan too? What is He doing out there! Jesus is out there doing physical and spiritual battle with the tempter because Jesus’ victory in the wilderness over Satan is our victory in the wilderness. Jesus’ victory over sin on the cross is our victory over sin.
Jesus’ victory can silence the accusations of the devil, and you have heard the tempter whisper in your ear. “It’s okay to lie just this once…it’s no big deal.” “What are doing up on a Sunday morning? Go back to bed!” “It’s your life…who’s going to tell you how to live it…some old book? A church?” When the battle with temptation rages in your ears, mind, and hearts, remember Christ’s victory for you in the wilderness and on the cross and at the tomb. In the wilderness, Jesus battled Satan with the Word of God and won…for you. On the cross Jesus battled sin and God’s wrath and won…for you. At the tomb Jesus battled death and won…for you. His victories are your victories by virtue of your faith in Him.
Len Whipple couldn’t stand anymore. “Kids today got no respect for nothing,” Len mumbled as he opened the back door and saw no one. Slowly he went down the steps and out into the yard. Nothing. It was almost as if Tim had heard him coming and ran off. “That’s probably what he did,” Len thought to himself, “he ran off when he heard me comin’ and ran home to his mommy.”
But Tim hadn’t run off after all. Len heard him moving around again, and this time it was coming from the front yard. Len hobbled through what had once been his glorious yard and around the side to reach the front yard. When Len rounded the corner it wasn’t his bad leg that brought him to a dead stop. It was what he finally “caught” Tim doing. Tim was bent over in Len’s flower bed pulling out all the weeds. He had brought a watering can and some tools and was breathing new life into the once overgrown flower bed. “Oh, hi Mr. Whipple,” Tim said, “I hope you don’t mind but I was talking with my mom and dad about your flowers. They say that yours used to be the most beautiful flowers in town, but now you can’t take care of them. I thought maybe you could use some help.” Len briefly considered still taking a whack at Tim with the cane, but the tears would have ruined his aim anyway.
And so it goes with us. We once had something beautiful – perfect images of God – but that was ruined by the stain of sin. But then our Lord Jesus Christ stepped into this earth to take care of our sin problem; to fix what we couldn’t fix. Motivated by that divine victory, we help those around us who need help, doing so in the name and sake of Christ and His glory.
What is He doing out there? It started all the way back in the Garden of Eden, went to the Garden of Gethsemane, extended to the whipping post, to the cross, and to the empty tomb. What is He doing out there? For the next six weeks see Him out there in conflict with Satan, at the cross, and at the tomb, for you and your forgiveness…and then give thanks going forth to live the victory that’s yours in Jesus!