Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the first Sunday in Lent, 2/26/2023. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Lent1 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the first Sunday in Lent, click here.
If you were here on Ash Wednesday, you all heard of the train derailment in East Palestine, OH, but then saw it as a picture of the fall into sin, and its persistent effects on us and our world.
But today, on the first Sunday in Lent, as we begin to recalibrate our lives, and bring them into a God-pleasing order, I need to mention a story that you probably haven’t heard much of.
On February 8th, at Asbury University, a small town of 6,000 in Wilmore, KY, a small group of students decided not to leave after the campus chapel service. Instead, they chose to simply stay, sit quietly, and pray for one another and the student body.
Before too long, attendance at chapel exploded, and students refused to leave. They would remain day and night, praying, singing, and praying some more. And that’s why you probably heard very little about it.
This “revival,” which they prefer to call an “outpouring,” (fine by me) wasn’t flashy. Celebrity guests were refused permission to preach; questionable practices, such as speaking in tongues, were discouraged; and while you would expect chaos when a town of 6,000 becomes the destination of 70,000 pilgrims, the whole thing was marked by vibrant tranquility and order.
This is something to keep in mind as we wade into Lent. The very first thing that Jesus does in the very first book of the Bible is create order. Scripture says that things were a mess.
It was tohu-wobohu; it was formless and void. But Jesus came and Jesus spoke. “Let there be light…. and water and sky and stars and sea… and birds and fish and Adam and Eve. He put everything in its right place. The very first thing God did was create order.
Life is really this simple: Chaos is the mark of things evil, and order is the mark of things divine. Check the Gospel for today.
Jesus starts Lent with everything in good order. He was born of the Virgin Mary, He was presented in the temple, He obeyed his mommy and His daddy, He was baptized in the Jordan river, He embraced the words of His heavenly Father, and He followed the Holy Spirit, even when the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness. That is order.
Now He has been fasting for forty days and forty nights. And, as you know, in the Church, fasting is a classic way to encourage order. From forever, it has been a way to order body, mind, soul, and spirit.
This morning, all of that order is just too much for Satan to bear, just as it was too much for him to bear in the Garden of Eden, when he slithered up to Adam and Eve, and lured them into disordering what was a beautiful, holy, divine world. Offering them a more exciting, more attractive, tastier spiritual life.
Fast forward to today in the wilderness. The devil offers Jesus the very same thing he offered Adam and Eve in Eden. The devil offers Jesus excitement, satisfaction, and a shortcut. It’s not a bad way to go if you are a tempter.
After all, you and I are practical people. And if we can save a little time or spare ourselves some pain, we’ll do it.
It always starts so well. We are baptized at the font. We are pulled out of chaos, and we are set into order: the order of creation, and the order of the church. We are made sons and daughters of the King. We are set on our way home to paradise. We embrace our heavenly Father’s words. We follow the Holy Spirit’s lead. But then comes the wilderness.
We go back outside these doors and back into a world where things are vile and sinful and dishonest and unjust, and we suffer. And then, when we grow tired of suffering, we are teased by this notion that we could find a better word and a better way. A richer, more vibrant life, of our own design; one more exciting and practical than the seemingly mundane order that God has offered.
And this is what Satan suggests to Jesus today: that God is here to ruin Your fun, to steal Your success, and waste Your life. But I can ease Your pain. I can get You to where You want to go – quicker, safer, and happier.
If You want bread and strength, break the order of Your fast. If You want power and glory, break the first commandment and worship me. If You want to be a popular, miraculous, successful Messiah, tempt God and jump from the top of the temple.
You may not see it, but there’s comfort in this story. One thing that Scripture has taught us is that evil always overreaches. Satan always overestimates his own capacity. He does it here again today.
You might think about it this way. When someone comes to me, troubled by a sin that is repetitive and addictive, I often write a prescription: an image for their eyes, a word for their lips, and a cross for their hands. It’s very difficult to be sinning, especially with something repetitive and addictive, when your eyes are busy, your lips are busy, and your hands are busy, with the things of God.
It is a way to order life. Now watch what happens with the devil when he comes to Jesus. He tries the same thing in his own perverted way.
He gives Jesus an image for His eyes; showing Him and offering Him the glory of the world that God has created.
Then the devil gives Jesus a Scripture for His lips: “His angels will bear you up.” Which reminds Jesus of two more: “Man doesn’t live by bread alone,” and “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
But then, Satan accidentally gives Jesus a cross for His hands. Jesus is so repulsed at the notion of disordering His life, of breaking His fast, of tempting God, of worshiping Satan – all that is so reprehensible, so evil, and so unthinkable, that Jesus turns and sets His face toward Jerusalem and follows the word of His Father and the way of His Holy Spirit, and it takes Him to the cross, where nails go through His hands.
Jesus is the image of the invisible God, made visible for you. His Word is the one that promises your life and orders that life. His cross is the means by which He has undone the destructive chaos of sin. This is God’s prescription for your life and for your death.
The 16-day revival at Asbury was paused Thursday for reasons as unexciting as its inception: the National Collegiate Day of Prayer had been on the calendar for the last two years, and they didn’t want to cancel. Instead, students are to carry with them into a disordered world.
So, go home today and live in divine order. Pray your prayers, pick up your socks, stick to your fast. All of that is good for you, and it tells a story: a story about the beauty of creation and divine order, a story about the pain of chaos, a story about the temptation of cheap and exciting shortcuts.
It tells us about the blessing of our Father’s words, and the joy of the Spirit’s way; and most of all, a reminder of the love that sends Jesus to the cross for all of you. Forgiving you, and soothing you, and healing you, and leading you, all the way back home to Eden.