February 26, 2023

  “Not By Bread Alone!”

(Matthew 4: 1-11)

Romans 5:12-19.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—for sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam, who is a pattern of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the gift following many trespasses brings justification.If, because of the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous

Matthew 4: 1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory,and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”  Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

     Have you ever experienced a time when a particular food or meal tasted especially good to you?  It may not even be anything fancy, just something that really hit the spot for you.  I can recall times when a cup of hot and fresh coffee was like having a cup of pure gold; or when a slice of pizza seemed like it was a little slice of heaven.  Sometimes, as a reality check, Peter and I ask each other “Is this (pasta, pizza, etc.) really this good, or is it just how it seems to me right now?” Often, this sensation occurs when we are really hungry because we have not eaten anything for an extended period of time.  I think perhaps our bodies are so happy to receive nourishment that they respond with extra positive signals to try to ensure that they receive a more regular diet. In fact, my body lets me know when I have gone too long without taking the time to eat something.  My stomach growls at me, and I may even get a headache.  If I do not respond to these signals quickly enough, I will literally feel the energy drain I am suffering due to the lack of nourishment my body needs to continue to perform. When our bodies are not properly nourished, we literally become weak.

      We generally tend to be pretty well in-tune with the signals our physical bodies send us when they need our attention. When we feed them, we feel an almost instantaneous boost of our energy, and our even mood!  Like their need for food to nourish them, our bodies also signal us their need for rest, or for movement when they become achy from remaining too long in one position.  When our bodies begin to act up, we recognize it and soon respond with whatever is required to satisfy their need.   When we do so, they respond by functioning in a generally well and predictable manner.  What many of us may not be as well accomplished in nourishing and maintaining is our spiritual being.  Along with our physical attributes, we are also spiritual creations, people as much in need of providing proper nourishment, attention, and care to our inner spiritual self as to our outward self, our body.

     We may not be as adept at reading the signs of spiritual malnourishment as physical malnourishment.  Our bodies, as we just discussed, are in direct contact with the outer world, and they send us physical messages that are difficult to ignore for very long.  It may take some intentional attention, combined with personal experience of our spiritual hunger and needs, to understand our own unique signs and symptoms of spiritual malnutrition.  But the consequences of spiritual malnutrition can be just as detrimental to our wellbeing as those arising from the neglect of our physical bodies.  Let’s explore this point in greater detail.

     Just as nourished bodies provide us with the strength and energy we need to successfully encounter the busyness of our daily lives in this world, for people of faith a healthy spiritual self is also necessary to successfully navigate in the world in which we live.  The world can be very enticing to us, calling us to follow in its ways. Yet all of the world’s ways are not benign and conducive to our life of faith—our spiritual being. The world is greedy, competitive, and self-serving, leading us toward a “keep up with the Joneses of our lives” mentality.  It can lead us to value too much our things, and too little the needs of others.  Jesus taught his Disciples and followers in his famous sermon preached to them on the mountain, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

     The heavenly treasure Jesus is referring to here is the richness of our spiritual life and faith we receive when we give our spiritual self the proper nourishment and attention.  We do this by spending intentional time reading and studying the Holy Scriptures; spending time in meditation, self-reflection, and prayer, fasting and spiritual discipline, and by gathering in community with other Christians who are also intentionally journeying along a path of spiritual faith and growth.  As we progress, we will become adept at spotting the enticing ways of the world that lure us away from God’s kingdom, and we will be properly resources to withstand and overcome them.

     A perfect example of spiritual strength, a strength that overcame the temptations of the world, can be found in our lesson for this morning from the Gospel of St. Matthew.  Here we find Jesus drawn into the dessert wilderness to contend with the Devil, and the lure of the world and possessions, before entering into his public ministry.  The Devil tempted Jesus with those things that tempt us in our physical being and humanness: food, power and status, and possessions.  To each of these lures, Jesus quoted the Holy Scriptures to the Devil, scriptures that affirmed the spiritual aspect of Jesus’ being; and, in our reading of them, they also remind us of who we are and whose we are in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  To the Devil’s temptation for Jesus to turn stones to bread, Jesus replied from Deuteronomy 8:3, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  To the temptation for Jesus to call upon the angels to come to his rescue, for God had commanded them to care for him and not allow him even to dash his foot upon a stone, Jesus replied from Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  Finally, when the Devil took Jesus to a high mountain top, promising him all of the kingdoms of the world if he would worship the Devil, Jesus quoted from Samuel 6:3 saying, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve God alone.”   Just as James 4:17 tells us will happen, defeated by the Holy Word, the Devil departed from Jesus; and the scriptures inform us that God’s promised angels, indeed, came to Jesus aid and waited on him.  

     Today is the first Sunday in the Season we know of as Lent.  Lent is a time for self-reflection and change.  It is a time for us to become intensely aware and intentional about nourishing our spiritual being.  We read and study the life of our Lord, Jesus, attempting to mirror his light, life, and love in our own lives, as we grow ever stronger in his Spirit.  So, let us begin storing up our treasure in heaven, where no rust can consume it, and no thieves can come and steal it away from us.  For, we are a chosen and spiritual people of God as revealed in Christ our Lord.  We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Let God’s people say, Amen.