March 6th, 2022 homily on Luke 4:1-13 by Pastor Galen
Giving Up Chocolate for Lent
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, The season of 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter, which began this past week on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a season when many Christians around the world practice a form of fasting, intentionally giving something up a particular food or avoiding a particular habit or practice in order to focus more of their attention on God.
I did not grow up in a Christian tradition that practiced Lent, and so Lent always held a certain mystique for me. People would ask me if I was giving up something for Lent, and I would shrug and say “not this year,” as if I definitely knew what Lent was, and as if I practiced Lent every other year of my life and just hadn’t gotten around to it this year. Or I would say something like, “I think this year I’m giving up Lent for Lent” – hoping that I would come across as sounding really deep and uber spiritual.
But a couple of years ago, I decided to practice Lent for the first time by giving up all forms of chocolate. I didn’t think it would be that difficult. After all, there are plenty of other sweets that I like that do not have chocolate in them. But I soon came to realize just how many of the foods I eat on a regular basis that contain chocolate! The chocolate chip granola bars I frequently grab in the mornings as I rush out the door to take the girls to school. The chocolate protein powder shake that I frequently drink in the middle of the day to give me a boost of energy. Chocolate candy, cookies, brownies, or cake for dessert.
Avoiding chocolate during Lent that year forced me to slow down a little bit, to be just a little bit more intentional about the foods I was consuming. Ultimately it helped me realize just how weak I am, since I was so easily tempted to just give in and forget the whole thing.
Jesus’s Temptation in the Wilderness
Of course, my temptation to eat chocolate was nothing compared to the temptations that Jesus faced while fasting in the wilderness for 40 days before he began his active ministry.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished” (Luke 4:1-2).
So Jesus didn’t just give up chocolate for lent. He avoided food entirely, eating nothing at all for those 40 days. Not only that, but he spent those 40 days in isolation, away from his friends and family, out in the wilderness – away from all of the comforts of home.
For many of us, the thought of being by ourselves with no human contact for that long sounds even more distressing than going without food for 40 days.
And what about being without our phones or computers or electronic devices? Many of us can’t even go a few hours without our phones, let alone days or weeks. By the way, did you know there’s even a term for the fear that many people experience when they don’t have their phone with them or are unable to use it? It’s called nomophobia and in many people it’s been known to cause anxiousness and agitation, panic and irritation when they can’t find or check their phone. (I’m pretty sure I have nomophobia).
Part of the reason it can be so distressing to be isolated or away from our phones and other forms of technology when we’re alone with no other distractions, all of the thoughts we’ve been suppressing or avoiding begin to rise to the surface. For many of us this can be quite traumatic.
And so here Jesus was in the wilderness, alone for 40 days, away from friends and family, fasting and avoiding food. And during that time he experienced some of the most severe temptations of his life. Throughout his time in the wilderness we are told that he was tempted by the devil, and then, at the end of those 40 days, when he was famished and was physically at his weakest point, the devil tried 3 more times to get him to stumble.
The Three Temptations
First, the devil tried to get him to turn stones into bread. Now this doesn’t sound so bad. After all, it wasn’t donuts or cake. It was bread! And he was hungry. And The devil was trying to get Jesus to do was completely within his power. Later on Jesus fed 5,000 people with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. So he could have easily done this. But the devil was trying to get Jesus to use his powers and abilities to satisfy his own needs and wants, to prioritize his own comfort over that of his relationship and connection with his Father, God.
Jesus refused to give in to this temptation. He avoided this temptation by quoting Scripture – specifically Deuteronomy 8:3, which calls to remembrance the ways in which God provided for the Israelite people when they were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. It’s a story of how God did indeed provide bread for them through miraculous means, but it’s also about how God used those periods of hunger and scarcity to teach them to depend on God and God’s Word, even more than they depended on food.
Next the devil tempted Jesus with worldly power and might, if he would only bow down and worship him. In truth the world belongs to God, not the devil, but perhaps the devil could have orchestrated things to make Jesus an earthly ruler, a political Messiah, as the people were expecting. This temptation would have no doubt been a path that would have allowed Jesus to avoid physical pain and suffering and the death that he would later experience on the cross.
But again Jesus combatted the devil’s temptations by quoting Scripture – this time from Deuteronomy 6:13, when Moses challenged the Israelites not to forget their need for God when they entered into the promised land and experienced bountiful provisions. Indeed is most often in times of abundance that we are most tempted to lose sight of our dependence on God.
Finally, the devil tempted Jesus to put God to a test – to jump off the highest point of the temple in order to prove to himself and to the world that God was indeed with him. This tremendous feat would have earned Jesus the admiration and respect of the religious leaders of his day, who throughout his ministry continued to demand that Jesus show them a sign that he was from heaven (see Mark 8:11). Performing a stunt such as this would have helped him avoid the rejection and betrayal that he experienced throughout his life from the religious and political leaders of his day.
This time the devil even used Scripture – albeit twisted and out of context – to try to convince Jesus that what he was suggesting was in line with God’s will. But Jesus, who is the Word of God, saw through the devil’s lies, and once again refused to give in to the devil’s temptation. Here Jesus quotes Deut. 6:16, pointing out that we should never put ourselves in harm’s way simply to test God or to exploit God’s promises of protection and provision.
Following this third temptation, the Gospel of Luke tells us that the devil departed from Jesus “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).
Call Upon Jesus
Now of course we are not Jesus, and we cannot resist the temptations of the devil on our own strength. We need each other, and we need the strength and the power of God in order to resist the various temptations that we face on a daily basis. Fortunately, we do not have to do this on own. Because Jesus resisted the temptations of the evil one, we can call on Jesus to help us avoid giving in to sin when we are tempted by the enemy.
The author of the book of Hebrews tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Hebrews 4:15-16).
Jesus knows what we are going through. He sees us, he identifies with us in our weaknesses, he is interceding for us, and through His power we can overcome. As we saw in Psalm 91 and Romans 10, God promises that when we call on God, God will answer, and will be with us when we are in trouble. We can call on Jesus for salvation, and he will indeed rescue us and give us the strength to resist temptation.
An Opportune Time
Frequently God uses times of testing and trials to strengthen our endurance against temptation. And that’s what the season of Lent is all about. It’s about willingly following the Spirit’s leading into a time of testing and trial that helps us grow in our awareness of our need and dependence on God.
Many of you may have heard the acronym HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. The model was first developed to help people seeking to overcome addition to recognize when they were most vulnerable to relapse. But it’s since been a useful tool for many people to recognize when they are most prone to temptation.
Obviously we can never completely avoid finding ourselves in situations where we’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. But fasting intentionally from certain foods for a period of time, or intentionally turning off our phones or electronic devices for certain hours of the day in order to experience solitude and silence, can help us build up our endurance so that we are less prone to give in to temptation when we do inadvertently find ourselves in these types of situations.
Lent is an opportune time for us to intentionally grow in our need and dependence on God. For some of us, that might not involve giving up certain foods, but perhaps it might mean waking up 15 minutes early to read our Bible each morning. Or perhaps taking part of our lunch break to step outside and breathe in some fresh air. Or perhaps turning off our phones at a certain time in the evening so that we can be more present with our children or grandchildren, while at the same time asking God to take away some of our nomophobia.
In closing, I want to point out that Luke 4:1 tell us that Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Lent and fasting and giving up certain foods is not about doing a fad diet. And we shouldn’t knowingly put ourselves in a situation where we’re putting ourselves in harm’s way. (Remember, we’re not supposed to put God to the test!) So if you are going to give something up for Lent this year, make sure you talk it over with those who are close to you, or a doctor with therapist if you have one, so that they can help you decide whether or not it’s a good idea. Make sure that your discipline is guided and led by the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by those who love you.
And so I invite us into this season of Lent together, however you choose to practice it. May we all, individually and as a community, grow together in awareness of our need and dependence on God. May we, like Jesus, learn and grow to resist the temptations of the evil one. And may we be so steeped in the Word of God that we too can recognize truth from falsehood, and stand against the temptations of the enemy.