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THIS LENTEN ROAD The Road To The Wilderness

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Call to Worship.... The Journey Begins

L  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

C Come, let us turn to the Lord, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.

L  “I will lead the blind by a road they do not know. I will turn the darkness before them into light.”

C You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

L  “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

C He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

L  “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

C Oh, send out your light and your truth; let them lead me. In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you.

*Hymn of Praise                       # 25                 Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You

Invocation        (the Lord’s Prayer) Merciful God, your Son was tempted as we are,
yet without sin:  Be with us in our weakness, that we may know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.—Church of the Province of Southern Africa, An Anglican Prayer Book, 1989 (London: Collins, 1990), 166.
This week we will speak in unison:

Turn to the Lord; repentant, seek his face,

For God abounds in steadfast love and grace.

They shall not perish who in Christ believe,

But everlasting life they shall receive.

THE HOLY CITY   Rick Irish

Responsory Psalm ... Psalm 25:1-10

L  To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

C O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

L  Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame.

C Let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

L  Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.

C Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

L  Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

C Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

L  Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

C He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

L  All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Our  Offering to God    Proverbs 3:9  Honor God with your substance and with the first fruits of your produce.


Prayer of Dedication     Gracious God, who gave Jesus Christ and who with him has given so freely to us, receive  these our offerings and enable us, with all our gifts, so to yield ourselves to you that with body, mind, and spirit we may truly and freely serve you, for in that service we find our deepest joy.

*Hymn of Prayer                      Seek Ye First

     Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,

     and all these things shall be added unto you.

     Allelu, Alleluia!

     Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word

     That proceeds from the mouth of God.

     Allelu, Alleluia!

  Ask and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find.  Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.

     Allelu, Alleluia!

     Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,

     and all these things shall be added unto you.

     Allelu, Alleluia!

Pastoral Prayer  From the day of our baptism, temptation lurks, Lord Jesus Christ. The old evil foe desires us for destruction, and lures us with false promises that glitter in our grasp. This Lenten road is treacherous; one misstep and we are prone to perish.

But God so loved the world that he gave you, his only-begotten Son, that all who believe in you may not perish, but have eternal life. Let your Holy Spirit lead us to firm and confident faith in you, Lord Jesus Christ, that our sins may be washed away by your perfect obedience.

As you came to suffer for our sake, sanctify the suffering of those in any kind of need, and be for them a strong rock of refuge, a mighty fortress, a sure and present help in trouble. Send your holy angels to strengthen the weak and the weary, and keep their feet from stumbling.

As you joined us in our life—and even in our death—so join us now, we pray, on this Lenten road. Hold your cross before us every step of our way, and give us grace to take up our own crosses at your bidding, and to follow you.

Lead us, at length, from this desert place to the glory of our eternal home, where we shall worship the Lord our God forever and ever.

*Hymn of Praise                       # 149               Rock of Ages

Scripture Reading.. Matthews 3:13—4:11

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

    1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 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.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Message          THIS LENTEN ROAD            The Road To The Wilderness

A dozen-and-a-half centuries before the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, the Children of Israel made the same kind of journey. The similarities are striking. Too striking to be merely coincidental.

      Jesus came to the wilderness from the waters of his baptism. Led by Moses, the Children of Israel likewise passed through water on their journey; the Red Sea had divided to let them pass through. That may be a picture of your own baptism—with the enemy, the enemy, pursuing you in order to see you done to death (eternal death, in this case). Your way out is through water, which leads you … to the wilderness, where once again the enemy awaits.

      The Children of Israel complained constantly about the wilderness … what they had to eat there, and what they didn’t (does that sound like “Command these stones to become bread”?), what they had to drink and where it came from (does that sound like, “… lest you dash your foot against a stone”?), what their future held (and doesn’t thoughts of “the promised land” mirror the devils honeyed promises: “The splendor of the world can be yours if you will fall down and worship me”?).

      I suppose Jesus had a lot to complain about, if he had wanted to complain. He came to the wilderness not from slavery in Egypt, but from the glory of his heavenly home. John the baptizer was right in pointing out that, on his own, Jesus did not need to go through all this. What lay ahead, Jesus knew, was hardship and rejection ... and eventually even suffering and death.

      But the outcome would make the ordeal worth it. As much as the Israelites complained about their experience in the wilderness, ever since that time God’s people have always looked back on the Exodus wilderness experience as the high point of the Old Testament. It was there, in the wilderness, that God molded them from a cowering collection of slaves into a mighty nation. It was there that God gave them the Ten Commandments and taught them the importance of living by them. It was there that they learned to rely on the Lord their God and to worship him alone.

At Jesus' baptism a heavenly voice proclaims, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). Immediately Jesus is led into the wilderness "by the Spirit," not for a few quiet days of rest and reflection, but so that he might "be tempted by the devil" (v.1) /// Once Israel had established her covenant with God she, too, found herself tested by the harshness and hardships of the wilderness. /// Matthew specifies that Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights before the Devil "came to him" with his series of tests. "Forty" was a number commonly used to denote any long period of time. Thus the Israelites sojourned for 40 years in the wilderness; Moses stayed alone on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights; Elijah took 40 days to complete his journey to Mt. Horeb. (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9, 18; 1 Kings 19:8) By waiting and fasting for the "forty days and forty nights," Jesus recalls for his readers the time and events that tested Israel during her own time of trial.
Matthew continues to reveal his real concern in this narrative when he has the Devil address Jesus with the same words in the first two temptation scenes. In both these cases (4:3; 4:6) the Devil asks Jesus, "If you are the Son of God ...." This same phrase will appear at the conclusion of Jesus' ministry when those who scorn and mock Christ on the cross sarcastically refer to him as the "Son of God." What is tested in these first two temptations and by Jesus' helpless presence on the cross is this Son of God's unswerving loyalty to his Father. This is why Matthew repeats the "Son of God" designation first pronounced at Jesus' baptism (3:17) and twice more during these events. The great significance of this temptation narrative is not that Jesus withstood these trials, but that in them Jesus' true nature and identity as the "Son of God" are celebrated. His fidelity to God and unshakable commitment to carrying out God's plans are what reveal Jesus' genuine "Son of God" identity to the believing reader.
As the Devil tries to sabotage the unique quality of this relationship between God and his son Jesus, he begins with a seemingly small, even innocuous test of Jesus' power. What is so wrong about Jesus miraculously transforming stones into bread as the Devil requests? The temptation Jesus faces here has nothing to do with filling his stomach and everything to do with fulfilling his call to obedience and fidelity before God. Clearly, as later "bread miracles" will reveal, Jesus has the ability to do as the Devil asks. Neither is the issue here that this request is for Jesus simply to provide for his own needs. The problem, the temptation offered here, is that God's Spirit had taken Jesus into the wilderness for a period of divinely ordained fasting. If he would override God's will by creating bread in this wilderness, Jesus would participate in an act of willful disobedience against God. Such behavior, even about such a small act, would undercut Jesus' identity as the obedient, loyal Son of God.
Jesus' response to the Devil's first test comes from Deuteronomy 8:3. As with each of these three temptations, Jesus' formal response is taken directly from Deuteronomy 6-8, the same portion of Old Testament Scripture that describes Israel's own wilderness wanderings and her own reactions to the trials and temptations she meets there. As Jesus successfully rejects each of the Devil's temptations, he demonstrates again and again that this Sonship, unlike that of Israel, was to be characterized by perfect obedience.
In the second trial, the Devil takes Jesus to the "holy city," a common synonym for Jerusalem. This strange, even suicidal-sounding test has its scriptural roots in Psalm 91:11-12 where the psalmist proclaims that God will send "angels ... to guard you in all your ways ...." And that angelic hands "will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone ...." Before tempting Jesus to test the accuracy of the psalmist's prediction, Matthew records that the Devil carefully sets Jesus "on the pinnacle of the temple." This precarious perch may also be a clever way of recalling more of the language of Psalm 91. The "pinnacle" Jesus balances on is literally a "wing," an architectural detail that flared out from one of the main columns of the temple. What this attention to building details seems to do is to create a wordplay with Psalm 91:4, where the psalmist asserts that God will "cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge."
Once again Jesus refuses to take the Devil's bait, this time offering words from Deuteronomy 6:16 to denounce the tempter's suggestion.
The final temptation the Devil offers is the most recognizably messianic of these three tests. Feeding himself and taking a grand-standing high dive off the temple would serve only to call attention to his own needs. But if the Devil could really offer Jesus the keys to secular power, the dreams and ideals of a redeemed and rejuvenated relationship between Israel and God might actually be achieved here on earth, in Jesus' own day. But to gain this secular power, the Devil insists that Jesus must acknowledge and worship the Devil's self-proclaimed pre-eminence in this world.
As before, Jesus utterly rejects this satanic offer by squashing him with a biblical word. This third text Jesus cites stands even closer than the others to the ultimate confession of God's one-ness and the most complete confession of Jewish faithfulness before God. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 proclaims "Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." This Shema directly informs the assertion Jesus quotes from 6:13 that we must worship and serve only God.
In the face of this rebuke, the Devil leaves Jesus, and the promised angels of Psalm 91:11 swoop in to minister to the needs of the tired, hungry Jesus. Jesus has withstood these first attempts to get him to stray from his true identity as the "Son of God." This temptation narrative foreshadows the whole of Jesus' ministry by indicating that in order to remain obedient, this Messiah must claim the way of humility, service and suffering.///

///// Baptism does not call us to comfortable isolation. Baptism calls us out into the world where there are needs and wants, challenges and opportunities. The wilderness into which the Holy Spirit leads us by this Lenten road is THE WORLD, with all its temptations that can lure us to turn from our Lord and seek our own will rather than his.

      Temptation has a way of doing that—of focusing our attention on what we want, the same kinds of wealth, fame, and power that Jesus was offered by the tempter, who is a formidable foe. Fortunately, we do not travel this Lenten road alone. Jesus Christ goes with us; Jesus Christ leads us in “the paths of righteousness,” showing us every step of the way what the will of God is.

      “The will of God,” the Bible tells us, is that we should be saved. Why has God left us on the earth? Is it simply to be saved? No, it is to be at work in service to Him. Our life of service to God is the way we say “thank you” to Him for His inexpressibly wonderful salvation.— Jesus obeyed the will of God perfectly so that that might take place—beginning at his baptism in the Jordan and continuing into the wilderness where temptation waited. By his perfect obedience, we shall be saved. And in fact, we ARE saved ...

      ... and we enter the wilderness, to live in this world of temptation. Yet we are to be IN it (as Christ came to be in it) ... but not to be OF it (as Christ was not of it). For we ARE NOT of the world any longer. We have passed through the waters of baptism and are reborn. We are HEAVEN’S children. Even as we follow our Savior down this wilderness road.

*Hymn of Response                 # 317               Blessed Assurance

*Sending forth 

L: Almighty God,
P: whose Son fasted 40 days in the wilderness,
L: and was tempted as we are, yet did not sin:
P: Give us grace to direct our lives in obedience to your will,
L: that, as you know our weakness,
P: so we may know your power to save;
L: through Jesus Christ our Redeemer,
P: who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
L: one God, now and forever. Amen.


Animating Illustrations

Take Up Your Cross

Take up your cross and walk, believing,

This Lenten road our Savior trod,

His help and steadfast love receiving,

The blessings of the Son of God

Freely and graciously bestowed

On all who walk this Lenten road.

Take up your cross, your burden bearing.

This road you need not walk alone.

Christ is beside, the burden sharing;

His yoke is light, his mercy known.

Your Savior eases ev’ry load

Of those who walk this Lenten road.

Take up your cross and follow Jesus;

This is the way your Savior leads,

Where from our sin and guilt he frees us;

His blood for sinners intercedes,

Opens the way to heav’n’s abode

For all who walk this Lenten road.



Are you worried because you find it so hard to believe? No one should be surprised at the difficulty of faith, if there is some part of his life where he is consciously resisting or disobeying the commandments of Jesus. Is there some part of your life which you are refusing to surrender at his behest? Some sinful passion, maybe, or some animosity, some hope, perhaps your ambition or your reason? If so, you must not be surprised that you have not received the Holy Spirit, that prayer is difficult, or that your request for faith remains unanswered. Go, rather, and be reconciled with your brother, renounce the sin which holds you fast - and then you will recover your faith! If you dismiss the word of God's command, you will not receive his word of grace. How can you hope to enter into communion with him when at some point in your life you are running away from him? The man who disobeys cannot believe, for only he who obeys can believe.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

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