Year A – Lent 3 – Exodus 17:1-7

Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 17:1-7 – From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

Summary – This passage provides one example of God’s miraculous provision of water. The focus here is that God provided even in the midst of their faithlessness. In the Numbers 20 at the end of their 40 years is another event which is similar but the focus  is that Moses in anger struck the rock (who was Christ) twice. “And he said to them, ‘Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?’ 11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. 12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them'” (Num. 20:10-12). In this place, as Psalm 95 notes, Moses called it Massah (“testing”) and Meribah (“quarreling”).

Insight – During Israel’s time in the wilderness (a forty-year Lent) we often see them being sustained by God’s miraculous power and yet grumbling. They were being led by a spectacular vision of cloud and fire, as well as getting bread literally from the sky (manna). God was their provider. Yet they are worried about water, as though God could give them deliverance from Pharaoh, bread like rain, but was utterly unable to quench their thirst. Now rock and water are very different. They are opposites. Men today can make mud into pure water. Men today with filters can turn the sewage into a sparkling beverage. But only God can bring forth water by striking a rock. Such is God’s power. Learning from their disobedience, rather than provoke God (“tempt”) with our rock-hearted unbelief, let us be refreshed with His thirst-quenching water.

Child Catechism -Why was God displeased with the people? Because they grumbled and tested the Lord.

Discussion  – Are there any “hard” things in your life that God just can’t do?

Prayer – Father in heaven, we are thanking You that You have given us both the Bread of Life and Living Water in the person and work of Jesus our Lord. We know that all the hard things of our lives are not hard for You. You can make hard rocks into liquid streams in the desert. Please do so in our hearts today, In the Name of Jesus our Rock, Amen.

Year A – Lent 1 – Matthew 4:1-11

First Sunday in Lent
Matthew 4:1-11 – Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards 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, but 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 splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 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.

Summary – Matthew 4 is the narrative of the 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil. The three temptations listed here are to bread, glory, and kingdom. Jesus was genuinely tempted since he had physical needs, he was to receive recognition and glory, and he was to receive the kingdoms of the world. Jesus always responded to these temptations with the Word of God: It is written, “One does not live by bread alone” – Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” – It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. After successfully enduring the temptations then he was cared for by angels. Like Israel in the wilderness Jesus, “did eat the bread of angels” (Psalms 78:25).

Insight – When we are tempted, the reason that it can be a temptation is because there is desire, need, or right for the object of temptation. I am not tempted at all to eat insects. Place them on a glittering tray with a beautiful garnish and magnificent presentation and it still will not be attempting to me. It is when there is need, desire, or a right that something can be offered which provides for a legitimate temptation. This is what Jesus endured. He had physical needs and therefore bread was needed and desired. In the other examples of temptation, Jesus had a right to these things as the son of God and as the world’s true Lord. However, we learn from this that only what is given in God’s way and in God’s time is legitimately received. Jesus  understood that he must endure the suffering set before him to accomplish God’s purpose before receiving the glory and kingdom promised (Dan. 7:13-14). He understood that even his physical need for food (bread) without which humanly speaking he could starve to death, we’re not to be received on the devil’s terms. Jesus was will to receive these gifts only on God’s terms and God the Father provided. The last part of the passage informs us that angels came to minister to him. The bread provided by angels was better than bread the bread of temptation.

Child’s catechism – What is Lent? Lent is a season in the Church Calendar which remembers the 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness.

Discussion – What kind of things do you want now, which if you waited for them, would be better?

Prayer – O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Year A – Lent 1 – Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ‘ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Summary – This portion of Genesis explains the fall. Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Over and over in scripture the pattern of this fall would play out with endless choices. The process of temptation also will be repeated. The woman beholds the fruit and it is pleasing to see; she has a desire to consume it and there is the craving of power it will give to her. John would say in his epistle the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life. But this action was directly in contradiction to God’s word. It was a violation of that simple law. They could not fathom the results and consequences of that primordial sin. Eve was seduced into the sun by the serpent and was misled. She was deceived to do this, intending good. For interesting analysis of this, read Peralandra by CS Lewis. But this passage also makes clear that Adam’s choice to eat this forbidden fruit was not a matter of deception nor misunderstanding, he directly disobeyed what he knew from the word of God.

Insight – So much could be said regarding this passage and has been. I only want to draw out one thematic thread. As we enter the Lenten season we are to be reminded that Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness. And if we study these temptations and compare them with the first temptation with Eve, we do find an interesting parallel. First notice that Jesus was actually to receive the very things that he was being tempted with. He was to receive the kingdoms of the world; he was to have the bread and physical sustenance: he was to have the worship of his people. The temptation was in receiving it from the hand of Satan and especially by not receiving it as a result of the cross. It was Christ’s humility and willingness to suffer that made it possible for him to receive the name above every name in every knee bow down (Philippians ). And in the case of Adam and Eve and the knowledge of good and evil, they were also to eat of this fruit in due time. They were to grow up to maturity and go through a trial of obedience and testing, overcoming the temptation and at some point God would have given them in their maturity the fruit of this tree.
Today we should remember that God is good. All of our desires and needs he will fill in the right way and in the right time, if we seek him and patiently wait for his fulfillment.

Child’s catechism – How did our parents fall into sin in the garden? Our parents fell into sin by impatiently eating the forbidden fruit.

Discussion – What is something you are tempted to be impatient about, which you also know, if you were faithful and patient you would receive in God’s way and in His time?

Prayer – Our Father, we thank you for your generous provision for us in all things and especially through our Lord Jesus Christ. Grant that we may be patient in seeing your goodness and hopeful in receiving your promised blessings. Give to us the strength to endure temptations by revealing your goodness. In our Lord Jesus Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Year C – First Sunday in Lent – Luke 4:4-14

Luke 4:4-14 (NRSV)

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. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’

11 and

‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 

Summary – Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, went into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil. These temptations attacked his trust in God for bread, for authority, and his trust in God’s Word. Jesus responded to all these temptations with absolute and unquestionable trust in God and His Word. The devil then departed from him for a season, and Jesus came back out of the wilderness still filled with the Holy Spirit.

Insight – It has been said there is a difference in being “alive” and “truly living.” This means that there is a way to be physically alive and yet completely miss out on the joy and excitement of what life is all about. Jesus refers to this “true living” when he answers the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” There is a way of living that is more important than simply remaining physically alive. Adam was told that in the day he ate from the Tree of Knowledge that he would surely die (Gen 2:17). Yet that day he did not die physically, but he did certainly die spiritually. His covenant relationship with God was destroyed, and that was the death of which God spoke (Rom. 5:12-14). Now Jesus, as the Second Adam, succeeds where Adam failed. Jesus reveals that our covenant life in God is true life (John 14:6) and is way more important than just being physically alive. In fact, the only way we are to truly live is with this covenant with God intact and unbroken. The bond that keeps this living relationship alive is the Holy Spirit, who gives us an unquestionable love and trust of God and His Word. This is where the devil tried to make Jesus sin, at the very core of his love and trust for his Father. Jesus’ death and resurrection re-connected our broken bond and He brings us back into that true life of God (Ezek. 20:37). The faithfulness of Jesus is now ours by faith, and like Jesus, when we are tempted to sin against God, we must remember that we too are filled with the Spirit and have the power to be unmovable in our commitment to God and His Word. This is what it means to “truly live.”

Catechism – How are we to truly live? Answer; Not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

Discussion – How can a person be physically alive and yet dead at the same time? How does a person become “truly alive”? How is a person supposed to remain “truly alive”? What is more important than being physically alive? Discuss what a “bond” is.

Prayer – Heavenly Father, please grant to us in the day of our temptation the gift of Your Holy Spirit. Strengthen in us the bond of love and trust in You and Your Word that we may not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from Your mouth. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Michael Shover

Year B – Lent 1 – Ash Wednesday – Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 6:2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6:3 “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 6:4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 6:5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6:6 “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  . . . 6:16 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6:17 “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 6:18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 6:20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 6:21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Ash Wednesday Meditation – “The Secret Life of Disciples”

As we enter once again into the season of Lent, we remember Christ in the wilderness.  Christ’s wilderness journey was a time of training and finally of testing. The 40 days of Jesus paralleled the 40 years of Israel in the wilderness. God “led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Dt. 8:2). Christ passed this test, though it was clearly a human struggle, which shows His full humanity. He emerged victorious over the very real temptations of Satan. The struggle of Jesus in the desert led to His overcoming temptation and ultimately the victory of the cross, His resurrection and His ascension to glory; because all of the temptations were in place of suffering and provided a “glory” without the cross. But Jesus did not forsake the way of the cross. He fully prepared to be obedient to the death of the cross.

Now if Jesus, the very Son of God, took upon Himself 40 days of fasting in order to prepare for His ministry, then are we not misled to think we should be like Him without any such discipling? If Christ Himself thought it needful to fast and pray before engaging the enemy and leading in His public ministry, then how will we make any progress in pursuing godliness without such testing? If God’s purpose throughout our lives is to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) and this is what Christ did, should not our lives conform in a some measure to Christ’s example?

Matthew 6 indicates we are to practice righteousness. But our motivation is the difference between that practice being evil or good. Two people may do the same religious act and for one it is evil and the other it is good. Religious people have all kinds of motivations. Jesus highlights the desires of the Jews of His day to be seen by others as righteous and pious. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them” (6:1). We may want to “sound the trumpet” when we give to others (v2), to pray publicly so as to be admired (v5), to be seen doing the ultra-spiritual discipline of fasting (v16). These desires all arise from that most basic human motivation: pride. We would rather lie about who we are and look righteous, than be authentic and be seen as who we really are. This lack of honesty is a great cause for unbelief in the world. Jesus calls this storing your treasure on earth (v19). It is misplacing values in our life. Where is your secret vault for treasures in life?

There is another place to store our treasure, however. Jesus does not call for us to have no desires for approval in our pursuit of righteousness. He does not say a desire for “reward” is evil. He simply redirects our desire for approval toward God. Our secret desire (or perhaps not so secret desire) for the reward of others to commend us, is placing our treasure vault for earthly corruption. This shows were our heart’s focus. Our godly secret life as disciples is to be doing what we do for God’s approval alone. We are to carryon a God-ward focus in our actions and reflections on our motivation.

What do you desire? There may be periods of time when our secret desires, rolling in our minds like TV reruns, endlessly play episodes of sin. We covet scenes of worldly wealth, putting others in their place, secret lasciviousness, retirement from into a secluded and unending vacation in a tropical paradise to disengage from all the demands on us. We are tempted by these desires. Inasmuch as we give-in then we are accepting the lie that there will be godliness without discipline; glory apart from the way of the cross.

If we find the grace to lay aside these impure ambitions and remember that we are bought with a price, then what is our deeper desire. What is our secret desire? Is it not for our character to be transformed into Christ’s likeness? Isn’t that what you know to be your most truly right ambition? When we can scrub off the dirt of our lusts and covetousness and even the dead skin of our flesh-provisioning habits, then we stand with a stringent burn since we have scrubbed away much that was precious to us. In these times we actively advance in being more like Jesus. In these ways we are like Christ who endured temptation and endured suffering for our salvation unto great glory. “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18).

God, it appears, often brings us to these places whether we want to go or not. Wildernesses our part of the journey for every believer. Israel could have passed through the wilderness in about 40 days, but God found it necessary to test them for 40 years and a whole generation failed the test. Our willingness to enter into times of self-discipline apart from God-created wildernesses or “frowning providences” evidences our desire to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). Whether our self-conscious discipline prevents such dark episodes in our lives, is not something that I can say with any certainty, but I can say that the Lord wants us to embrace trials and hardships with this attitude. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11). In the words of James 1:2, we are to “consider it all joy” – that is we must actively see it in terms of what God will do in us through it. We are to know “that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:3).

The faithful use of this Lenten season trains us to scrub away habits that hinder us (even if not sinful, per se). It surely helps us exercise the muscles of abstaining from worldly lusts which wage war against the soul by training ourselves to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, to limit our appetites, to listen in quietness, to forsake anxieties, to be motivated by pleasing God rather than men, and to yield ourselves more fully to live by faith.

A foundational lesson in our pursuit of godliness, beyond the fact that it requires effort in intentional times of training, is that it requires a secret life. True righteousness requires a secret life which is directed toward God and God alone. All motivations to be seen by others and get their approval undo our righteousness. Our secret life as disciples is to intentionally “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v20-21).

[contributed by Rev. Gregg Strawbridge]

Year B – Lent 1 – Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Summary – John’s ministry had always been done in preparation for and pointing towards someone else.  He had said this someone would be much more powerful than himself (v7) and now that Someone has shown up.  And powerful indeed, that someone ends up being the King of the Universe!  What an important moment in history and an exciting time of fulfillment.   Notice also how our Triune God used very special and tangible ways to mark and empower this start of Christ’s ministry.  God the Father and God the Spirit speak and lead the Son’s mission.

Insight – This week is the beginning of our Lenten season; a special time of devotion and preparation before Easter.  Lent particularly points to Jesus’ time in the wilderness.  But notice the similarities between our observance of Lent and John’s ministry:   John was calling the people of God to acknowledge their own sinfulness as well as marking this soon coming and special occasion of God’s presence in Christ.  For us, that is a part of Lent as well.  We always live as a people conscious of Christ’s forgiving presence.  But during this season we can especially consider and set apart our thoughts, feelings, and actions before we celebrate forgiveness and eternal life found in Easter.  In this way, we will not only be better prepared to meet and serve our King, but we will be better prepared to face life’s temptations.

Child Catechism:  Who and what was John the Baptist preparing for?   For the soon coming presence and message of the Messiah, who is our Lord Jesus Christ.

Discussion – What are some ways you might personally recognize and mark off this season?

Prayer – Father, we devote all of our lives to you,  but in these coming weeks help us to especially reflect upon your Son’s preparation in the wilderness; we acknowledge our own sins and how they may cause us to wander; but please lead us with your Spirit and prepare us well, for your glory, as we build your kingdom, in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Contributed by Malcolm West