- Giving Up Control
- Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11
- Lyndol Loyd February 18, 2018
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, the forty day period of time leading up to the celebration of Easter, not counting Sundays. For centuries, Christians have focused on using this as a time for simple living, prayer and fasting in order to grow closer to God.
Lent officially began this past week. Some of you were able to be with us here at LakeRidge as we observed Ash Wednesday. We marked the moment with the imposition of ashes by taking palm ash and making the sign of the cross on a person’s forehead while making the statement, “Repent and believe the gospel” just as millions of Christians have done for centuries at this time of year.
Maybe you wonder why ashes? In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance.
- Mortality, because when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we become dust/dirt/ash.
- Repentance, because long ago, when people felt remorse for something they did, they would put ashes on their head and wear “sackcloth” (scratchy clothing) to remind them that sin is uncomfortable and leads to a sort of death of the spirit. This was their way of confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness.
While the ashes remind us of our mortality and sin, the cross reminds us of Jesus’ resurrection (life after death) and forgiveness. It’s a powerful, non-verbal way that we can experience God’s forgiveness and renewal as we repent or return to Jesus.
During this time of Lent we are invited to join in and to see ourselves in the midst of the scriptural narrative. We are invited into the story of Christ in which Easter is the penultimate moment. It is the high point for followers of Jesus because it is a celebration of the fact that Jesus Christ was able to conquer death and the grave and that the same power which enabled Christ to do that is available to us for daily life.
Historically, one of the reasons that Easter is able to evoke such awe and wonder for those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ is because of what they would do during Lent.
Believers would call “time-out” for forty days and intentionally remember when, in the history of Israel, they had to spend forty years in the wilderness being disciplined and tested by God – being built up by God so that they would love Him more fully and would live more faithfully.
They would remember how Jesus Himself was led out into the wilderness and for a period of forty days went through extreme hunger and thirst. It was during this time that He was tempted by the Devil. He was enticed to understand His mission and identity on the worlds terms rather than God’s terms.
In Lent we are asked to put ourselves in the greater narrative of Scripture and to contemplate the fact that the Christian life is a struggle – a struggle with temptation. It is a struggle that is as deep as the desires we have at the very core of our being.
This is really important for us to understand. All too often we think about Christianity as a set of beliefs or a list of things that we need to do. But observing Lent causes us to have to look inward at our hearts. We have to contemplate why we do what we do?
I remember being challenged by a quote I heard in college that stated, “The unexamined life is a dangerous life.” The early church understood this truth and they practiced Lent because for them it was the opportunity to become more honest and aware about why their desires and loves were disordered.
What happens is that all too often, rather than loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, we tend to attach ourselves to other things. Often it is even other good things that God created that we end up orienting ourselves around. But we end up giving them the kind of attention or love that is greater than what they deserve.
So, each year Lent, this forty day period, is really important because it forces us to pay attention to anything that has come between us and God. It causes us to have to name the things in our lives that attract us and grab hold of our desires.
Now when many folks think about the season of Lent they automatically think about giving up things like chocolate or soft drinks or Facebook or television. That can be a really good thing if those particular things have too much of an attraction for us or have too strong of a hold on our lives.
But what is important for us to remember is that the giving up is so that we can make room for more of God – more of His purposes, more of His desires. Because God wants to give up so much more of Himself in Jesus Christ. It is God’s invitation for us to make more space in our lives so that we can receive more of Him so that He can continue to do His redemptive and sanctifying work in us.
In order to do that we have to release what we are holding on to so that we can in turn pick up what God has for us going forward. We have to unclench our fists so that we might become open handed with God.
Starting today, and for the remaining Sundays in Lent, we are going to spend time doing just that – looking at the things in life that we cling so tightly to and end up valuing more than we value God. Things like: our expectations, our superiority, our enemies or right to retribution, our very lives. But this morning we begin with control.
One of the greatest temptations Christians face is to claim control of our own lives. After all, who knows what’s better for us than we do? Of course the answer to that is that God does, but sometimes we are reluctant to believe that truth. Down deep there is a little bit of a control freak that likes to live within each one of us.
At their core, control freaks are people who attempt to dictate how everything is done around them. Not that any of us would know anything about acting that way ourselves. We just happen to all know other people who do.
It is when you…
- believe that you’d be happier if someone else you know would just change something about himself or herself
- micromanage other people as a way of attempting to force them to meet your expectations
- find yourself having a hard time with ambiguity or not knowing something.
Maybe the reason that so many of us struggle with control issues is because it started out with our earliest ancestors. Genesis 2:15-17 says, “The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, ‘You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.’”
All God asked them to do was to not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was the only restriction God placed on them and somehow they decided that God must have been holding something back from them.
Sure He had given them all of these good things to enjoy in the garden, but what if he was holding out on them? What if there was something really wonderful that they were missing out on?
Their need to be in control, their need to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives ended up being a fatal flaw that brought sin and death. Ever since then people have been doing the same thing.
We are continually tempted to think that maybe we could do a better job of managing our own lives, or that maybe we really do know best rather than being able to trust that God has the big picture and that His ways are higher than our ways and that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and being okay with that.
Now I want you to take that story of Adam and Eve, their battle with temptation and desire for control and I want to contrast that with Jesus and His battle with temptation and control.
I love how Hebrews 4:15 reads when it states, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”
Jesus gets it. He gets it because he has been through what we have been through. It is His experience of life as well… except that He was able to stand up under such temptation and it didn’t cause Him to sin. For Jesus was able to give up the temptation to control His own life and to give into His own desires when it would have been really easy for Him to do.
The whole story is recorded for us in Matthew’s gospel account found in Matthew 4:1-11, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. 2 For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.
3 During that time the devil came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.’
4 But Jesus told him, ‘No! The Scriptures say,
“People do 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, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, 6 and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,
“He will order his angels to protect you.
And they will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.”’
7 Jesus responded, ‘The Scriptures also say, “You must not test the Lord your God.’”
8 Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 ‘I will give it all to you,’ he said, ‘if you will kneel down and worship me.’
10 ‘Get out of here, Satan,’ Jesus told him. ‘For the Scriptures say,
“You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.”
Satan tempted Jesus to “command that these stones become bread.” Having been fasting in the wilderness as led to do by the Holy Spirit, Satan knew that Jesus, as a man of flesh and bones, would be susceptible to hunger. No longer protected in heaven’s spiritual realm and surrounded by angels, Satan approached Jesus with a proposition. Jesus was now in what Satan considered “his turf”.
The Devil appealed to Jesus’ natural needs and invited Jesus to turn the stones to bread and break His fast and soothe His hunger.
Jesus’ response was, “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Jesus makes it clear we aren’t supposed to set aside God’s purposes for convenience sake. God had led Him into the wilderness to fast, and that is what Jesus would do until God released Him.
In the next temptation, Satan took Jesus to the holy city and placed Him on the pinnacle of the temple. Satan told Jesus that if He was the Son of God, He could jump off without any problem.
In fact, having watched Jesus closely the previous round, Satan sought to exploit what he considered might be a weakness. Jesus had quoted Scripture, so Satan quoted a verse as well. Let’s see how Jesus handles this one.
Satan quoted from the Psalms in Matthew 4:6, “He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.”
Jesus resisted and responded with another verse, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not test the Lord your God.’” (Matthew 4:7,8). This is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:16.
It was not that these two passages were in conflict with one another, but that Satan had misused the Scripture to justify something that was unjustifiable. The purpose of the passage quoted by Satan had nothing to do with jumping off tall buildings, or any other kind of foolish behavior. To do as Satan had said would be to try to push and manipulate God into action. We are the servants of God; He is not our puppet on a string.
Well, having lost the first two rounds, Satan needed a knock out, and so, he went for it. In a third temptation, Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Him a vision of all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and then he said, “I will give it all to you, if you will kneel down and worship me.”
It was an effort by Satan to appeal to a lust for power. Instead of eventually being put to death by the world, Jesus would simply rule over it-all of it.
Jesus responded by saying, “Get out of here Satan. For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'” (Matthew 4:10).
The victory this day would go to Jesus, the Son of God!
Ultimately we have two examples, but only one model to follow. There is Adam and Eve and their tight fisted response to God who made them, knows them and loves them, but yet they couldn’t trust that God would have their best in mind so they clutched to the idea that they could control their own lives better than God.
Then there is Jesus who having pulled on human form came and lived the life we lead here on Earth when he could have opted for the glory of Heaven. Yet when he was repeatedly tempted, when it would have been very easy to opt to take control of what was happening to Him, He trusted that God was in control.
Today, and every day, this is the choice we have to make:
- Do I sit on the throne of my life or do I give the throne up to Jesus?
- Do I buy into the illusion that I can control my life or do I trust in the one who has ultimate control?