Preacher: Jeff Davidson
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13
Numerology is the branch of knowledge that deals with the occult significance of numbers. What I am talking about here is not numerology. While these numbers may have some significance in the Bible, they have no special power. They are not predictive of anything. There is nothing of the occult about them.
There are at least three numbers that show up in various ways in the Bible. One of them is the number three. With three, it’s not just a Bible thing. Two is company, but how many are a crowd? Three. How many times is a charm? The third time. Bad news or celebrity deaths or the deaths of people that we care about seem to come in – yes, threes.
Who can tell me some threes in the Bible? The trinity – God the Father or Creator, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Peter denied Jesus three times. The rooster crowed three times. Noah had three sons. Three visitors appeared to Abraham. Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days. Jesus was in the tomb three days. In John 21 Jesus affirms his love three times. Jesus’ public ministry lasted three years. Even in our
scripture reading today Jesus is tempted three times, and three times responds with scripture.
Another significant number is seven. How many sevens in the Bible can we think of? The first and most obvious is the seven days of creation. No animal could be sacrificed until it was seven days old. There are seven “I am’s” in the Gospel of John that Jesus used when He spoke of Himself. Jesus mentions seven woes (or judgments) on the unrepentant in Matthew 23. In Revelation there were seven letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation and there were also seven trumpets announcing judgments by God in the Book of Revelation. We are to forgive people seventy times multiplied by… seven. Joshua and Israel marched around Jericho seven times while seven priests blew seven trumpets before the walls came crashing down. Elisha told the military commander Naaman to bathe in the Jordan River seven times and he would be healed of his leprosy. There are plenty more sevens that I was not aware of at all.
How about forty? What are some forties that you remember from the Bible? One of them should be easy – Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days and prayed and fasted. So did Elijah and Moses. The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. The rains that brought about the Great Flood lasted for forty days. In the Old Testament, forty years is considered a generation. Goliath taunted Israel for forty days before David
defeated him. Just like with threes and sevens, there are still more forties that we could mention.
This is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is a period that lasts how long? Forty days, not counting Sunday. The word “lent” comes from an Anglo-Saxon word that meant “spring”, and the forty days of Lent are a symbolic reenactment of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness and that we read about just a little while ago. The reason that Sundays don’t count in the forty days of Lent is that each Sunday represents kind of a mini Easter in anticipation of the resurrection to come. Sunday is a special day all on its own aside from Lent.
A lot of times people give up something for Lent. Sometimes it’s something they enjoy eating or drinking or doing but they want to give it up as a way to discipline themselves. Chocolate is something that a lot of people give up. Sometimes it’s television, or social media. I once gave up French fries for Lent, and I made it. I had no French fries for the forty days plus Sundays, and I survived. Somehow.
Today’s theme in our series of Lenten services is “In the Wilderness” and encourages us to think about facing temptation. There are a couple of examples from the forty list we had earlier of being in the wilderness, literally, and both of those involved facing temptation.
The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years before finally entering the Promised Land. There had to be temptation along the way – temptation to give up. Temptation to just stop where they were and put down some roots. Temptation to forget about God’s promises, forget about the covenant, forget about the Promised Land and what might be waiting ahead.
There are plenty of times in Scripture where the Israelites are complaining about something or other. They’re complaining about not having food, not having water, later they complain about the food that God provides. Each of those reflect a temptation – a temptation to chuck it all and go out on their own away from where God has called them.
And every time that happens, what does Moses do? He reminds them of all the good things that God has done. God brought you out of Egypt. God provided you manna. God did this and God did that and God has met your needs and God continues to guide you. Moses reminds them of their history, of God’s words and actions and commands in their lives.
When Jesus is tempted, that’s what he does too. Three times Satan tempts Jesus. Each time Jesus answers with scripture, with things that God has said about how we are or are not fed, or who we are to worship or what God says about tests. Jesus refers back to scripture, and takes his cues from God’s word and God’s leading.
Actually it’s a little deeper than that. The three passages that Jesus quotes are from Deuteronomy, and Deuteronomy is the book that sums up the lessons that God taught the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness. Lessons of trust in God that the Israelites had to learn time and time again as they wandered in the wilderness and later as they abandoned God yet again and demanded a human king for themselves are repeated through the example of God’s son Jesus Christ with his own time of temptation in the wilderness.
The flood was forty days. Okay, a flood isn’t usually what we think of when we think of wilderness, but aside from the boat all that’s left is God’s creation. Water, animals, birds, fish, humans, and whatever of the earth lies beneath the water after forty days of rain. The waters begin to subside after around 150 days. And then once the ark is on dry ground, God establishes a covenant with Noah that renews the relationship between the Creator and the creation.
After Jesus comes out of the wilderness, he begins his public ministry. Luke chapters 1 through 3 are all about the birth of Jesus, the boy Jesus in the Temple, John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, but Jesus really hasn’t done very much yet. It’s not until after his forty days of temptation in the wilderness that his ministry really begins. It’s not until after the forty days of temptation that the new covenant of the kingdom of God is proclaimed.
The lesson of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness isn’t just that we can rely on scripture to help us resist temptation, although that is part of it. The lesson isn’t just that God can and will strengthen us to stand up to Satan and to the earthly powers that he represents, but that’s part of it too. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness doesn’t simply mean that our faith in God is enough to make it through extended times of loss and loneliness. That’s true, but there’s more than that.
After the time in the wilderness comes the good stuff. After the time in the wilderness comes some great event that sets the tone for the future. After the time in the wilderness God’s blessing is poured out.
What came after forty days of rain and then the water receding? A promise from God that the earth would never again be covered with a flood, and the opportunity for humankind to start again. What was next after forty years of wandering in the wilderness? The Israelites entered into their own country, their own promised land. What happened after forty days of Goliath’s mocking? David defeated Goliath and rescued Israel from its enemies.
And what’s after Jesus praying and fasting and resisting temptation for forty days? He begins his public ministry. God’s kingdom is proclaimed on earth in a way that it never has been before. God has come to earth in human form, and will die, and will rise again.
That’s even how it is for us in our simple little Lenten disciplines. If you give up sweets for forty days you know what? You’ll be healthier afterwards. If you give up candy, or French fries, or television, or Facebook, you’ll probably be healthier and happier and less stressed out. It’s not as good as the kingdom of God, but it’s still good nevertheless and it can provide the basis for a healthier way of living that could revolutionize your life if you let it.
Time in the wilderness, resisting temptation, relying on God, trusting God, and obeying God, can bring us renewal in so many ways. I know that it is true, and I pray that you will find it so in your own life whether it’s days or months or years, whether it’s three or seven or forty. Amen.