"The Value of Scripture"

Rev'd Heather
Sunday, March 1, 2020 - 9:30am

One Lent in Bristol a group of us led an evening service entitled ‘40’. Within the service was a series of prayer stations around the church. One was a labyrinth, inviting us to reflect on the 40 year journey of the Israelites in the dessert on their way to the promise land – with salt water tears, bread to taste and more… Of course there are many Biblical stories we could have chosen to meditate on that talk of 40 – the flood in Noah’s Ark; the time Moses on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments; the time Elijah went to Mount Horeb (aka Sinai) fasting to meet with God… 40 days and 40 nights. Essentially 40 days in the bible comes to mean ‘a long time.’ 

Another prayer station, for the intercessions had images from the news from the past 40 days to pray with. It’s staggering how quickly stories move out of the media spotlight. 40 days would take us back to 21st January… it is before Brexit officially happened, the Sussexes are stepping aside from Royal duites, there have been just 4 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, the scaffolding is still up on the church… 

One more prayer station had a board with 40 images of Christ from around the world, with different skin tones, different contexts, different expressions ranging from anger to peace, compassion to despair. And questions to reflect on: Which image is the Jesus you relate easiest to? Which image challenges you? Why? 

And as we enter in to these 40 days of Lent (or 46 if you count the Sundays!), it is this final station, the images of Christ, that I would like us to spend a little longer pondering, for today’s Gospel reading challenges us to get to know Jesus a little better, just before his ministry begins. 

So what do we learn? Jesus is someone who has a deep knowledge of the scriptures. He has read, marked, learned and inwardly digested them. He has them to hand when the devil tries to tempt him, and Jesus highlights just how important the Word of God is, when the devil presents the first temptation.

The words ‘one does not live by bread alone’ are ones that frequently pop into my head whenever the toddler goes through a phase of attempting to live on an entirely toast based diet. But of course, Jesus is not really talking about the meals that we eat to fill our stomachs. Jesus, as we go on to discover in the Bible, cares far more about what we feed our hearts and minds than the way we achieve our daily calorie intake. It is the Word of God that he knows and hungers for. It is that knowledge of scripture – and here in particular the Torah - that fills his heart and mind, that can guide him in all his responses to the devil, which reveal something of his nature to us, as one who has the scriptures at the centre of his life. 

But of course there is more going on in this first temptation, indeed throughout all the temptations, Jesus is demonstrating his personal victory over sin, all the while pointing ahead to the cross, where he will demonstrate victory over all sin. 

Jesus is not going to give into temptation. He is not going to use his power for personal gain. When the devil tries to tempt Jesus to turn stones into bread, Jesus is not interested in quitting his fast. Had he wanted to, Jesus could of course have turned stones into bread, but this is not the moment that he has chosen. We will see later in Matthews Gospel that power that Jesus has to multiply bread, in feeding the 5000 plus women and children, and of course through his death and resurrection, the breaking of his body as bread for the world in the Eucharist – he will give enough bread to feed all who come to him. 

Then there is the second temptation. The temptation to put God to the test, in order to demonstrate that God will save him. Yet, Jesus knows that this is not the moment to demonstrate God’s saving power. He has his ministry in person here on earth to carry out first. In throwing himself down, the devil is asking him to prove God’s saving power, but Jesus does not want to bow to that temptation. Looking to the cross, we know that Jesus will reveal something so much greater. Angels will not come to save Jesus from death: instead Jesus will die so that God can raise him again, breaking down the barrier of sin and death, and opening the way to life eternal. Why put God to the test; it would limit God’s power. God has far greater plans to reveal. 

Finally, the devil tries to get Jesus to worship him in exchange for reigning over all the world. But Jesus is having none of it. Idolatry is never encouraged or praised. We are not to worship money or buildings or ritual. Our worship may be enhanced by the beauty of a building, or the structure of a ritual, but ultimately our worship is to be directed towards God and God alone. And Jesus is living this out. He will only worship God the Father. But what’s more, Jesus does not need to bow down and worship the devil, he will become king of all the kingdoms one day, through his relationship with the Father. Jesus’ death and resurrection will see him become king of heaven.

In the same way that the prologue of John’s Gospel points ahead to what will be revealed of God throughout that Gospel, the temptations of Jesus are pointing ahead to that which we will continue to discover more deeply in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is one who knows the scriptures, and applies them to the circumstances he finds himself in. Jesus is one who knows that God have far greater plans to reveal through the cross.

I hope that as we journey through the 40 days of Lent together this year we will all have a chance to continue to get to know Jesus better through the scriptures we hear read here in church on a Sunday – from the Gospels of Matthew and John. But also that we will be able to commit ourselves to deepening our study of the scriptures, perhaps individually or corporately, whether it is through private devotion, coming along to morning prayer, or taking part in a Lent group – there is hopefully something for everyone.