Bethel CRC Lacombe

January 1/23- Getting Lost: Following the Spirit into Uncertain Places

January 05, 2023 Pastor Jake Boer Season 7 Episode 8
Bethel CRC Lacombe
January 1/23- Getting Lost: Following the Spirit into Uncertain Places
Show Notes Transcript

Today is New Year’s Day. We will be reflecting on Matthew 4:1-17, Following the Spirit into Uncertain Places. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was led into the wilderness. The wilderness was a place to meet God and to be shaped and refined by him. Jesus fasts for 40 days, a discipline that teaches self-control and trust in God to provide. At the end of the 40 days, Jesus is engaged by the devil who tries to tempt Jesus away from his purpose and reason for coming. We will be reflecting on preparing ourselves to be led and shaped by God in 2023. 

Following the Spirit into Uncertain Places

Matthew 4:1-17


Welcome to 2023, a new year filled with potential and hope, a year filled with the unknown and perhaps even a bit of uncertainty. 2023 is a new chapter with the potential for new beginnings, new dreams, and the opportunity to explore who you are, who we are, and what might lie ahead. But no matter what 2023 holds, it’s wise to think about how we can prepare ourselves for what this new year holds rather than simply drifting through the 365 days that stretch out before us. 

Jesus is at the beginning of a new chapter in his life, the beginning of his time of ministry that was kicked off by his baptism by his cousin John. In his baptism, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit to Jesus and now the Spirit brings Jesus into the wilderness. Alisa Childers, in her reflections on the book of Hosea 2:15-23 writes, “the wilderness is often a harsh and dangerous place God uses to test and refine his people. It is also a place where he provides sanctuary and allows his people to encounter him in powerful ways.”

The wilderness was seen as a place to meet with God, to be shaped and refined by God. Jesus follows the Spirit’s guidance into the wilderness. Before the devil arrives on the scene, Jesus spends 40 days and nights fasting. Fasting isn’t as common today, but the discipline of fasting is about developing self-control and growing in your trust in God to provide you with whatever you might need. Fasting is a time to open up your mind, heart, and soul to the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is why fasting is always accompanied by reflection on the Word of God, which for Jesus is what we call the Old Testament today. Prayer is also part of fasting and reflection on Scripture. We see the results of Jesus’ time spent in fasting, reflection, and prayer in his encounter with the devil. 

Spiritual disciplines are practiced to guide us in growing in the fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22–25, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” In growing the fruit of the Spirit in ourselves, we grow in the strength and courage needed to live as Jesus followers in our culture today.

After 40 days and nights of fasting, reflecting on Scripture and talking with his Father, when Jesus is physically weaker and hungry, the tempter arrives with his temptations. It’s fascinating to see how the devil uses the same tactics with Jesus that he used on Eve; the devil uses doubt and innuendo to try to get Jesus to stray off the path laid out for himself to accomplish the task given to him by his Father and the Spirit to counter what the devil accomplished in the Garden of Eden where he got Eve and Adam to listen to his voice instead of the voice of God, something that still haunts us today, something we constantly fall for today, every day. Satan is trying to, as Jack Kingsbury writes, “the substance of each test has to do with Jesus’ devotion, or obedience to God. The intent of Satan in each test is to entice Jesus to break faith with God, his Father, and thus avow his divine sonship.” 

The devil comes with one of those dreaded ‘if’ questions designed to get you to doubt yourself or what you believe, or to get you frustrated and act in ways you normally wouldn’t or shouldn’t. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Knowing Jesus is hungry, the Devil suggests that he really isn’t the Son of God, for why would the Son of God go hungry? The Father created bread in the wilderness for all of Israel, so why not create bread for yourself. The sly devil knows that if Jesus does create bread for himself now it will be to only prove himself to the devil out of weakness or frustration, making Jesus do something he had not intended to do, taking the easy path instead of the path of self-discipline and trust in his Father. 

This is where we see why fasting and reflecting on Scripture go hand-in-hand, Jesus responds with words from Scripture to put the devil in his place and deny his influence, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Instead of making Jesus weak, the disciplines of fasting, reflection on Scripture, and prayer focused Jesus on trusting God to provide for him instead of focusing on his physical hunger. 

The devil isn’t finished with Jesus yet, he’s persistent. He now tempts Jesus from a different angle, taking Jesus to Jerusalem and the highest point of the temple. The devil offers another ‘if’ question, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” That sneaky devil is trying to get Jesus to prove himself and get him to force God to prove himself by sending angels to protect Jesus from doing something really dumb. The devil does it by quoting Scripture at Jesus! Does Jesus really trust that God is with him?

We hear echoes to Israel’s time on the wilderness, as soon as things became hard and they were getting thirsty, the people begin to complain, asking is God really with them. Moses writes in Exodus 17, “The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people…. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” 

Have you ever wondered if Jesus is with you? He can seem so quiet just when it feels like we need him the most. When Joyce and I were on our journey into ministry, there were times we wondered where God was when there was no money in the bank. Our kids were teens and pre-teens, and the foodbank could only help so much. Often, these times were coupled with difficult family news of sickness or hard times and we felt far away from our circles of support. I’ll be honest, there were complaints at times and temptations to put God to the test. Yet we also learned deep trust and humility during those times. We learned that Jesus is never far away and that he will provide, as we turned to Scripture and prayer for strength and guidance. Jesus replies with words from Scripture, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus chooses trust and faith over putting God to the test, trusting his Father that he will take care of his son in his need.

The devil has one more temptation. He takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows him the kingdoms of the world and makes Jesus this offer, “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.” The devil straight out shows Jesus what he’s after, to get Jesus to worship him instead of his father, a bold move. Jesus rejects Satan, “Away from me, Satan!”

The scholar L. O. Richards writes, “The Man born to be King was shown the kingdoms that would be His, and was reminded that they could become His now. All the suffering would be avoided—all the anguish, all the rejection, all the pain of a death in which the weight of the world’s sins would bear down on the sinless One.And again Jesus chose. “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” Complete commitment to the will of God was Jesus’ pathway to the throne. There could be no shortcuts. There could be no other way.Before Jesus could rule, He had to learn by experience the fullest meaning of submission to the Father’s will. The crown lay beyond the Cross.” Now the Father sends angels to take care of Jesus, showing Jesus’ trust in his Father was the right thing.

Jesus prepared himself before the devil arrived through fasting, reflection on Scripture, and prayer. In his response to the devil, Jesus shows himself ready for the path before him. Jesus moves into the area of Capernaum and begins his preaching ministry with this simple message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 

Today is the beginning of a new year, 2023. There’s so much that lies ahead of us. Part of what we’re planning to journey through this year is an Appreciative Inquiry to share our stories in Bethel with each other, both those who have been members for a long time and those who are newer to Bethel. The goal is to listen and learn from each other how God has been working in or lives and leading us into our church family. This is part of learning and seeking out who the Spirit is shaping us and where the Spirit is leading us. 

This is where we look to Jesus and his preparation and openness to the Spirit’s leading. We need to prepare ourselves to be open to hearing God, to discerning the Spirit’s leading. This will take all of us to prepare ourselves as Jesus did, engaging in the spiritual disciplines such as reflection on Scripture, prayer, worship, solitude, fasting, and other disciplines that help you listen to, and hear the guidance of the Spirit as individuals and as a church as we move forward into 2023 and a year of listening to each other and the Spirit.