Sermon: The Lenten Journey with the Holy Spirit

March 10, 2019
First Sunday in Lent
Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

The Lenten Journey with the Holy Spirit

Time to Meditate on the Mystery of Life
Spring is over and winter is coming back. Of course, I know that March here in CT is still part of a cold winter season and that spring will come a couple of months later. Because the weather had been so mild until the early February, I thought we would never have real winter this year. But I was wrong. I just forgot how fickle the weather is, how hard life is, and how fragile I am in this uncertain world.

Today in Christian Churches is the first Sunday in Lent. On Ash Wednesday, we received the cross of ashes on our foreheads with the Genesis words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” These gloomy words are nothing but the confession that we human beings are so fragile even though we believe in God. Lent is the season for us to look back to our own fragility and also explore in our lives what it means to live in Jesus Christ who also came to the world as a human being.

From the Jordan River to the Wilderness
Luke’s Gospel lesson for this morning begins with an incredible contrast. We are told that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, and then suddenly led into the emptiness of the wilderness (vv. 1-2). In the previous account in Luke’s Gospel, we saw he was baptizing at the Jordan River with the Holy Spirit falling upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22). Just last Sunday, we saw Jesus becoming dazzling white on a mountaintop and heard the voice of God from the heaven again, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him” (Lk. 9:35). These Epiphany Scriptures are enough to prove that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

But today we have to see that God’s beloved Son Jesus was thrown into the wilderness very much alone. He ate nothing at all during those 40 days, and then he was tempted by Satan. We are amazed with this extreme contrast from the Jordan River to the wilderness; from the glory of transfiguration to the temptation by Satan; from the Beloved Son to the very fragile man who was stripped down to the nothingness of life.

In this Gospel lesson, Satan tried to make him act like a magician. First, he tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, so he could eat and satisfy his hungry stomach (v. 3). Then, he let Jesus see all the kingdoms of the world, and suggested that if Jesus bowed down to him, he would give all the glory and authority of the world to Jesus (vv. 5-6). At last, he took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, your angels will catch you” (vv. 9-10). If people really happened to see him carried by angels in the air, no one in Jerusalem would continue to doubt Jesus, God’s Messiah!

I believe that Jesus’ wilderness experience is not only a symbolic lesson but reality. It can be our own story that every Christian experiences in one’s journey of faith in this world. We are called beloved children of God just like Jesus was God’s beloved Son. We see God as our heavenly Father just like Jesus called him “Abba.” Nevertheless, we sometimes have to go through our time of wilderness, just like Jesus had to go through his trial.

This story warns us that as long as we live on earth, we may never be free from all kinds of troubles. Regardless of our deep and strong faith in God, we have to go through a wilderness without anything to eat; without anyone to lean on; without any resource to heal our brokenness.

When we deal with Jesus’ forty-day wilderness experience, we usually focus on what the three temptations mean and how he overcame them. I was also planning to talk about it. But as we are currently in our own wilderness with the results from the General Conference, I found myself thinking deeply, “Why did God allow his beloved Son to be thrown into the wilderness without anything to eat, which could destroy his Son’s life?”; “How could Jesus overcome his trial and remain a faithful servant of God?”; “How can we as the congregation stand strong and shape our discipleship while getting through this trial?” These are the questions that I struggled with when I was meditating on the story of Jesus’ trial in the wilderness.

Going with the Holy Spirit
Surprisingly, the answer to my own questions still came from the same text of Jesus’ wilderness. Before he was thrown into the wilderness, Luke’s Gospel says that he was first filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 1), which means that he was not alone but with his beloved Father God. It is the Spirit that strengthened him to confront the desert for 40 days and defeat the temptation of Satan.

If Jesus was not all alone but with the Holy Spirit, we must not be alone but with the same Holy Spirit as well. Yes, the God we believe is the God who is present in this world; the Christ we believe is Emmanuel, “God with us.”

In the Epistle lesson, the disciple Paul says, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 10). This is one of my favorite Scriptures; it ensures that God’s salvation comes from our faith in Jesus Christ. But this Scripture doesn’t say that we are all set without any pains and trials simply because we confess Jesus as our Savior. If we dig a little bit more in this word, we can hear God’s promise that when we fall, God raises us again and restores us just like he raised Jesus from the dead.

The Scriptures of the First Sunday in Lent lead us to meditate on the story of Jesus’ trial in the wilderness. I believe it is designed to remind us of our own fragility as human beings. As long as we live on earth, we may never be free from the power of Satan, although we have faith in God. We must remember when we happen to go through our own wilderness time that, as God’s children, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t leave us alone. The Spirit goes with us into our own wilderness, helps us confront all our trials, and supports us to overcome our hardship and turn back to living the life God calls us to live.