Sunday, February 25, 2007

Luke 4:1-13 - “40 Days of. . .Rain, Wandering, Taunting, Running, Warning, Temptation, Lent"

1st Sunday in Lent (Year C - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Saturday, February 24, and Sunday, February 25, 2007

40 days of rain, wandering, taunting, warning, running, temptation, and Lent. The Church has traditionally made Lent to be 40 days long, 40 days of preparation for Easter, 40 days of repentance—turning away from sin, 40 days of contrition—sorrow over our sin, sorrow over knowing that it is our sinfulness that sent Jesus to die on the cross. It seems the idea of Lent lasting 40 days goes all the way back to the 300’s, 1700 years ago. And we’re still celebrating Lent in this same way today—40 days.

Of course, the Church didn’t just pick 40 days out of the blue. 40 is a number that comes up over and over again in the Bible—40 days, 40 years. The Church probably chose Lent to be 40 days because of Jesus being tempted in the desert for 40 days, as we saw in today’s Gospel reading. The Temptation of Jesus is also closely connected symbolically with the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert. In fact, as Jesus quotes Scripture back to Satan, all three times Jesus uses passages from Deuteronomy, the words of Moses who led the people during those 40 years in the wilderness.

Yet, there are other periods of 40 days in the Bible, and there’s a basic theological idea that loosely ties them all together, a theological idea at the heart of Lent, at the heart of the Christian life. By having 40 days of preparation in Lent before we celebrate Easter, we are mimicking how Christ worked salvation in this world: suffering came before glory.

Christ didn’t come to Earth and immediately declare victory, show His glory, and conquer evil. The salvation of Christ didn’t come through glory. Instead, Christ saved us through suffering—humiliation, pain, sorrow, judgment, death. Christ didn’t skip the cross to get to Easter morning. Christ didn’t skip the suffering to get to the glory.

That’s one of our biggest temptations: skip the suffering to get to the glory. We’d like to skip the cross and go straight to Easter morning. We’d like to skip the repentance, contrition, the confession of sins, and go straight to the part where Jesus says He loves us. We’d like to skip the trials, temptations, difficulties, persecution, and struggles of this life and go straight to the eternal blessings of God. We’d like to skip the suffering and go straight to the end, the glory, the Resurrection.

Thankfully Christ didn’t skip the cross and go straight to Easter, because it is on the cross that Jesus paid the price for our sins. Thankfully Christ didn’t skip the suffering so that He could be glorious, because without suffering in our place, His glory wouldn’t do us any good.

Lent, 40 days of meditation on our sin and our need for a Savior, this tradition preserves the order. Oh, I know, it’s so tempting to start eating the Cadbury’s Crème Eggs right now—instead of waiting until Easter. It’s tempting to just plan for your Easter Day dinner and wonder why make such a fuss about Lent. It’s tempting to think that Lent is just an old, old tradition, that doesn’t really have much to do with us today. Yet, if Lent is all about reminding us that the suffering comes before the glory, that Christ suffered before He rose from the dead, that we must admit our sins before receiving forgiveness, that we must also die before rising again, then Lent isn’t just some dusty tradition. Lent is our theology—on a calendar. Lent is 40 days of suffering before the glorious day of the Resurrection. Lent is 40 days of seeing that Christ saves us through humility and dying for us before seeing that He has the power over death. Lent is theology.

Today I want you to see that in so many of the 40’s of the Bible we can see the same theology of Lent, the same theology that says that suffering comes before glory, that God works through suffering in order to bring us into His glorious riches. And then, whether you’re thinking about the 40 days of Lent or one of the 40’s of the Bible, you’ll remember the theology—not just the number—the theology that shows us that God saves us through times that might look like defeat.

40 days and 40 nights of rain. Noah and his family built the Ark, got two of each kind of animal on board, and saw the other people reject Noah’s warning of God’s judgment. It was 40 days and nights of rain and floods and darkness. It was 40 days and nights of seeing the world completely changed. It was 40 days and nights of being in the middle of God’s wrath—literally poured out from the skies, from the thunderclouds. It was 40 days and nights of fear as life was ripped away from the Earth. It was 40 days and nights of suffering before glory, before God’s gracious salvation.

The water receding. The new life beginning. Leaving the ark. The sun shining. The rainbow in the sky as a sign that God would never again flood the Earth. All of those gracious, wonderful gifts of God came after the suffering.

In that same way, we ride out the flood during these 40 days of Lent, we sail in the darkness of our sinfulness, waiting for the glory of Easter—the day that the waters go away. Ride out the 40 days and watch for the rainbow to appear on Easter Sunday. Try to remember that one. I’ll mention a lot of symbols of suffering and glory in this sermon, but try to remember the rainbow. Watch for the rainbow to appear on Easter Sunday.

40 years of wandering. The Israelites had been freed by God’s power, freed from slavery in Egypt, but as Moses led them across the Sinai Peninsula, they wandered. They lost hope and faith. They grumbled against God. It was 40 years of saying they believed in God, but then their actions showed that they really didn’t trust God. It was 40 years of suffering the consequences of living in the desert. It was 40 years of God trying to get them to come to their senses and admit their sinfulness, admit their need for Him.

Then, when the 40 years were complete, then they came and saw the Promised Land. They were told to go in and take the land. God showed that He was with them, that He would give them victory over their enemies.

In that same way, we wander through these 40 days of Lent, a season of wilderness, a season of seeing just how lost we are without the Lord. And so we wait for the glory of Easter—the day that the Lord shows us the Promised Land, the promise that one day He will raise us from the dead and bring us to everlasting life. Even though these 40 days are a season of wilderness, watch for the Promised Land to appear on Easter Sunday.

40 days of taunting. Goliath, a giant of a man, the champion fighter of the Philistines, issued a challenge: he would fight one Israelite, and whoever won the fight would win the war for their side. It’s a great deal, because they could avoid an all out war, but no one was willing to go up against Goliath. No one wanted to suffer at his giant hand, no one could stand up against his taunts which went on and on, 40 days.

Then, as the 40 days came to a close, when it looked like no one would take Goliath’s challenge, when it looked like there would be no other choice but to go to battle—army against army——that’s when David, the young shepherd, stepped up and said he would go out to fight Goliath. The 40 days of suffering the taunts of Goliath came to a close as David rose victorious using his slingshot to kill the giant. First came the suffering, then came the glory.

In that same way, we suffer the taunts of Satan during these 40 days of Lent. Satan stands there accusing us of all of our sins. Satan stands there mocking our hope in God, trying to tell us that God won’t let us go unpunished. And so we wait for the glory of Easter—the day that the Lord defeats the giant, defeats Satan. Watch for your glorious warrior to appear on Easter Sunday.

40 days of running. Queen Jezebel issued a death warrant for Elijah, because she didn’t like how Elijah was preaching the Word of God. Elijah was afraid for his life, so he started running. He had only been running for a day when he sat down under a tree and asked the Lord to take his life right there. Elijah had already suffered as a prophet of the Lord, and he seemed to be giving up. Instead, though, an angel of the Lord provided Elijah a meal that kept him running for 40 days, getting far away from Jezebel and her soldiers.

40 days Elijah was running, probably amazed at how the Lord’s meal gave him so much energy, but 40 days Elijah was looking over his shoulder—wondering who was following him. 40 days Elijah probably was afraid to meet anyone on the road, because that person might carry out Jezebel’s order to kill him. Elijah suffered through 40 days of fear until he arrived at the mountain of the Lord.

There God revealed Himself to Elijah. God showed His glory, and in that moment, Elijah received hope: Elijah wasn’t the only faithful one left, and God would raise up another prophet to take over for Elijah. Elijah received this glorious, gracious news after running and suffering for 40 days. The suffering came before the glory, the fear came before the hope, Elijah endured difficulty before he saw how God would work things out.

In that same way, we’re running through these 40 days of Lent. Because of living as God’s people among a world that is turned against God, we know there’s a death warrant issued for us; the enemies of the Lord would like to silence the words of God on our lips. And so we wait for the glory of Easter—the day that the Lord appears to us, gives us His Word of hope, tells that He will protect us as we speak His Word. Watch for your glorious Lord to reveal Himself on Easter Sunday.

40 days of warning. Jonah runs away, gets swallowed by a whale, and eventually, the Lord causes the whale to spit up Jonah on the beach. Jonah had been trying to get out of preaching to Nineveh. God had told Jonah to warn the people for 40 days, warn them to turn away from their sins. After those 40 days, if the people had not repented, had not confessed their sinfulness, then God would bring judgment.

What Jonah wanted to happen is another matter, but when you read his story, you realize that everyone in Nineveh—from the king down to the common people—all of them took the warning seriously. God had said they would have 40 days of warning, 40 days to turn things around, but the people of Nineveh kind of turned those 40 days into their own Lent. They all put on ashes—just like Ash Wednesday—and put on sackcloth, symbols of humility, mourning, sadness, and repentance. They spent those 40 days admitting to God where they were wrong.

So, then, the glory of the Lord was revealed to the people of Nineveh. God saw how the people confessed their sins, and so He did not bring His judgment and wrath on the city. God showed His mercy, grace, and favor. God showed how He would save people from the punishment they deserved. After the suffering—the days of repentance and sorrow, then we see the glorious blessing of the Lord.

In that same way, we receive warning during these 40 days of Lent. God has sent us His prophets to show us our sin, and so we’ve turned these days of warning into days of confession, repentance, and contrition. We’ve put on ashes; we’ve humbled ourselves before the Lord. And so we wait for the glory of Easter—the day that the Lord shows us that He will not punish us forever, that He will hold back the punishment we deserve, that He will save us. Watch for your glorious, gracious Lord to appear on Easter Sunday.

Lent is a calendar thing, a way of marking time, a tradition in the Church, but Lent is theology. Lent is the suffering that comes before the glory, Lent is the admission of our guilt before receiving forgiveness. Lent is 40 days of seeing how Christ saves us through suffering—not through glory. Lent is 40 days of our theology, of understanding who our God is.

Yet, let me tell you one more thing about Lent and this theology: today is about the glory of God. Yes, I know I’m wrapping up a sermon which just explained that Lent is about seeing that the salvation of Jesus Christ comes through suffering not glory, that the glory comes on Easter, and that we can’t skip the suffering to get to the glory.

Yet, today is about the glory of God, because today is Sunday (or at least a service based on a Sunday of the Church Year).

See, if you were checking your calendar, realized that Lent started this past week on Ash Wednesday and lasts through Saturday, March 31, the Saturday before Easter, you’d figure out that it doesn’t add up to 40 days. In fact, it adds up to 46 days.

That’s because Sundays don’t count. Today is the First Sunday in Lent, in other words, the First Sunday during Lent, but today is not a Lenten day.

Sunday is the day of the Resurrection. Every Sunday we aren’t just coming together to confess our sins; we’re also remembering that early on the first day of the week, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Every Sunday is Easter, so that’s why the Sundays don’t count towards the 40 days of Lent.

Lent is about the 40 days of rain, wandering, taunting, running, warning, temptation. Lent is about the suffering. But every Sunday is about the glory of Easter. In Lent, we wait for the Lord to come and save us. In Easter, we see He has come. In the weekdays of Lent, we confess our sins and humble ourselves before the Lord. On the Sundays of Lent, we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord.

So today watch for the glory of the Lord. Watch for the rainbow, the Promised Land, the glorious warrior. Watch for the Lord to reveal Himself, your glorious, gracious Lord who appeared on Easter Sunday, and now appears to us again today in His Word. We have seen the suffering, and now today is about the glory of the Lord.