“In the Wilderness”
LENT 1, MARCH 10, 2019
In the Wilderness
Text: Luke 4:1–13
Do you read a lot of church signs? There are a lot of e-mail things that go around showing some of the more clever ones. Years ago, I remember a church got in trouble somewhere because they put on their sign: “Sinners Welcome Here.” Some people thought that meant folks were supposed to go there and sin. But that is not what they meant.
Think about it: First Christmas, then Epiphany, now Lent, soon Easter. All that is about sin. This place, this Christian Church, is here for one reason—for God to expose and remove your sin. That’s the business of the Church. That’s why you’re here—or should be.
Unfortunately, if we don’t think our sin is so serious, if we do not believe the Bible when it says, “The wages of sin is death,” then we don’t really need the Church; we don’t need Jesus. What good is a bloody Savior if you don’t need Him? If you think you are not that bad a sinner, you don’t really need to be here, and I think that is one reason why churches across the country are seeing their attendance go down. Some folks redefine Church as a social club or charitable organization—where you can do “nice things” for others who need it. The idea is that we’re all fine and good and squared away. It’s the other people who need help.
But if we ever lose sight that we are “poor miserable sinners” (where every word of that hurts!); that of all the people in the world, we are the most guilty, the most sinful, the most unclean; that my and your sin (whether it’s secret or out in the open) drives us out of heaven and into hell forever; that hell is a real, bitter place: total isolation, misery, broken air conditioning, you and your terror never separated, ever—if we ever lose sight that we need deliverance from our sin, and our children need deliverance from their sin, and our co-workers and friends and classmates need deliverance from their sin—then the Church has lost its purpose. God put this Church here, in this city, this very place, for you, so He can remove your sin. That’s why He is here now. That’s why you are here now.
So a pastor, if I am to do my job, must stand before even all the “good” people who have come . . . and announce what is true about us. That sin has infected you with death. You can’t escape it. It’s in your deepest parts, working all the way down and all the way through.
Of course, the world—and even we Christians—sometimes defend ourselves. Jesus told the story of a Pharisee who prayed with his head held high, thanking God that he was not like the tax collector bowed in prayer in the back of the room. We are supposed to be the guy in the back. A lot of times we are the Pharisee. Jesus told a parable of a guy who had such good crops he was going to build new barns, retire, eat, drink, and be merry. A guy who thought he was all good, he was all set, no Savior needed, just “Go hang a salami! I’m a lasagna hog!”
We like to say, to think, we’re mostly(!) “good” deep down. But, boy, if we mean it, then we don’t understand sin at all. Sin rots you. It decays. It destroys what it touches, and it touches you. You want proof? OK. You ever been sick? Have you ever been rejected? Have you ever cried? Have you ever been in an accident? These things are not God’s judgment on you for specific sins, but they are signs of the sin that is on you and in you. These things do not happen to sinless people in a pure, sinless world. It’s all a result of or a by-product of sin. I can prove you touched a hot stove by showing you your burned fingers. I can show you your sin by showing you your pain, your weakness, your anger, and your guilt in this world.
If your marriage is perfect, your children are perfect, health is perfect, house is perfect, school is perfect, if nothing breaks down, nothing disappoints, if nothing hurts, if everything is “milk and honey,” (or root beer and pizza) then relax. You’re safe . . . sin has not polluted you. You will live forever, even without Christ, apparently. But if your life is not perfect, your health not perfect, your family not perfect, then something is causing that.
It is not God. God doesn’t break things for fun. God is peace and not chaos around you. God is Love, not hate. God is Life, not death in you (Although sometimes we “suspect” Him). If chaos and hatred and sickness and suspicion and death have invaded your life and family, then you better recognize it. It is this: Sin has corrupted you after all. You are “ruined” by it and condemned by it. It’s a “wilderness” (a wasteland) out there, and we are lost in it, forever.
But “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.”
Walking with you in this wilderness, this desert, is Jesus. In our text He is alone. He is starving. He is miserable. He is also stalked and hunted by Satan. Why is Jesus here? He has never sinned. He is pure and holy. Why is He in this barren place—hungry, tempted, suffering like this? Don’t you know? Because you are here.
Jesus cannot stay in heaven’s peace and glory while you are here suffering. He loves you too much to leave you here in sin’s desert, this world, even with its bright lights and occasional splendor and excellent advertising.
Jesus suffers. Jesus starves. Jesus wanders in this bitter forty-day wilderness for one reason: you are here. But He’s not here to empathize with you—just to say, “This is pretty bad, isn’t it?” He’s here to get you out of here, to re-create you, and take you to heaven to His Father. That’s why the Holy Spirit led Him to the desert. And so He brings life down from heaven to this spot in the desert. He brings His Gifts down from heaven, healing for you—for your hurt mind, your heart, your bruised body and soul—the whole of you. God “authored” you. Sin wrecks you. Death wants to claim you. But Jesus Christ heals you of death, forgives, perfects you. This is why your God is in the desert, why Christ Is with Us in Our Wilderness. To save us.
We end with this: As I have stated, we often think we are better or smarter than other people. Let me give you a few examples of folks of whom we probably think we are smarter:
Police in Boston were investigating the case of a stolen car. During the initial report the vehicle’s owner shared that in his vehicle were two tickets for that night’s Red Sox game. Thinking they had nothing to lose, the police went to the game and, sure enough, found the thieves, sitting in the man’s seats. They had driven to the game in his stolen car.
How about the bank robber who was caught because he had written his hold-up note on the back of his birth certificate? Or the car jacker this last week who pulled the driver out of his car in his own driveway, jumped in, couldn’t get the car in gear because it was a manual transmission, jumped out and ran away?
Or try this one: Officials were left baffled by an Afghan Taliban commander who gave himself up – and then tried to claim the $100 reward for his capture. According to reports, he walked up to a police checkpoint in 2012, pointed to a wanted poster featuring his face, and asked for the $100 finder’s fee. The authorities were at a loss to explain his actions, although one US official reportedly told journalists: “Clearly, this man is an imbecile.”
Reading those stories, a person might think that’s ridiculous! How can anybody be that incredibly not smart? And so we think, “You know, compared to these folks I’m not so dumb after all.”
Let’s for a moment assume we are all smarter than these guys. If we are smarter, that does not make us better. We all sin. The Lord says the wages of sin is death, and those wages will remain constant unless something is done.
Thankfully, something has been done. So that we might be forgiven of every, and all of our sins, our gracious Heavenly Father spoke to the world’s first sinners (Adam and Eve) and told them He was going to send a Savior, Jesus. True man and true God, Jesus spent His life fulfilling God’s commandments that we had broken, resisting Satan’s temptations that had seduced us, and carrying the sins that had condemned us.
Finally, on the cross, He completed all that had been asked of Him, all that we needed of Him, and He declared His work finished. He rose again, and we are forgiven.
Sinners are welcome here, because WE SINNERS are reminded here and receive here, the forgiveness of our sins, won by Jesus and given by Jesus.
In His Name.