Today is the first Sunday in Lent, the forty days when we prepare for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. These forty days are based on the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by the devil before beginning his earthly ministry. We find that story in Luke 4:1-13 (NIV) which says this:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
The forty days of Lent are based on the forty days of Jesus’ temptation. This morning, to help us understand Lent, I want to focus on the self-denial portion of this story. It says in verse two that Jesus at nothing to eat during those days and at the end he was very hungry. He was fasting, eating nothing. In other words he was denying himself. But why would he do that? Why deny himself one of the basics of life, that being food?
1. SPENDING TIME WITH GOD
The very first reason to practice self-denial is that you can spend more time with God. That is essentially what Jesus is doing when he enters the wilderness. He is seeking to spend more time with the Father. Remember that Jesus is about to begin his earthy ministry but before he does that, he wants to be assured of God’s presence. And so, he goes off into the wilderness to get closer to God by spending more time with him.
Each of us could spend more time with God. Each of us needs to get closer to God. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christians. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how often you worship or attend Bible study. Each of us needs to get closer to God. Self-denial does that by giving us one less thing to worry about.
Jesus fasted in the wilderness. When you fast, you don’t have to worry about food. You don’t have to worry about preparing a menu, cooking a meal, eating it or cleaning up after it. That’s something off your schedule. The time that you would normally spend with meals is the time that you can spend in prayer with God which brings us closer to God.
Self-denial provides time in our busy schedules for us to do those things that get us closer to God. What are those thing? I’ve shared them before: prayer, devotions, Bible reading and study. Those things draw us closer to God because they help us to get to the heart of who God is. They are the ways through which we can build our relationships with the holy. When I ask people why they don’t do the things that draw them closer to God, one of the most common reasons is because they claim that they don’t have time. Taking meals out of your day and that changes. You can’t afford not to eat everyday of course but you can do it once a week or even every now and then. However often you do it, it gives you the time that you need in that day to draw closer to God.
Self-denial is not just about giving up food. How about giving up Netflix for Lent or Facebook? Can you imagine how much more time you could spend with God if you didn’t binge watch the newest series on your favourite streaming platform or if you stayed off social media for Lent? Maybe you could give up shopping during Lent. I’m not talking about the stuff that you need to do. We all need to purchase groceries and put gas in the car. But do you really need to go to the mall just to see what’s there, with nothing in particular in mind so that maybe you can find a good sale?
How much more time would you have to build your relationship with Christ if you simply watched less TV or played fewer video games or in my case spent less time running or at the gym. Because you are not doing one of the things you normally do, you have more time to do something that will help you spend more time with God. That’s the first reason to deny yourself – to spend more time with God.
2. LEARNING TO TRUST GOD
The second thing is this – so that you can learn to trust God. Psalm 91:14 (NIV) says this: “‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.’”
Denying yourself by definition means that you spend less energy looking after yourself. But when you do that, you still need to be looked after. When you are not looking after your needs, then you have to rely on someone else to do it for you. Self-denial helps you to turn to God to meet your needs, to look after those things that you aren’t doing.
What you discover when you do that is that your needs may not be as great as you thought they were. You discover that the things that you thought were so important are really things that you can live without. You can live a full life with a lot less than you thought. Suppose, for example, you thought you really needed that Tim Horton’s coffee every morning. After all, that’s what Tim Horton’s wants you to believe. They want you to believe that you simply cannot get through your day without your Timmie’s fix. But do you know something? You discover that when you give up Tim Hortons coffee for Lent, you might miss it but you can actually get through you day quite well. The first few days might be a bit rough as you go through the cravings but it gets better and you actually learn that it’s possible to live without coffee.
3. LEARNING SELF-CONTROL
When we deny ourselves we spend more time with God. Second, we learn to trust in God. The third thing is this: we learn self-control. Self-control is a quality that seems to be in short supply in our world. We live in an age where people expect to get things or do things simply because they want them. It goes back to a sense of entitlement. Young adults and teenagers are often accused of this but I don’t think that this sense of entitlement is limited to them. I see it also in adults and seniors.
The important thing about developing self-control is that it helps us to deal that sense of entitlement and with the temptations that come our way. Look at the temptations Jesus experienced at the hand of the devil. First of all, the devil offers him bread to eat. That would be a tough one. Let’s not forget that Jesus has been fasting for forty days. But still Jesus resists. Then the devil offers him power and glory but again Jesus resists. The third temptation is to test God’s love and protection but again Jesus resists.
Why is he able to resist? Because he has developed self-control. Jesus knows his limits. They are the limits imposed by Scripture and in every instance Jesus is able to use Scripture to reinforce his self-control.
Self-control. Do you know how hard that can be? The world is a very tempting place filled with very tempting things. In fact, I’d argue that it isn’t really a fair fight. The odds are stacked against us because the temptations of this world are so pervasive. Self-denial during Lent helps to even out the odds.
This year, I’ve decided to I needed to do something for Lent that would help me with my own self-control. One of my problems is that, while I try to eat healthily and I’m pretty good at it during the day, at night it all seems to fall apart. I am such a bad evening snacker. I get home after an evening meeting and I just want to relax, watch some TV, read a book, do a crossword puzzle. But I also want a snack, something sweet, something salty. It can be potato chips. It can be some fruit or ice cream. Maybe it’s a peanut butter and jam sandwich or a small bowl of M&Ms. And to be completely honest, there is nothing wrong with any one of those things. But there is a problem when I want all of them – and that is often exactly what I do. I have some ice cream and then some chips and then an orange or a grapefruit or nachos. I may follow that with some rice cakes with jam. And that is not good. My self-control in the evening is a disaster.
So, during Lent this year, I’m going to practice self-control through self-denial. I’m going to limit my snacks to one thing. I can have some chips or I can have some M&Ms or some ice cream or an orange. I can have some rice cakes or a piece of pie. But I can’t have all of them. I have to stop at one. But even that presents a problem because I haven’t not yet specified the portion size. If I say that tonight I’m only going to have ice cream with a few berries on it, that does not mean the whole carton of ice cream. It means a regular size portion. And trust me, I could easily down the whole carton if I wanted to. But through self-control, I seek to resist that temptation.
I’ve gone through four evening so far and it’s okay. But pray for me and I’ll pray for you because it’s not going to be a cake walk. I really crave my snacks. But God is good.
The reality is that self-control is an issue for a lot of us. It is so hard to resist the temptations of this world. It is hard to resist the lure of the devil to take life easy, buy everything you want limited only by the credit limit on your credit card. It’s hard to resist the temptation to get the bigger house and the newer car that we don’t really need. And how about the newest phone? Do you really need it or does the old one actually still serve the purpose? Just because we want something, that does not mean that we should get it.
Listen to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12 (CEV): “Some of you say, ‘We can do anything we want to.’ But I tell you that not everything is good for us. So I refuse to let anything have power over me.” Everything is permissible but not everything is good for you. Self-control helps us to keep to the good stuff and limit the things that aren’t so helpful.
4. PREPARING FOR MINISTRY
Through self-denial we get in touch with God. Second, we learn to trust God. Third, we practice self-control. The fourth reason to deny ourselves is because it prepares us for ministry.
I want you to know what Jesus did immediately after his forty days in the desert. He began his ministry. Luke 4:14-15 (NIV) says that after the devil left him, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
Immediately following his forty days fast, Jesus began his ministry. Do you think that was a coincidence? I don’t because it was precisely during this time of fasting and self-denial that he was being prepared to do the work that God put him on this earth to do.
This was not the only time it happened in the Bible. In Acts 13, Paul had to choose some leaders for the new churches in Asia Minor. Listen to what happened after the leaders were chosen. Acts 13:2-3 (NIV) says: “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” Before Paul sent out the new leaders of the Church to do their work, he had them fast and pray. Only after they did that, did Paul send them on their way. Fasting and praying was an integral part of the preparation for ministry.
Why is that so? I believe it’s because of the first three reasons for self-denial. Through self-denial, we get in touch with God. We learn to trust in God. And we learn self-control. Those three things are essential characteristics for anyone who is thinking about going out there to do God’s work in the world. You have to be in touch with God. You have to trust him and you have to a good measure of self-control. Remember that there is world out there that is trying to tempt you to walk away from God. It is trying to tempt you with everything it can. It’s not a fair fight because the odds are stacked against you. But though self-denial, you are enabled and empowered to do God’s will in your life.
But like Jesus, if you can resist temptation by standing firmly in your faith, founded on the words of Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit, you too can overcome. Don’t be afraid to deny yourself. While doing so, you too can grow in Christ.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Life and Awesome mystery, we come to you our Creator on this first Sunday in Lent. The reality of life surrounds us. We see our sin and we experience the pain of the world. Yet, in the midst of suffering, there is your great mercy for all people. Remind us, once more of the forgiveness that is ours in Jesus Christ. Thank you for giving yourself to us and for us that we may have the great gift of eternal life. We acknowledge your greatness and your grace.
Lent is here, a time to remember, to reflect and to think about how we can better follow your holy way. Keep us aware of our shortcomings but help us also to celebrate the times when we listen to your voice and do your bidding with gusto and enthusiasm.
We lift up in prayer the people of the Ukraine who are enduring a bitter invasion. Keep them strong in the face of great odds. Let their light shine through. We also pray for the Russian people who have been hoodwinked into this needless war.
We also pray for those who are sick or recovering at home. We lift up in prayer Carol, Ron, Mark and Rachel. Rest your Holy and Healing Spirit upon them that they may be healed and well in your sight.
Heavenly Father, when we begin to feel overwhelmed help us to remember the struggles of those who have gone before us. We are part of a great parade of Saints who have lived faithfully throughout the generations. Because of their faith, courage and persistence, we have the opportunity to know you today. Give us such strength and wisdom that future generations may look back and call us faithful. We are grateful for the assurance that you are with us and that your promises never fail. We lift these prayers to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
March 6, 2022 / Lent 1
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Luke 4:1-16; Romans 10:8-16
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come as sinful people, seeking our Merciful God.
We come to seek forgiveness, from the God of All Compassion.
Come, let us worship God, our Creator and Redeemer.
We come to you, God our Creator, with the confidence that we have in Christ. Through Jesus, you showed us the meaning of love in awesome and incredible ways. His life was a model of human living. His death was your sacrifice made for our sins. His resurrection is a sign of the eternal life that we have through faith in him. Come into our presence and remind us that we are never alone. We live in a world of your making and sit under the banner of your love.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Even though we know that your mercy is great, we come before you with uncertainty and fear. We are deeply aware of our sins. We say that we are willing to follow Jesus but part of us would rather just live comfortable, secure lives. We say that we want a stronger connection with you yet we so easily settle for surface-level living. Enable us to resist the temptation to be less than you have created us to be. Forgive us and open our hearts to your compassionate Spirit.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Hear the Good News; God’s desire is to be compassionate with us. Be assured that God forgives us, believes in us and trust us to grow in wisdom and faith. We can give thanks that we live in the presence of Christ Jesus our Saviour and Lord.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We are surrounded by your many gifts, O God. You bless us in so many wonderful ways. As a recognition of your generousity, we give back to you a portion of our wealth. Keep us mindful that all that we have comes from you and enable us to use all of our resources for your glory.
We are a new creation in Jesus Christ. Let us go forth in the strength of God’s love to live and serve in newness of life. May the peace of Jesus be with us always.