Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1–11 | Psalm 91:1–2, 9–16 | Romans 10:8–13 | Luke 4:1–13
“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Romans 10:12-13)
Today marks our first Sunday in the sacred season of Lent: a season of intentional prayer and reflection, of fasting, repentance, generosity, and turning wholeheartedly to the Living God as we head towards Holy Week… the yearly commemoration of what Christ Jesus accomplished for us all at the cross.
This season calls us to refocus, to re-centre ourselves on the truth of the Gospel… something I know that I need these days, with all that’s been going on in our world. But rather than pull us away from the concerns and struggles that we, and our wider world, are experiencing, Lent offers us a way to face them faithfully. Our Scripture readings today remind us that at the core of our faith is the conviction that when we call out to the Living God, our Saviour hears.
In our passage this morning from the book of Deuteronomy, we’re told of an interesting tradition that the Israelites were to put into practice. Looking ahead to a time when Israel would no longer be wandering in the wilderness, but would finally be settled within the Promised Land, the LORD calls them to celebrate: to bring an offering from their very first harvest in the land and present it to the LORD… and recount the story of their salvation. Deuteronomy 26:4-10.
“When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”
“…we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.”
This statement stands at the centre of the story of Israel. In their lowest moment, the LORD heard their cry, and came to their rescue. He had compassion on them, and came against Egypt with supreme power, authority, and glory, delivering Israel in ways they would never have dreamed possible. They were to recount this story, reminding themselves of the source of their blessings and new life, and offer their gifts to the LORD… not as a way to manipulate Him, or to somehow gain His favour… but as a joyful and grateful response for what God had already done. They had cried out to God, and He saved them. This was something they were never meant to forget. But time and again, they did… turning away from their Saviour, and chasing after their own desires.
This leads us to our Gospel passage for today, and the story of Jesus being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where after praying and fasting for forty days, He is tempted three times by the devil. This part of Christ’s story is meant to call to mind the part of Israel’s story when God had saved them from slavery in Egypt, and then led them into the wilderness… to learn to trust and follow Him on the way to the Promised Land. Sadly, instead of trusting the LORD to provide and guide His chosen people, they constantly grumbled, rebelled, and refused to place their faith in the One who had rescued them.
Fast forward now to Jesus, and we find Him replaying that journey, but this time God’s Chosen One is determined not to repeat His ancestors’ failures. He is dedicated to fulfilling His mission to restore the broken relationship between the Living God and His unfaithful people.
But Christ is not alone in the desert. We’re told the tempter, the devil has plans of his own to derail Christ’s mission, and disrupt His vital connection to His Heavenly Father. These temptations are all aimed to call into question Christ’s core identity… to shake the foundation of His faithfulness, and cut Him off from the LORD.
“If you are the Son of God,” the devil begins, “command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” (Luke 4:3). Use your heavenly power to satisfy your own needs and desires.
Next, the devil shows Jesus all of the kingdoms of the earth: “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours. (Luke 4:6-7). You don’t need to serve someone else. Bend you knee to me, and you’ll get to call all the shots!
And finally, the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem, and quotes Scripture to Him:
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” (Luke 4:9-11)
There’s a deep warning for all of us here: most of the worst lies are truths that have been twisted. So much of the turmoil and destruction we see in our world today is fueled by people taking something true, and distorting it… deliberately, or even unintentionally, and turning it into a tool of the devil… undermining the work of God’s kingdom, paralyzing His people… or even worse yet, drawing us into the service of hatred, pride, selfishness, vanity greed, and fear.
How often have we heard of our fellow Christians caught up in these destructive lies? We have all seen so much damage being done in the name of Christ. Then again, how often have we too fallen prey to the enemy’s deceptions? How often have we been the ones who have failed to be faithful?
Of course, Lent teaches us that the response God wants s not for us to wallow in shame, but to turn from the lies to the truth, and in so doing to be set free.
It’s ironic that the very same passage that the devil quoted, Psalm 91, goes on to speak of his own demise, and how it will come about. In Scripture, the devil is spoken of both as a raging lion, and the crafty serpent… and Psalm 91:13-16 gives us this wonderful hope:
“You shall tread upon the lion and adder;
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.
Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honour.
With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”
The Chosen One, the Messiah, the Christ, was sent to overcome the enemy, not independently, but through the rescuing love of the LORD. “I will protect him…” God says, “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honour.” The enemy tried to erode the bond of love between God’s Son and His Heavenly Father, but Jesus instead chose to trust and to stay true.
He chose to refuse to seize the power to satisfy His own hunger, and instead Jesus gives up His life to offer the Bread of Heaven to all.
He chose to refrain from exalting Himself and grasping after kingdoms and authority, and instead Jesus humbled Himself, taking on the role of the servant of all.
He rejected the chance to glorify Himself with self-centred spectacles, drawing people to adore Him in vanity and pride. Instead, Jesus embraced the way of the cross… revealing the glory of God’s holy love by dying to set sinners free. And three days later, the Living God revealed His promised salvation: raising Jesus up to eternal power, authority, glory, and life, and opening up the way through Jesus for all to share in His salvation.
This is precisely where St. Paul the Apostle directs our attention in our reading today from his letter to the Christians in Rome. Far from a formula for how to ensure our own salvation, St. Paul is reminding us of the saving work the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has already accomplished for us all through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “[I]f 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.” This is the Good News of what God has done for us! Like the Israelites looking back with thankfulness and joy at what the LORD had done for them, we too are called to remember the mighty things that God has done in sending Jesus to be our Saviour, placing our faith firmly in Him.
But more than a mere memory, this faith invites us to keep calling on the LORD. To continue to trust in Him to be our Saviour day by day, shaping all that we say and do. To believe that in Jesus Christ, we too will share in God’s ultimate victory over the enemy, and eternal life bound to Him in holy love.
In Jesus Christ, we can call upon the Living God confident that He will answer. That He will be with us in our trouble. That He will rescue us. That in Him we will find abundant, and unending life, and will see God’s eternal salvation. And that this gift is not just meant for us, but for all. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Let us remember that this does not mean that we will be spared from all sorrow and suffering. After all, the New Life Christ offers us also calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him into the way of faithfulness even in the face of trials, hope in the midst of despair, and longsuffering love even for those who truly hate us. The way of life, even in the valley of the shadow of death.
But in Jesus, God has revealed that His power is made perfect in weakness… that despite the nations’ raging, His kingdom and authority will never come to an end, and that His eternal glory awaits all who call on His name. No matter what troubles we find ourselves facing, or what lies are tempting us to give in or give up, in Jesus we will see God’s salvation... for His is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School