Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11
Astrophysicist Brian May proves that you can indeed complete your dreams and have it all. He began working on his PhD in astrophysics in 1970. However, like happens with so many people, life got busy and he took another path that led him away from academia. However, in 2006 he was able to pick up his pursuit of astrophysics. It turns out that his initial thesis only had to be slightly revised because so little work had been done in the specific area he was focusing on. In 2007, he completed his thesis and received his doctorate, 37 years after he started the project. This was not just a vanity project because since then, he has co-authored two books on astrophysics and he held an academic post. For a couple of you, the name Brian May might sound familiar, and that has to do with what led him to drop his thesis in the 1970s. You see, Brian had a side project that he started with his friend Freddy Mercury. When their band Queen started to gain some steam, he had to decide to pursue the band or the doctorate and he chose the band. Astrophysicist Brian May was also the lead guitar for Queen and author of songs like We Will Rock You and I Want it All. More amazingly, Brian May is also one the leading experts on 19th century Stereophotography. I’ll be honest, I do not really even know what that is, but Brian May does. In addition to all of that, he is also the founder of an animal’s right organization that seeks to protect animals in England from overhunting. In a lot of ways Brian May is a modern day renaissance man. Most people would probably assume that a rock and roll guitar player would not have the skill set, passion, or desire to be a published astrophysicists. This goes to show that people are nearly always more nuanced, interesting, and complex than we want to give them credit for. We may not all be as talented and gifted as Dr. Brian May, but every single one of us are more than just careers or titles. We are all more than the sum of our parts. Everyone has different facets to their interest, to their personality, to what makes them unique. The same is true for Jesus.
Many authors have attempted to define Jesus only through a specific lens, but he defies that kind of singular definition. Throughout the gospels we get to see many different sides, aspects, and expressions of who Jesus is. We are in the church season of Lent. This is 40 days of spiritual preparation. As disciples of Jesus Christ, one of the best ways we can prepare ourselves is to learn how Jesus lived and then go and do likewise. Every Sunday through Easter we are going to focus on an aspect of who Jesus is as revealed in the scripture. By learning about our Lord and Savior in this way, we can take steps to better follow his example in our own lives. This morning, we focus on Jesus as a warrior.
It seems kind of like kind of a misnomer to refer to Jesus as a warrior. After all, he is the prince of Peace. Throughout the Bible we find this odd mixture of an emphasis on peace and love next to more aggressive language. The prophet Isaiah might have declared that Jesus will be the prince of peace. Yet the prophet of Isaiah also stated “The LORD will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry He will prevail against His enemies.” The very idea of a warrior is an idea that is associated with violence and aggression. Those are words that are very hard to reconcile with Jesus. A warrior though, is one who does not shy away from conflict. A warrior is one who does not stick their head in the sand when opposition comes. A warrior is one who stands up for what is right and does not sit down in the presence of wrong. If we seek to truly be disciples of Jesus and follow him in all things, then eventually we will find ourselves in situations where we need to be the one who stands up. We will need to be the one who does what is right, even if it is not popular. We will have to be the one that gives voice to the voiceless. There will be a time when we have to make the hard call and instead of doing what we want, we do what Jesus would have us do. As disciples there will be times when we have to push and go against the flow, and when we face those times then we can look to the warrior example of Jesus.
This morning’s scripture is a well-known one. The temptation of Jesus appears in some form in the gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke. By the traditional lectionary, this story from one of those three books is the gospel lesson during the first Sunday of Lent. In all versions of the scripture right after being baptized Jesus is taken away by the Spirit to the wilderness. It is in the wilderness, alone and hungry that he faces all that Satan has to throw at him. One of the core beliefs of the Christian faith is that Jesus is human, he is like us, and he gets us. If we were alone in the wilderness and hungry we would not be at our best, and neither was Jesus. This is the time when Jesus would have been most tempted to cut corners, to justify behaviors away, make an exception, or do any of the other countless things we do to convince ourselves that giving into temptation is OK. While the story in this morning’s scripture is a more extreme example, Jesus faced temptation the same way we face temptation.
Jesus faced temptations that are like the temptations that we face. Jesus successfully resisted them. It could even be apt to say that he fought back against all of the temptations that Satan threw at him. There are three lessons that we can learn from the example of how Jesus stood in the face of temptation and spiritual opposition. The first lesson that we can learn is that Jesus stood his ground. He drew his line in the sand of where he would not cross and then he did not move. He was committed to follow God’s leading no matter what, and he did not compromise that in even a little bit. This is the example that Jesus gives us as a warrior. As a warrior Jesus is a defender. He defends his position, his righteousness, and his faith by refusing to move. He does not attack Satan, he stands his ground. Often our initial idea of fighting is offensive, it is going on the attack and destroying the enemy. The fight we see in this scripture is more like a tug of war. It is a back and forth.
One of the best ways for me to understand the concept of sin is that sin is anything that moves us further away from God. If an action does not move us further from God it is not sin, and if it does then it is sinful. We see that in this morning’s scripture. Every temptation from Satan tries to pull Jesus away from complete obedience to God the Father. We may not be tempted by Satan in the wilderness like Jesus but we all face temptations. We all have struggles of pride, selfishness, laziness, apathy, and any number of temptations that seek to knock our faith down. A righteous faithful life is one where God sits on the throne of our heart and we follow Jesus in all things. Yet in this broken and fallen world every one of us daily struggles with things that seek to occupy our minds and usurp that place on the throne of our hearts. Every single one of us has pressures in our lives that are pulling at us. Every one of us has voices from this fallen world that call out to us in order to distract us, capture our attention, and knock our faith down.
The stress, the struggles and temptations that we all face in life are tugs on the rope. If we do not make the conscious effort to stand our ground then we will get dragged further away from God. The way we fight sin and temptation is to stand our ground and step by step move closer to God. We all face stress, struggles, and temptations that seek to knock us down and move us from being a faithful disciple. When these forces in the fallen world conspire to move us, we take hold of the eternal life to which we were called, and we say “No, I’m not going anywhere because on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
The second lesson that we can learn from this morning’s scripture is what enabled Jesus to stand his ground while tempted. Every single time the devil came at Jesus, Jesus came back with scripture. He was rooted in the word of God. This was not by accident, Jesus being faithful to God had prepared. He put in the work and learned the scripture. He knew what the scripture said and what it meant. Unfortunately that is statistically something that the vast majority of people cannot stay. An American Bible Study in 2022 found that of Americans who own a bible, only 39% read it outside of a church service four times or more a year. Four times a year is a really low bar to not clear. What is just as bad 40% of American bible owners reported never reading the bible they own. The main defense Jesus had against temptation, was a reliance on scripture. For us to follow that example we have to know scripture and we have to read scripture. This does not mean we need to be able to recite something like Luke 1:37 on demand, but it does mean we should know that the bible does say “For with God nothing will be impossible.”
The final thing we can learn from Jesus is from where he resisted temptation. He was in the wilderness. No one could see him, no one knew he was resisting temptation. Most of us are really good about being on our best behavior when around other people, but that does not always hold true once we are away from the scrutiny of others. It was in this kind of isolation, that Jesus maintained his defense. The saying goes: Character is what you do when no one is looking. When it comes to the character and depth of our faith that is especially true. This lent, our faith goal should be to have how we publicly present our faith and how we privately live out our faith line up. The way we proclaim and stand against sin when others are watching is the same way we should be when no one is around, and we know we will not get caught. Then and only then are we following the example of Jesus the warrior, as we honorably defend our hearts and souls against the temptations that oppose us.
Like Jesus each and every one of us face a daily battle with temptations, with pride, selfishness, and sin. Every day we face the choice to stand our ground or to cede ground to things we know are wrong. If we are being honest, then we must all confess that there are days, weeks, sometimes months where we lose a lot of ground. We lose a lot of battles with temptation and sin. Thanks be to God though, that even though we may lose the battle the war has already been won. Even when we have fallen short, this morning’s scripture reminds us that Jesus did not. This scripture reminds us that the same faith and conviction that led Jesus to stand his ground in the desert, led him to stand his ground and stay on the cross when he died to provide the forgiveness of our sin. May we follow the example of Jesus the warrior, and may we stand our ground. May we not give in but may we defend. May we cling to God who is a mighty fortress and a solid rock on whom we can always rely.