The Geneva School Chapel, February 10, 2016
Today is Ash Wednesday on some church calendars. It begins a 40 day period of time (minus the Sundays) called Lent leading to Easter. As you can see from the inside cover of your bulletin, the word Lent is from a Middle and Old English word that simply means “spring” – though I have also heard it is from the Latin word for “40.” But this 40 day period is associated again, in some church traditions, with the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness with a focus on self-denial and fasting. Not all Protestant churches observe this – it is one of many traditions observed by some, originating rather early to help people understand Scripture, though it is not mentioned in Scripture per se. As someone who comes from a tradition where this day and season is not observed, I feel a bit like a porcupine in a balloon factory – proceeding with care lest I move a bit too far in one direction or the other with disastrous results. So I would begin by remembering Paul’s good teaching in Romans 14:
“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
But let’s think about this, focusing together for a few minutes on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. This followed immediately after He was baptized by John in the Jordan – and that event, Jesus’ baptism, is traditionally considered the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. So let me begin with a question.
Second graders, let me ask you to remember back to when you were just little kids way back in K-4. Back then I imagine that if someone asked you, “What did Jesus come to do for you?” you might have answered, “Jesus died on the cross for my sins . . . I’m 4 ½!” And that would be a good answer as far as it goes.
But let’s be very clear: was it enough that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and rose from the dead? Shake your heads “no”! Our sins certainly needed to be atoned for with a perfect sacrifice. But too many people forget what Jesus did for us before He died for us. He had to live for us as well. Someone had to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law. And Jesus did this with His life. And we see this beginning to happen right here in these 40 days in the wilderness. Follow me on this, o.k.?
Luke 3 recounts the story of Jesus’ baptism, then the chapter ends with a long genealogy of Jesus going all the way back to Adam – that’s important – tuck that away. Then in Luke 4 we read,
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” When we hear about someone being led by the Spirit in the wilderness for 40 days, who else was led by God in the wilderness . . .? Yes, the people Israel . . . for 40 years! Why? Because they did not trust God to lead them into the Promised Land. So they were led by a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night (sounds like the Spirit!) for 40 years until all those adult who did not trust God had died. The people of Israel failed to trust, and someone had to do that for them; someone has to do for us, too. So Jesus lived in a way we could not, trusting God faithfully in perfect obedience.
The Scripture in Luke 4 continues, “And he [Jesus] ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. [Well, I guess so, right?] The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” What did Israel eat in the wilderness? What did God provide for them those 40 years? Yes, Manna, bread from heaven, yet they complained and failed to be grateful and to trust God.
But Luke 4 continues, “And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
And Satan took Jesus to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said 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 guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
Hmm, . . . 40 days in the wilderness being faithful to God reminds us of Israel’s 40 years of failure in the wilderness. Jesus does in the wilderness what Israel could not do. But even more, when the devil comes to tempt Jesus with food, and power, and life, what does that make us think of? We remember that Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were surrounded by everything they could ever want or need in the Garden, including fellowship with God; yet Adam and Eve fell to the temptation of Satan. They wanted different food, power, and life than God had already so graciously provided for them. Adam and Eve failed to trust God, but Jesus did not fail when faced with an even greater temptation.
Jesus did in temptation what Adam could not do. Jesus is so much greater in all the deprivation and hardship of the wilderness than Adam was in the comfort and beauty of the Garden. Adam had all he needed, yet failed to trust God and sinned. Jesus, in great deprivation and hardship, stood up to Satan’s temptation and lived faithfully, defeating the same serpent that had defeated Adam
Irenaeus, an early Father in the church, famously said that Jesus succeeded where Israel and Adam failed. Jesus succeeds where we fail too. Irenaeus proposed that in this situation Jesus was not so much giving us a model to imitate. Rather this was an important action where Jesus lives for us in a way we could not live. Jesus offers what Irenaeus called “recapitulation.”
That’s a big word, but what is in that word, students? The “capital,” the head. Jesus put the head back on — He recaps the failure of humanity in the way He lives in obedience to God as we are unable to do. So we enter Lent looking to Jesus as one who lives a life of perfect obedience that we cannot live. Then in Holy Week Jesus dies a death we cannot die as the perfect sacrifice. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become, by His grace, not by our effort, the righteousness of God.
The first Adam had faced the temptations of Satan in a bountiful garden and failed. The second Adam – Jesus – faced the temptations of Satan in a desolate wilderness and He succeeds. He succeeds where Adam failed because He trusts the Word of God. Satan twisted God’s Word in his tempting of Adam and Eve and caused them to doubt. He twisted God’s Word in his tempting of Jesus, but Jesus does not falter.
The significance of this is that Jesus, like Adam, acted as a representative of humanity. In Romans 5 Paul teaches us that the failure of Adam brought sin and death on the human race. In order to be our Savior, it was necessary for Jesus to live a life of complete obedience to God. His sinlessness was absolutely necessary for our salvation. In the wilderness, Jesus was tempted like Adam, but did not sin.
One of the main New Testament Scriptures upon which this view of recapitulation is based is Eph. 1:10 which says: “[God’s purpose is, in] the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth.” The Greek word for “sum up” was rendered “to recapitulate” in Latin.
In this recapitulation view of the atonement, Christ is seen as the new Adam who succeeds where Adam failed. Christ undoes the wrong that Adam did and, because in his union with humanity, by perfect obedience, He is able to offer humankind eternal life when we trust in His obedience rather than in our own.
Irenaeus said, “[Christ] was in these last days, according to the time appointed by the Father, united to His own workmanship, inasmuch as He became a man liable to suffering … He commenced afresh, that is in Latin “in seipso recapitulavit,” He summed up [He recapitulated] in Himself the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that everything we had lost in Adam—namely, to be in the image and likeness of God—that we might recover in Christ Jesus.
He has therefore, in His work of recapitulation, in His life of obedience, summed up all things, both waging war against our enemy, and crushing him who had at the beginning led us away captives in Adam. …the enemy would not have been fairly vanquished, unless it had been a man [born] of woman who conquered him.
For Irenaeus, the ultimate goal of Christ’s work of becoming a human being is to bring us back to God by faith in Him. He said, Jesus “became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”
So, back to Lent. I read an article this week in Time magazine about something Pope Francis said this year about Lent. He said, if we’re going to fast from anything this Lent, Pope Francis suggests that even more than candy or alcohol, we fast from indifference towards others.
Rather than fasting from some food or some activity that affects you only, perhaps this Lenten season Francis said we might consider feasting on love. I kind of like that. How can we feast on love? Perhaps you fast from criticizing your classmate; fast from laughing at the mistakes of others; fast from assuming the worst about someone’s intentions. Feast instead on kindness, feast forgiveness, feast on love by out doing each other in showing respect to each other and finding ways to serve each other. Fast from selfishness and feast instead on finding ways to give to others, cultivating self–less–ness instead.
True confession for a moment: I am a weak and sinful man – weaker than I care to admit – Jesus is my strength. My righteous acts, my attempts at “being good,” amount to so many stinking, filthy rags. Isaiah 64 describes me and I think it describes us all when it says, “We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment [like filthy rags]. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But Jesus’ righteousness is refulgent in glory and perfect – so by His grace, as we contemplate the goodness of Christ for us, let us glory in His righteousness by which we are saved and with which we are clothed. He alone is good
C.S. Lewis said, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” Does God desire that we do good things? Of course, it pleases God when we begin to look more like Jesus. But let us remember that only the goodness of Jesus can save us. Let us feast on the goodness of God in Christ, who was good for us so that we can, by His grace, be remade increasingly into His image as we trust in Him.