Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bread Alone

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

                        Matthew 4.4

First Things First

After Luke’s report of Jesus astounding the temple priests at 12, the Gospels fall silent concerning His youth and its influence on His ministry. We pick up His story when He leaves home at 30. It’s instructive to attend closely to Jesus’s priorities as His mission commences. He doesn’t come out and announce He’s ready to save the world. He puts first things first: discipleship and sacrifice.

He starts with baptism, which ends in dazzling fashion as God audibly confirms Jesus is His Son. But we can’t forget Jesus goes to the Jordan to become a disciple of John the Baptist. His initial instinct is to establish Himself as a follower. Only at John’s urging and God’s ratification does He skip this step. Another minister, then or now, would use such incomparable endorsements to draw a large following right away. Yet look at what Jesus does. He vanishes into the wilderness for 40 days, opting for solitude over social acclaim, prayer over preaching to thousands, fasting over feasts in His honor.

The Way to Prepare

John’s message was, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Jesus’s example teaches us the way to prepare. His wilderness experience opens with this: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4.1) Again, He’s following, electing to endure temptation to test His discipline and faith. He goes into the desert only knowing it leads to a face-off with the Tempter. The confrontation’s time and nature aren’t defined. Provisions for comfort aren’t included. Instead of doing what we’d most likely do—wait until trouble comes to ask God’s help, or give up before the test arrives—Jesus prepares Himself from Day One. He fasts and prays, sacrificing natural drives to strengthen spiritual impulses. For seven weeks, His sole sustenance comes from conversation with God. Although He surely struggles with loneliness, hunger, and confusion, each day bolsters His confidence He’s not alone, He will rise to the challenge, and His responses to temptation will be sound and clear.

Right Where It Hurts

The Tempter first goes for the gut. “If You’re God’s Son, turn these stones into bread.” And, actually, Jesus could have done so, much like He later turns a boy’s lunch into food for 5,000. But there’s a bigger point here: physical cravings are secondary to spiritual hunger. We can survive without satisfying mortal urges because our bodies aren’t made to last. Without God, however, our spirits fail. “Man doesn’t live on bread,” Jesus answers, “but on God’s word.” The Tempter parries two more strikes, trying to deceive Christ with Scripture and offering Him then entire world. Still, he never recovers from losing that first, decisive round.

When battling temptation, remember this. The Tempter is a fast talker but a slow learner. He still uses the same, tired approach. He first hits us right where it hurts, taunting us with cravings we can satisfy—creature comforts, sexual urges, personal ambitions, and so on. But if we’ve stayed in contact with God, we’ll be unflinching about our spiritual hunger’s priority over material desire. “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” Romans 14.17 says. We can’t live on bread alone. Once we’re convinced of that, material temptations lose their luster.

Though He had power to turn stones into bread, Jesus resisted temptation to do so because material sustenance is secondary to spiritual survival.

(Tomorrow: Awaken the Dawn)

Postscript: Meet Les

Child of the Wind is by Les Chatwin, a regular reader here. Last October, Les introduced himself via email this way: “I am a 40-year-old Baptist pastor in Newcastle, Australia. I drive a taxi 4 nights a week and talk to people about God. On Tuesday, November 11, I begin ‘church' in a gay bar in the city.” His home church and family’s opposition to gay people leaves Les with very little moral or spiritual support. Furthermore, as a straight minister ordained in a Fundamentalist denomination, his inroads to the local gay community are limited. While he pursues his call to minister to GLBT people, he continues to support his wife and three children as a taxi driver.

Pause for a moment so all of this sinks in, then visit his blog to get to know Les, understand his challenges, and encourage him with supportive prayer and comments. Love and faith know no distance.

Child of the Wind


Les said...

Thanks mate. Your comments mean such a lot to me. I appreciate your love and support.

I have just come in mid-way through my taxi shift. It is 9.50pm on Saturday night and I am tired, depressed and fed up of driving taxis and putting up with the stuff we see and experience late at night so when I read your postscript I was so encouraged and uplifted.

I appreciate you such a lot.

Sherry Peyton said...

I've been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Decipleship and much that you say, echoes what he had to say. Although Bonhoeffer wrote his remarks before he entered into Germany to help defeat Hitler, I tend to think that there is little he would have changed in his analysis of true decipleship. Jesus is the mold, but we must never forget that we never can approach his perfection, only attempt in every way to keep our eyes fixed on Him as the model to follow. Much that we obsess about is counter to Jesus direction to focus on God and let the world take care of itself. For in the taking care of God first, we naturally do the second well enough.

Tim said...

Les, stay encouraged. I spend quite a bit more time in taxis than the average American and I've heard a lot of stories that I'm sure you can relate to. But don't let the drunks and disorderlies get you down. Know that you've got friends you've not yet met, who are praying for you and believing in your success. Godspeed, mate.

And, serendipitously, Sherry mentions a book I encourage you (and everyone else here) to read if you haven't yet--Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship. It's a short read (<100 pages), but you'll want to read it a couple times and keep it handy for quick re-scans from time to time.

Sherry, I love your wrap-up: "In taking care of God first, we naturally do the second well enough." How true!

Anonymous said...

Les and so many other GLBT individuals: I'm personally so sorry for MY silence over the past many years. Sorry for silently allowing mainstream, right-wing so-called "Christian" spokespeople pollute and pervert the beautiful message of Christ. Praise God that this site encourages grace and forgiveness to us straight Christians - we don't deserve it...

Tim said...

Anon, bless you for such candid love and kindness. It overwhelms my heart and brings tears to my eyes. As Isaiah said, we all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. None of us deserves grace and forgiveness, yet God's mercy is so great that He offers these priceless treasures to us--and then trusts them to us to give to others. It's an awesome responsibility that demands obedience, honesty, and humility. Your example is a light to us all.

Finally, welcome to Straight-Friendly! I pray you'll join this group of sinners saved by grace. Each of us--gay, straight, male, female, young, old, etc.--brings something uniquely vital to the discussion. We're just a happy little band of Jesus's followers trying our best to stick to His path in a world that's lost its way. There's a lot of love and encouragement here, and I hope you can make time to add to our number!

Love, joy, and peace always,


Good stuff.
This week I had a bit of a revelation that when Jesus took up the scroll of Isaiah to read out his "manifesto for ministry" he DIDN'T finish the sentence about the Lord's vengeance. He stopped at proclaiming the Year of the Lord's favour. I believe Jesus was rectifying and purifying human understanding about God the Father's true love and intention towards his dear children of all colours and sexualities etc, refining out the more nasty tendencies of "religion" which cloud that intention. REligion never saved anyone; only the grace of God, known in the person of his Son Jesus.
I am an out gay minister in the Scottish Episcopal Church AND Church of Scotland.
Big fat blessings to you!

Tim said...

James, welcome to Straight-Friendly! It's great to have you here.

I'd never noticed that before--but it's an excellent point. The prophecy is in the inclusion and mercy, not in the vengeance--which is basically an Old Testament (and hence outmoded) lever. Grace is key here, preaching freedom, sight, liberty, and release. This is not the stuff of religion, but the stuff of faith. And as such, it's free to all!

Big fat blessings to you, too, and I look forward to hearing from you again.