Saturday, February 13, 2016
February 14, Lent 1: Will The Real Jesus Stand Up #1: Saying Yes and No
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
“When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” That opportune time was three years later, in Jerusalem, just before Jesus died, when Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, and got him to betray Jesus to his death. Of course this was a pyrrhic victory for Satan, who won the battle but lost the war, and Jesus ended up with better versions of the second and third things that Satan had tempted him with, and without Satan’s fingerprints on them.
I doubt that Satan ever understood Jesus. I doubt he ever understood God. We can’t know, because the Bible assumes the devil but never explains him. We do know that the devil of the Bible is not the familiar devil of the movies (except for Jesus of Montreal). He’s not the source of evil in the world, and he thinks he’s not a bad guy, but just very realistic.
He’s the Satan of the Book of Job, not from hell but in the air, an angelic power out of whack, like one of the pagan gods and goddesses. He stands for the kinds of salvation offered by the gods and goddesses, the salvations we humans project onto the gods we imagine. The rub is that these false salvations have powerful, hidden interests defending them, which is why Satan opposes Jesus, just as the Judean and Roman powers opposed him in Jerusalem.
Jesus has to choose among these typical salvations. He’s got to sort out how to be the Son of God, and chart his course. Satan’s temptations are real live options. The Lord Jesus must have considered them and even been drawn to them. Every one of them could be good, and Satan can give proof texts from the Bible.
The third temptation is a Biblical promise. The second temptation has Biblical precedent, when the prophet told the king of Judah to stop trying to be independent and just bow down before the emperor of Babylon. As for the first temptation, did not Jesus, soon after this, feed 5000 people with miraculous bread? Such tempting options are stronger in times of need and desperation, like during forty days of fasting in the desert. This is boot camp for Jesus, and the drill sergeant is Satan.
Three times Our Lord says no. Not that, not that, not that. Well, he doesn’t say it that way, No, he says it rather in terms of what he believes. He says out loud what he believes in his heart. Like it says in our epistle: “Believe with your heart and confess with your mouth and you will be saved.”
This being-saved is not about knowing the password to get you into heaven. This is about keeping safe, making it through, getting through it, staying on course—and often you have to talk to yourself out loud to do it. Even Our Lord had to say it out loud. You have to say out loud what’s in your heart.
I want to introduce here one of the Christian disciplines, the Christian practice of saying Yes and saying No. Learning to say Yes and No is practicing your Christian faith. Yes to this, and No to that. You can say No when you need to by saying Yes to what you believe, as the Lord Jesus did to Satan, and the reason you say No is to be able to say Yes when you need to, as the Lord Jesus did with his life. Saying No is not an end in itself—the goal is saying Yes, but in order to say Yes, you have to say No along the way. This is my take home for today, you must practice saying Yes and No.
This is why you give up things for Lent. You practice saying No. You practice by saying No to something innocent and good, in order to be able to say No to something mixed of bad and good. It’s not hard to say No to things that are clearly bad, but how about things that are partly good, or seem realistic, or when the perfect seems the enemy of the good. Like what Our Lord was tempted with. You practice it by saying No to things that are innocent. Like fasting or giving up things for Lent.
The danger in this is treating your abstinence as an act of righteousness. The danger of legalism. Do you know why you never take one Baptist fishing, but always two? If you take one, he’ll smoke all your cigarettes and drink all your beer, but if you take two, neither will touch the stuff.
Some years ago I was a delegate to our General Synod in Pella, Iowa, which is like a Salt Lake City for the Dutch Reformed. The sessions were tedious, and one of our New York delegates said, “Let’s take a break, I have a pack of smokes.” But the campus is smoke-free, and surrounded by pristine houses with perfect yards, so we walked downtown. We passed through a line of churches in a row: First Christian Reformed, First Reformed, Second Reformed, Second Christian Reformed, honest. We got to the town square, with its benches, and flowers, and a tall, blond girl cutting the grass. We asked her if it was legal to smoke there. She looked surprised. She said, “I don’t know if it’s legal, but somebody might see you!”
The risk of saying No is works-righteousness and judgmentalism. Legal codes of what is right and wrong, and then a righteousness of not making any mistakes, or not in public. But the point of saying No is only in order to say a more important Yes. That’s always what Our Lord Jesus did.
I don’t know how this sermon series for Lent is going to evolve. It may turn towards Christian practices, though I had planned it differently. I was aiming at the current uses of the name of Jesus. Like in politics. America is proving unable to keep religion out of politics, and maybe it’s impossible.
Whether it’s the fear of Muslims or just some of them, or why to support the State of Israel, or whether the USA is a Christian nation or not, or which presidential candidate represents Christian values, would the real Jesus Christ please stand up? How shall we represent him to the world?
We say No to tying him to any political movement, because we believe he judges all of them.
We say No to claiming him for any nation, because we believe he is sovereign over all of them.
We say No to claiming him for any economic system, because he calls all of them to repentance.
We say No to claiming him for our theology, because he’s always forgiving the sin of the church.
We say No to claiming him for my judging you, because we believe that we live by grace alone.
We say No to claiming his power for our own health and prosperity, because we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that is in dying that we are born into eternal life.
We’d often rather not say Yes or No. It is safer to say Maybe, or I don’t know, or I’ll get back to you. It’s costly and risky to say Yes or No. You get pigeonholed, you get tracked down and you get caught in it. You have to put your money down, or your cards down, or your foot down, and that can make you vulnerable.
And you make mistakes. You say No to what it is actually okay and you say Yes to what you shouldn’t. So, you confess your sins and keep moving on. And if someone else condemns you, just say No to their condemnation. Because you believe in your heart that Yes that your Lord Jesus says to you. As the epistle says, “No one that believes in him will be to shame.”
You speak out loud to remind yourself. You recite the psalms and prayers and canticles in order to renew yourself. You confess with your mouth in order to strengthen the belief in your heart. You are given your mouth, this very same mouth that other mammals have, you are given your mouth connected to your special human mind in order to do this uniquely human thing of forming words in your minds and speaking those words out through your mouths. You speak out your praise and thanks to God and you thank your neighbors and encourage them; you raise your voices in the congregation to sing to God and to sing of the wonder of the world and of its grief and lamentation; and you speak out loud to encourage yourself. You say, “No, no, no,” and “Yes, yes, yes,” as much for yourself as for anyone else, if only to reinforce your heart in your belief.
Notice it doesn’t say that you believe with your mind. Yes, you engage your mind in your belief, but your mind is not the seat of your belief. Your mind interprets and measures your belief, but the seat of your belief is deeper than your mind, it’s in your heart, where your mind and your emotions come together. Belief is seated in your heart because that’s where love is.
Do you believe in the love of God? Do you trust the love of God? The three temptations of the Lord Jesus were testing how far could he trust the love for him of God his Father. God’s love is the target and the source of your belief. The Love of God is the most important guide for when you say Yes and when you say No. And God’s love to you is always Yes.
Copyright © 2016 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.