What did it mean for Jesus to trust and obey?
In his book Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, Charles Swindoll wrote that he remembered only two things from his high school chemistry class. First, he removed a wart on the back of his right hand through applications of sulfuric acid for thirty-three consecutive days. Second, he watched the slow death of a frog in an unforgettable experiment when his teacher placed the frog in an oversized beaker of cool water. Beneath the beaker the teacher moved a Bunsen burner with a very low flame so the water would heat very slowly – something like .017 of a degree Fahrenheit per second. The change in water temperature occurred so slowly that the frog was not aware of the change. Two and a half hours later the frog had been boiled to death without trying to jump out of the water or releasing a complaining kick.
Swindoll states that as attentive as he was to the gruesome demonstration, he did not realize until later that he was witnessing a profound principle that would remind him of that frog for the rest of his life. The principle he witnessed was the principle of erosion as the frog was unaware of the reality in which it found itself.
The principle of erosion is defined in the story of a man who decided to do something about his weight. To help him in his struggle, he decided to change his route to work so that he would not pass his favorite doughnut shop. He was so committed to this fight to lose weight that he told his coworkers of his stand against the lure of doughnuts, but not long after sharing this in the office, he arrived at work one morning with a big box of doughnuts. When his surprised coworkers asked what was going on, he said, “These are no ordinary doughnuts. They’re from the Lord.” “What in the world are you talking about?” they asked. The man replied, “It’s quite simple. Today on my way into the office I accidentally drove by my favorite doughnut shop and saw all those glazed and sprinkle topped doughnuts calling my name from the window. I knew I had to pray for deliverance and strength, so I said, ‘Lord, if you want me to have one of these delicious doughnuts, you are going to have to give me a parking space right in front of the doughnut shop. If this happens, I will know that you want me to have some doughnuts.’ And sure enough, after eight trips around the block, there was a parking place right in front of the doughnut shop!”
In today’s scripture reading, the time has arrived for Jesus to face the temptation of erosion. Matthew 4:1 tells us that it is no accident that Jesus winds up in the wilderness to face the reality in which he found himself following his baptism. Jesus is not lost in the wilderness, and he is not being punished for something he has done wrong. Jesus has been led to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of facing his reality by trusting and obeying God’s call as the voice of the tempter says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
The temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness was the same temptation Jesus will face throughout his ministry. How was he going to define his identity as the Son of God in the reality in which he found himself. In the reality of the wilderness of his testing, the real questions were not if Jesus could turn stone into bread, have angels protect him, or rule the world, The real question was whether the miracles Jesus performed would confirm his identity as the Son of God or erode his identity as the Son of God.
As the Son of God, Jesus had the authority to perform miracles. In fact, miracles are the first signs of Jesus’ ministry in the closing verses of the 4th chapter of Matthew as Matthew reports Jesus “curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23). It was how Jesus chose to respond to his times of testing in the wilderness and throughout his life that his identity as the Son of God would be confirmed as he trusted and obeyed God’s calling.
Dr. Audrey West reflects on Jesus’ faithfulness to his identity in the wilderness and throughout his ministry:
What happens in the wilderness does not stay in the wilderness; rather, it plays again in the life and ministry of God’s beloved son (Matt 3:17). The answers are different on different occasions, but the choices are very much the same:
- Jesus refuses in the desert to turn stones into bread to assuage his own hunger, but before long he will feed thousands in the wilderness with just a few loaves and some fish (Matt 14:17-21; 15:33-38), and he will teach his disciples to pray to God for their “daily bread” (Matt 6:11).
- He refuses to take advantage of his relationship to God by hurling himself down from the heights of the Temple, but at the end of his earthly ministry he endures the taunts of others (Matt 27:38-44) while trusting God’s power to the end upon the heights of a Roman cross (Matt 27:46).
- He turns down the devil’s offer of political leadership over the kingdoms of the world, and instead offers the kingdom of the heavens to all those who follow him in the way of righteousness.
The wilderness tests of the Temptation account are not a one-time ordeal to get through, but they are tests of preparation for the choices Jesus makes in his earthly ministry
The promise of the gospel is that the one who is “with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20) has already gone ahead of his followers, even to the most forsaken places of the wilderness; he meets them in the most difficult tests of their own lives. No place is so desolate, so distant, or so challenging that Jesus has not already been there; no test or temptation is so great that Jesus has not already overcome it.
All oaf which leads to the question of how we choose to respond to the times of testing in our lives, those wilderness times when we answer the question of how we are we living into our identity as followers of Jesus.
Our middle hymn today, written by Rev. J. H. Sammis, in response to a young man who shared about facing a time of testing in his life. As the young man shared about the challenges he was facing, he said, “I am not quite sure – but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.” Are you facing any eroding times of testing in your life?
Trust and obey as you live with faith in Jesus.
Trust and Obey
by Pastor Marc Brown
February 26, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: Matthew 4:1-11
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for February 26, 2023
Scripture Lesson Matthew 4:1-11
The Good News “Trust and Obey”
Music “In Christ Alone” by Keith and Kristyn Getty
Closing Music “Only Trust Him” arr. Bill Wolaver