29 March: The wilderness as a place of new beginnings

Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service @ Home
29 March 2020

You can find the audio version of this service on the Bethel Podbean site.

Welcome – It would be good to include a testimony from one member each week regarding how they are coping in these difficult times, what changes they are making etc. Please send them to me (Harry). Here’s mine for this week – I keep thinking I will do this, I will do that, but further restrictions are brought in to prevent it. One thing I am believing more strongly, though, is to make the most of this “extra” time, & spend more quality time in the presence of our heavenly Father, and really pray for the Church to come out of this “wilderness” in the power of the Spirit.

Worship

(Written by Joseph Scriven in 1855 at a time of going through many painful trials, difficulties & tragedies) – for a different version try Aretha Franklin – Gospel/Jazz

Word

Reading Matthew 4:1-11.

‘The Wilderness as a place of new beginnings’ – Here we see a transition from John the Baptist & the Old Testament to Jesus & the New Covenant. John has baptised Jesus who is then commended by His Father  in heaven: ”This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). And immediately the devil comes & tempts Him?

Not quite, for we read the most important words: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Matt 4:1). First & foremost this wasn’t about the devil tempting Jesus, it was about the Father testing His Son, “the whole experience takes place under the guidance of the Spirit … according to the purpose of God” (R.T. France). It was part of the education of His Son, “And Jesus grew in wisdom & stature, & in favour with God & man” (Luke 2:52).

Does God test His people? Scripture repeatedly confirms that He does, e.g. Israel’s testing in the wilderness “to test you, to find out what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” (Deut 8:2 cf. Deut 8:16). Hence the divine testing rather than Satan’s tempting is what this passage is primarily  about. This testing is like a training for what lies ahead, a refining process, a time when God reveals Himself as faithful. Hopefully, as with Jesus, it is a time of His people proving themselves faithful by proving the Father’s faithfulness.

Whereas Israel, ‘God’s son’ (cf. Exodus 4:22), repeatedly failed the test, the Beloved Son passed these three tests of obedience to laws established through Moses & ultimately the test “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength” (Deut 6:4-5). So food doesn’t come before obedience to the Father’s words (Matt 4:4 & Deut 8:3).

Subtly, the enemy now knowing we are to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, then quotes Scripture to back up his temptation (Matt 4:6 & Psalm 91:11-12). But Jesus takes up the ‘sword of the Spirit’ which is THE word of God (Eph 6:17) & stands on that instead (Matt 4:7 & Deut 6:16).

Finally Satan “drops his disguise” (Schweizer) & it becomes clear what his ultimate aim is, for people to worship him (Matt 4:9 cf. Isaiah 14:14). Again, Jesus, who is not living by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, and is not going to put His Father to a wrong test, reminds Satan, “Worship the Lord your God, & serve Him only” (Matt 4:10 & Deut 6:13). Hence, Jesus shows He is in control & sends the enemy packing, “Away from me Satan” (Matt 4:10). We also need to learn to hear the word of the Lord!

What else can we learn from this in our present situation:

  1. Jesus, isolated in the wilderness (& no food on the shelves!), had faith that His Father was ultimately in control, would bring Him through this, & provide for Him at the proper time.
  2. This very difficult & trying time was a preparation for His future. Like, Israel, God had deliberately put Him through a time in which food & other essentials were lacking, & also human companionship, in order for Him to learn to trust in His Father & obey Him fully; to depend on His word; not to put God to the test & to worship Him alone. Deut 8:5“Know then in your heart that as a father disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.”
  3. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit when He went into the wilderness (Luke 4:1) & came out of it in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14Luke 4:18-19). As a result great blessing followed (Luke 4:31Luke 24:53), the salvation of people from all nations to future generations (Acts 1:8Acts 17:6Matt 28:18-20).
  4. The temptations He went through here, He would go through later in greater measure: e.g. “If you are the Son of God …” come down from the cross (Matt 27:40).

We could during these times get involved in a whole multiplicity of things, but I believe it is very important we first & foremost spend quality time seeking Him, worshipping Him, finding out His will in this & after it is over. Pray the Church, that has been greatly “limited” in a lot of ways, may come out of this wilderness in the power of the Spirit, resulting in the blessing of our communities & of the world, “Go, my people, enter your rooms & shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling …” (Isaiah 26:20-21), Amen!

Let’s pray: “Our Father, we thank you that you love us so much that You gave Your only Son to die for this lost & needy world. Lead us, by Your Holy Spirit in these days. Help us to become a people who more & more live like Jesus did here on earth when He said, “My will is to do the will of Him who sent me. By myself I can do nothing, I can only do what I see the Father doing.” Let us not fritter away the time in secondary pursuits, even many good works but show us those things You would have us do. Help us especially to be like Jesus, Your Son, who daily amidst all His busy-ness spent quality time with You. Lord let Your Church come out of this “wilderness” in the fulness & power of Your Holy Spirit, in Jesus  Christ’s Name, Amen”