First Sunday in Lent: "Walking in the Shelter of Love"
This is the first Sunday in Lent, and as we have heard the readings today, there are many things that we can learn from them. But I believe that God wants to help us understand that if we want to see things clearly, we have to see it from His point of view.
We had a member from our Church who graduated onto heaven three weeks ago. She has been with us when we got to Kalibo, and was intercessor. I remember our beginning days, and since she was running a restaurant, she would say to us, “If at any time that you need to eat, or your budget is running low, you just come to the restaurant and we will feed you.” When she passed away, she left a request that if the Church was going to do a funeral for her, she didn’t want it to be sad or solemn. She wanted it to be celebratory.
We understand that we can rejoice in the God Almighty because we know that she is going to heaven. However, some of her relatives did not really understand. When we were having the funeral service for her, we were singing and clapping our hands. Some of those present were kind of scandalized for they did not understand why there was a celebration. I understand that there is grief when somebody passes away. I understand that we need space to mourn, but if we want to see things clearly from God’s point of view, we would imagine that when she passed away and the angels took her, we would see what would be the atmosphere when she was brought to heaven. The moment she enters, the people would start cheering and applauding because someone who finished the race has finally come in. Think of the angels that guarded all of her life and cheering her on. I believe that this was the situation in heaven and she was seeing things clearly because of this. While we are on the earth, we are to see things in God’s point of view, from God’s heart because when we do, we will find the strength to figure what to do even in the most difficult situation.
During the last Sunday of Epiphany, our gospel was the Transfiguration in the mount. In the middle of that story, we find Jesus started shining - the glory that was inside started coming out. This was the image that the Lord probably wanted to burn in the hearts and the minds of the apostles because later on, they will see Him suffering, humiliated, crucified and die. Jesus wanted to see that despite of these, this is the end goal. Even in His transfiguration, I believe that the Lord is showing us a glimpse of what He desires for each and every one of us. The same glory that is in Christ is inside us. The Lord wants to take out all these things that holding us back so that eventually, people will see in us a reflection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are entering into Lent with this idea. Some people don’t really like Lent because they think it is sad, with a lot of sacrifices, less feasting because of fasting; but no, we are going to go through this with the understanding that the Lord is not making things hard for us. The Lord wants to bring out His desire, His masterpiece, His work of art in us.
Last Ash Wednesday, the ashes that were placed on our forehead came from the palm branches that we were waving during Palm Sunday. The palm branches represent victory and if they are reduced to ashes, it is telling us that it is when we die to self that we will begin to walk in the victory that the Lord has given us.
On this first Sunday in Lent, Jesus went through forty days of fasting and somehow, Lent is made up of forty days. It is a very significant number. Sometime this year, the Cathedral of the King will be entering or passing through the fortieth year. As we go through the Season of Lent, we begin to see a glimpse of what the Lord wants us to accomplish. God wants us to emerge from this with a fresh new start, a new beginning and a new phase in our lives.
In the Scriptures, Noah stayed on top of the flood when it started raining for forty days and forty nights. After that, there was a new beginning for them. Moses spent forty days in the presence of God on Mt. Sinai which tells us how we are to know God in a much more intimate manner. When Elijah was going through Mt. Horeb, and got tired and weary, an angel came down and made bread for him. By just one meal, he went on the strength that was provided for him forty days.
Forty days in Lent means that we be strengthened and nurtured by the Sacraments of God. Israel’s forty-year journey came to an end finally going to the Promised Land. For us, this means that we finally begin to overcome those things that are holding us back. God never wanted the people of Israel to spend forty years in the wilderness. He wanted them to crossover immediately, but what held them back? Their unbelief; their disobedience. They looked at the giants in the Promised Land and they said they couldn’t go. God said, “They could and they can.” They said, “Sorry God, we can’t.” Because of this, there was a forty year delay, but eventually, they got to the Promised Land. For us, this means entering what God has allowed for each and every one of us.
In the Season of Lent, God wants us to get to know Him more; to become more intimate with Him. We are familiar with the promises; but let us get familiar to the Person who gave the promises. We are familiar with the Word, but let us more get familiar and intimate with the God who gave us the Word – the God of the Word.
Looking at the gospel, Jesus was being tempted by the enemy. We are living a life here on earth, and there is a God who wants us to enter into everything that He has purposed for us. Psalm 139 says that He fashioned and planned our days even before we were born. Each of us has a divine destiny with our God. Each of us was born with a purpose. Regardless of the conditions of how we were born, there is a reason why we are here and there is a God that is step by step bringing us into the fulfillment of this divine destiny.
While we are going through this world, there is also another guy who is trying to stop us from achieving or accomplishing what God has for us. St. Peter said, “Your adversary, the devil.” The word adversary is from the Greek word is antidikos. Anti is against; dikos is rights and privileges. The devil is against us in achieving, accomplishing, or fulfilling the rights that God has given us. He doesn’t want us to realize our potentials. He doesn’t want us to accomplish what God has given us. He is trying to make his ways more attractive than the ways of God. We need to make a decision on whether we will choose him or not.
In the NKJV, Luke 1:1 says, “Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days, He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.” Jesus Christ was in the wilderness, and the wilderness for us symbolizes our testing and trials that we are going through in the world. Sometimes, we feel that we are good in something or we think that we have faith and nothing can really shake us, but it is only during test and trials that we will really find out what we are made of. It is during test and trials that we find out if we really believe what we say we believe.
Jesus Christ was in the wilderness and hasn’t eaten for forty days. We will think that it is a physical liability, but one thing going for Him was that He was filled with the Holy Spirit. He is the One that will help us during these particular times. In the Trinity, we have God our Father who loves us so much and Who started everything for us. He created this wonderful world and He placed us in a Garden and had all of these plans for us. It all got messed up because our first parents made a mistake that maybe the serpent’s invitation was a little bit more attractive than God’s conditions. They found out later that it was not because instead of enhancing them, they became slaves of the enemy.
Imagine this: on one side were all the blessings and the purposes that God has for us; and we were on the other side; but because of the sin that was committed, there was a barrier and the door was closed. We couldn’t get there and God wanted to bring it to us, so the Second Person of the Trinity came down, Jesus Christ. He became the Son of Man Who was to live the life that we were supposed to live. He was going to live the life of obedience that Adam should have lived. Then, He went to the cross for us. He died for us, and He resurrected for us. He paid the price that we should have paid but could not pay, and in so doing. He opened the door and we step in while we put our faith in Him. It is like entering a foreign country where you step in and see all the nice things and you say, “Where do I start? How do I do this? How do I use these? How do I operate in these?” We have all the blessings, privileges, and resources, but we can’t even use one tenth of them, so the Third Person of the Trinity comes down and becomes our tour guide. He shows us how to do it. He tells us, “This is how to operate it. Rejoice because this is yours. You pray and God the Father will answer your prayer.”
However, someone tries to mess up this particular situation. In the gospel, we find the devil going to Jesus testing Him. In verse 3 it says, “And the devil said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’” What is the trick here? What is the temptation here? When Jesus Christ came, He has to live the life that we are living. He has to rely on the things that were available to us. Jesus is God and He doesn’t really have to pray. He is God and He will never stop being God. He was, and is, and will always be God, but He was the Son of Man and He had to operate just like us – according to the limitations that kept us here. Because of the limitations, we have to trust God. Because of the limitations, we have to believe that our God is faithful. Sometimes, when we are praying and believing God for something, we wish that God will hear our prayer instantly! But it really doesn’t happen this way. We don’t know why God does what He does or how He does it. Sometimes, we think if we are to pray some prayers or not. What we need to do is to trust in the process of God. Whether the answer is instant or not, we need to trust Him and wait in faith.
Jesus had to believe like we did. Jesus had to wait in faith like we did. If He is to prove to us that trusting God and serving God is the right thing to do, He had to live in the limitations that we lived in and trust God the same way. Basically, what the devil said was, “Take matters in your own hands!” If Jesus had abused His divine power as God, then, He could not live like one of us because none of us could have done that. He had to live as a perfect man trusting God to be able to say to us, “If you believe in Me, the works that I have done, you shall do also.” Every work that He has done, He has done by trusting the Holy Spirit and having faith in the faithfulness of God.
Jesus Christ saw this and He answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’” When we want to form values and choices in our life, and if we have so many different sources of information, always listen to the information given to us by heaven – the Holy Scriptures. Jesus’ hunger is not that big that He should break His covenant with God. Jesus did not take matters in His own hands. He trusted His Father.
In the Old Testament, King Saul was facing a battle and the Philistines were gathered against him. They were waiting for the prophet Samuel to offer the sacrifice so that they could have the guarantee of winning the Philistines. But Samuel was taking so long, and so many of the people were getting scared and were leaving. King Saul said, “If Samuel is not here, then I will offer the sacrifice.” King Saul took matters in his own hand, and he offered the sacrifice, and because of this, he lost the kingdom.
In the Season of Lent, God teaches us to wait. God teaches us that He is faithful. God teaches us that He will show up.
For the first round of temptation, the devil was defeated. Comes the second round and in verses 5-7 it says, “The devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me. All will be Yours.” The devil was offering Jesus all of the kingdoms but in return, he was asking Him to do something that even a five-year old child can do. All that Jesus had to do was to bend His knee, even just one knee, and stand up right away so the devil gets what he wants and Jesus gets His’ too. Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan” For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”
What was Satan getting into? It is not bending on one’s knee to him, but it is looking to another god. The temptation is: trying to get what God has purposed for us by compromising. When we compromise, we look to another source except God. What we compromise to get, we eventually lose. Lent teaches us to do it God’s way. He is the only One that we can trust because He is the only One that will do it for us.
For the third round of temptation, verses 9-11 says, “Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, 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 is quoting Scriptures – Psalm 91): ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Is there anything wrong with Psalm 91?” Nothing, but the devil was quoting it halfway. He was telling Jesus to zero-in on the benefits.
Understand that with the promises of God, there is something that we need to do. We can’t just say, “I know these things will be added up unto me.” We forget to put God first that is, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Scriptures say, “It shall be given to me a full measure, press down, shaken down and running over,” but we forget the giving part. We say, “I claim the open window of heaven,” but we forget the part that we have to bring our tithes unto the Lord. Have we ever heard someone praying this way, “Lord, forgive me, but I can’t ever forgive that person.” If we want to walk in God’s forgiveness, which is a grace that God has given us, then we must be willing to extend this grace to others also.
This temptation is a trick - to claim the benefits of a promise without fulfilling the promise. The devil was asking Jesus to become unfaithful. He said, “Throw Yourself over.” He was asking Jesus to commit suicide. We are not supposed to be one who determines how long we are to live our life because that is God’s job. The devil was asking Jesus to be unfaithful to God while claiming the blessings of faithfulness towards God. The devil forgot the first part of Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.”
Picture this: the Ark of the Covenant during David’s time with the cherubim and its roof would be opened and the sun would be coming down. The one who is inside will go by the shadow so he would not be burned by the sun. He stays in the shadow of the Almighty. The symbol here is: remain close to God. Do not depart from God. Be continually faithful to Him. Do not claim the promises and disobey what the promises require of us because God is not a pushover. He is merciful, He is gracious, but He is just and righteous.
When it seems like our objectives are not getting fulfilled or answers are taking too long, align with God. It is never God’s fault. He opens His desire and He satisfies the desire of every living thing. Jesus Christ says, “Fear not little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” He is not going to hold it back. We sang, “Lord, forgive us, we have made You too small in our eyes; we thought You were unable to save us. Lord, forgive us, we put our trust in the wisdom of man and we have compromised to get what we want.”
The Season of Lent is telling us: stand with God; be faithful to Him. When things are taking too long, remain patient; remain steady under pressure. Go with God at all times. He is the One who will never fail us. We will see things clearly when we are looking at it from God’s point of view.