INTRODUCTION OF THEME
When I was young my grandmother always used to warn me about taking the easy way. “Don’t take the easy way,” she would say, “it will never get you where you want to be.”
It was good advice. I did not always listen. But as I grew older and wiser I seemed to get it more and more. When we skip steps to make it easier, the end result is worse – and it often ends up being harder in the end.
I wonder if Jesus’ had a grandmother around to pass on this wisdom. Perhaps his mother did. But he certainly seems to take it to heart when he makes a huge life choice and leaves behind carpentry to become a preacher, teacher and healer.
I can picture him, lying in bed at night, going for walks, thinking about how to tell his mother that he is leaving. Wondering if he is making the right choice. And in the end, being tempted to take the easy way out.
As soon as he makes a decision, and gets baptized by his cousin John, he goes off into the desert to spend the next 40 days preparing for his ministry. And it is while he is alone in the desert, confronted with all his hopes and fears that he has to make some hard decisions.
This is the story of Lent…
TIME WITH THE YOUNG AND THE YOUNG AT HEART
40 days in the desert. 40 days is a long, long time to be alone with nothing but a campfire to keep you warm at night. And remember, Jesus has basically left behind every single thing he knows, carpentry, family, Nazareth, and safety. He is taking some huge risks and his first step is to confront his inner demons and figure out who he really is.
So there is Jesus, out there trying to figure out his life, trying to figure out his calling, trying to figure out what it is exactly that God wants of him.
And he is tempted… as the story goes the “devil” comes to him, the tempter comes to him and points out three very obvious truths:
“You are hungry and depriving yourself,” says the devil. “You don’t need to be, it is easy, make some bread and get on with it. Why deprive yourself of anything?”
“Just become the king,” says the devil, “you have the power to conquer everything and everyone – just use it. If you were the king of the world you could get everyone to do whatever you want…”
“Use your powers…” the devil finally says, “you can do miracles, you can command angels, you can be immortal – just use your powers and everyone will believe.”
At its simplest these temptations are one and the same – the devil comes to him and whispers in Jesus ear, take the easy way.
Take the easy way. Be rich, be famous, be powerful, use miracles and force everyone to believe.
You don’t need to suffer, says the devil, you don’t need to wait, and you certainly don’t have to waste time convincing people – you have the power of God to change the world in a heartbeat… would that not be better? And, as a bonus, you will not die horribly after being tortured and hung on a cross.
You don’t even have to be out here, the devil basically says, just go and get started, what is to think about…
ENGAGING THE THEME
Doing the easy thing can even be risking your life… Take the story of Alexander Severus, a Roman emperor who none of us really remember because in 235 AD he chose the easy way. Here is what happened:
Germanic tribes invaded the Roman Empire during the time Severus was emperor. This was the so called Barbarian Invasion and the emperor marched out his troops to meet the invaders. The troops were ready to fight and defend their land… But what happened? When they were near the enemy, the emperor chose to bribe the enemy instead. He tried to buy them off using the empire’s wealth. Instead of facing the challenge, the emperor chose the easy way.
The troops didn’t like it. In fact, they were angered by it. They looked down on him and eventually decided to kill him.
It’s tragic, but it also contains a profound lesson: don’t take the easy way. Don’t take shortcuts when you face a problem. It may look easy and attractive, but it’s not without its danger. What you should do instead is face the challenge and do the right thing. It might be painful and take a long time, but the reward makes it worth it.
Jesus knows this… He needed to convince people, he needed to walk with people, and he needed to earn their trust and show by example just how powerful the love of God is.
CONCLUSION OF THEME
Lent is our 40 days in the desert. Lent is our 40 days of soul searching. Lent is the time when we face our own temptations, and in doing so, we prepare ourselves to follow Jesus no matter where it may lead.
Since the days of the early church this has been a time when we are more sombre, when we look inward, and when we ask the hard questions that Jesus had to answer before he could follow God…
What would be your easy way out? What tempts you? What demons do you need to confront?
It can really change us if we take this seriously. Lent is not an easy time, but it is a powerful one.
We have those same choices that plagued Jesus in the first place – the temptation to put ourselves first, the temptation to use our power to force others, the temptation to play it safe… It is in fact because of the reality of these temptations that we repeat Lent each and every year.
God is calling. We have already chosen to be here. But now we renew that vow by following in Jesus footsteps and preparing ourselves for the road ahead.