Discerning the Path

Discerning the Path

March 6, 2022——–1st Sunday in Lent

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16    Luke 4:1-13

Remember the old days when you had a trip coming up, and you would get out the old folding maps and make a plan for how you were going to get from here to there?  Those of us who love MAPS always cherished that particular activity!  But now we have a GPS on our phones, and we simply type in our destination and we see two or three possible ways to get there.  When we hit “go”, it gives us a clear set of directions to follow along.  If you want, you can even have a voice giving you vocal instructions every step of the way.  (I personally don’t like this option, because it sounds like a “back-seat driver” constantly telling you how to drive!)  But there was one occasion when I really enjoyed having the vocal coaching option.  My friend had downloaded a GPS program that used the voice of a woman from East London.  It was fun to hear her accent.  And once, he went the wrong direction on purpose so that I could hear her say, “Bloody Nora, mate!  Where ya goin’?!”  Where ya goin’?

Actually, that a good question to be asked periodically—where ya goin’?  How ya gonna get there?

Discerning His Path

Jesus was obsessed with this question, especially at the beginning of his public ministry.  He started out by joining the crowds that had gathered around John the Baptizer to hear him speak and to be baptized.

The people were filled with expectation, and they were wondering about John—wondering if he might be the promised Messiah.  Jesus might have even heard John when he said, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong on his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Jesus was about 30 years old when he was baptized by John at the beginning of his public ministry.  The text doesn’t tell us, but he must have known by this time that he had unusual gifts and abilities, as well as a sense of his uniqueness as the Son of God.  Then, at his baptism, a voice was heard from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And Jesus knew it was time.  The time had come to step out of the shadows and begin his ministry, to fulfill his destiny.  But he had to answer the questions: “Where ya goin’?  and How ya gonna get there?”  He knew that he needed to get away from everyone, to spend time in quiet prayer and reflection, and to listen to what God was saying.  It was time to Discern His Path!  Time to plan how best to achieve his objectives.  Luke tells us that he spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness.

Now, forty is an interesting number in the Bible.  The number 40 is used to represent a long, difficult time.  In the days of Noah, it rained for 40 days and nights.  The Israelites, after their escape from Egypt and Pharaoh’s army, spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness.

The long, difficult time represented by the number 40 is a time that God uses for God’s purposes.  And, indeed, the motley collection of tribes that escaped Egypt were forged into a nation—a nation that had learned how to follow God’s lead and learned to trust God’s provision.  In Deuteronomy 2:7, God tells Israel, “I led you into the desert to bless you.”  So Jesus went into the wilderness for a long, difficult time in order to discern the path that God meant for him.

Of course, the quick and easy way is very tempting.  And Jesus was tempted.  “If you are hungry, turn these stones into bread.  If you want to rule all the kingdoms of the world, bow down and worship the devil.  If you want to dazzle everyone in Jerusalem and prove that God is protecting you, jump off the pinnacle of the Temple!”

But Jesus was prayerfully discerning his path.  And he had an answer for every one of these temptations, an answer straight from the scriptures.  It reminds me of another scripture—one that had yet to be written.  It’s found in James 4, and it says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Abiding in the Almighty

If you spend any time reading the Gospels, you will see that Jesus really knew the scriptures, especially the Psalms.  When the devil tried to use part of Psalm 91 (our Psalm for today), he pulled it out of context and tried to use it for his own purposes.  And Jesus wasn’t having any part of it!

He knew that the Psalmist had a completely different idea in mind.

Jesus knew where he truly lived.  Just listen for words that indicate places where one might live:

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.’  Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you.”

You see, Jesus was praying for discernment regarding how he was to go about his ministry, how to accomplish his mission.  But he knew where he lived—deep in the heart of God.  So when the devil tried to trick him into jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple, quoting the Psalm that declared that God’s angels would protect him, Jesus knew better!  He insisted on staying in the refuge, the fortress of God in whom he put his trust.  He emerged from the wilderness with clarity of vision, and with a determination to trust God’s way.

This is what inspired Paul to write to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

I believe that we could even say that it was there, in the wilderness, that Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem.”  (And next week we will hear him say, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.”  He knew the danger he was entering!)  In the wilderness, Jesus prayed his way to clarity, then set out to bring God’s good news to all of humanity—doing it God’s way.

Let me finish with this thought: Remember the advice from James that said, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”?  I believe it’s true.  But be aware that the devil won’t stay away forever!  The last line of our Gospel text says, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.”  I think James meant, resist the devil, and KEEP ON RESISTING any time he comes back!

Friends, you and I can choose what Jesus chose—to make God our refuge, our dwelling place.  We’ll listen for God’s voice saying, “When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.”

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