First Sunday in Lent
March 10, 2019
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
The name of the church nursery was “The I Corinthians 15:51 Nursery”. The regulars knew exactly what it meant. But newcomers and those who hadn’t memorized the entire Bible yet were a little bit confused. What is “The I Corinthians 15:51 Nursery”? Do you know what that is? I Corinthians 15:51 reads, “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” (Sorry about that!!)
There are certain verses in Scripture that become the strength of Christians. Sometimes they are the words that they use at their funeral, or put on their headstone, or ask that their funeral sermon speak those words. Words like, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) Or Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Recently, here at Ascension, these words were spoken at a funeral, “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.” (II Timothy 4:6b-8)
All those verses speak about staying strong, remaining faithful. Today, the first Sunday in Lent, we read about the temptations that came to Jesus while He was in a barren, desolate place. The devil, as evil as he could be, repeatedly tortured Him, challenging Jesus to fall – not to stay strong.
Staying strong is not easy. It wasn’t easy for Jesus. It isn’t easy for me. It’s not easy for you. The Bible recognizes that truth, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12)
You know, this is a terrible time of the year, unless you like snow and cold. But it is also terrible because there are no sports to watch on TV. Football is done. Baseball is still in the exhibition phase. March Madness tips off next week.
But I found out that this terrible time of the year is actually ok. Having nothing to do earlier this week I sat and watched a documentary on Billy Graham’s life. I was amazed at everything that he did in his 99 years of life. Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, who died last February, preached the Gospel, in person, to more people than anyone else in the history of the world. He went to just about every country to call people to repentance and faith. He spoke in Islamic countries, Buddhist countries, Hindu countries, atheistic countries, our country, and people, millions of people, confessed their faith and followed Jesus.
He was known by, and knew, every President of the United States. He was counselor to them, came to pray for them and with them. Billy Graham was known as “America’s Pastor”. On 9/11, the day when terror came to our country, all travel by airplane – commercial or private, was stopped. No one in the air. That is, except for one plane, carrying Billy Graham, by orders of the President, bringing him to the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. for a special service in those dark days. President Bush said that America needed to hear from Billy Graham that day. And they did.
I learned something in that documentary. All that I saw, all those crusades, all those opportunities to speak of Christ, all that influence among the world’s greatest leaders, almost didn’t happen. In 1949, 31 years after his birth, Billy Graham came to a crisis in faith. He struggled with the reliability of the Bible. He didn’t know if what was in this book was true. He was a preacher and what could a preacher preach if the text book was flawed? Staying strong? His knees, in 1949, were buckling.
In Matthew 4, Jesus was called to stay strong, but the temptations to fall and fail were real and constant and strong. He had just come out of the Baptismal waters and had heard His Father’s voice, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) But the next voice that He hears is the voice of the tempter, the devil. “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3) When the devil took Jesus to a high place, allowing Him to see all the kingdoms of the worlds in an instant, his temptation was, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:6) Then the liar and deceiver took Jesus to the top of the Temple and baited Him with these words, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.” (Luke 4:9) He told him that God’s angels would catch Him before he hit the pavement below.