The season of Lent lasts 40 days and models the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and being tempted by the devil.
Forty days. That’s a long time to fast, to eat “nothing at all” (v. 2). Forty days. That’s a long time to be tempted by Satan. Fortunately, Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” during this period, and he was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (v. 1). As grueling as these 40 days were, they had a purpose— God knew Jesus had to let go of some things, and hold onto others. In the desert, Jesus was going through sort of Lost and Found.
All through history, important items have been lost and found. Some are good and some are not so good. A book called “Found,” by Davy Rothburt, lists some of them: Discarded valentines, to-do lists, diaries, homework assignments, ransom notes, even a break-up letter written on the back of an airsickness bag—a letter that was short and to the point, “You make me sick.”
Items are lost and found all over. One of Rotherburt’s lists is of items lost exclusively on trains. Not on planes, buses, taxis or ships—just trains. Some include…
Lost: A rare Buddhist scripture. A Tibetan scholar accidentally lost nearly 1,000 pages of rare 17th-century Buddhist scriptures.
Found: A 3-foot-long pet boa constrictor named Penelope. Authorities looked but couldn’t find it so they confidently declared “the trains are absolutely snake-free.” One month later, Penelope was found on the same train.
Lost: A violin concerto. A British composer spent a whole year writing his first violin concerto. Then he lost it at London’s Victoria Station. He began again, and took another whole year to finish Violin Concerto No. 2.
Found: A 300-year-old Stradivarius violin, worth millions of dollars. A musician lent his Stradivarius to a friend but the friend lost it on a train. Fortunately a Good Samaritan turned it in.
Lost: Ernest Hemingway. Not the author, but all of his early fiction. Hemingway’s wife packed all of his papers in a suitcase and boarded a train in Paris. She stepped away from the case for a few moments, and when she returned, the suitcase was gone. None of the work had yet been published. Hemingway said, “All that remains of my complete works are three pencil drafts of a bum poem.”
And finally… Found: Pete Seeger’s banjo. The famous folksinger had carried his instrument on many trains, but misplaced it while riding a train from New York City. Fortunately, someone turned it in to the Lost and Found, and it was reunited with the legendary banjo player.
Scriptures, concertos and manuscripts. Lost. Snakes, violins and banjos. Found. Some are good and some are not so good. Some should be released, and some should be grasped tightly. The challenge in life is to figure out what should be lost, and what should be found.
At the end of 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus knew exactly what he needed to lose and what needed to be found.
Luke tells us that Jesus “ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” The devil says to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” This is a tempting proposition, since Jesus is hungry, and certainly has the power to transform a piece of marble into a marbled rye. But Jesus answers, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Lost: A loaf of bread to fill his stomach.
Found: The nourishment of the Word of God.
We face a similar temptation when we feel empty inside and look for something physical to fill us up. Maybe it’s a piece of Godiva chocolate, a curved-screen television, an item of custom jewelry, the latest smartphone, or a well-equipped car with that new-car smell. Having such desires is nothing new— people have been feeling this way for thousands of years.
In the time of Jesus, rich people wanted bigger barns to store their grain and their goods—just check out the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12. But none of these things provides lasting satisfaction, and some can be hazardous to your health—that new-car smell, for instance, is produced by the gasses of various volatile organic compounds.
Better to follow the example of Jesus who quotes Deuteronomy 8, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” This means choosing to “do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6) It means following the great commandment of Jesus to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22) Such choices will nourish us and give us life. Much more than a loaf of bread, or even a brand new car.
Desire for thing of this world will be lost, but deeper meaning for life in the ways of God will be found.
Next, the devil leads Jesus up to a high place and shows him all of the kingdoms of the world. Satan says to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” The devil has authority over the kingdoms of the world, and he can give it to anyone he chooses. Jesus can have it, if he wants—all he has to do is worship Satan. But Jesus says, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Lost: Authority over the kingdoms of the world.
Found: Worshiping and serving God alone.
In his book The Road to Character, David Brooks tells the story of St. Augustine, the fourth-century theologian. Augustine deeply desired fame and status, but found that these things didn’t make him happy. Nothing he was accomplishing was giving him the contentment he desired.
Brooks writes, “Left to ourselves, we often desire the wrong things. Whether it’s around the dessert tray or in the late-night bar, we know we should choose one thing but end up choosing another. We understand our long-term interest but end up pursuing short-term pleasures. Even good things such as friendship will leave us unsatisfied if the friendship is not attached to something higher.”
In the end, Augustine turned to God and said, “My heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Nothing in this world will give us the rest and the peace that only God can give. This is why Jesus said no to authority over all the kingdoms of the world, and yes to worshiping and serving God alone.
Power and authority will be lost, but greater purpose and deeper satisfaction in the ways of God will be found.
Finally, the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem, the holy city of God. Satan places him on the pinnacle of the temple and says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you’” (Psalm 91:9-10) The devil has heard Jesus quoting Scripture, so now he does it himself. In Psalm 91 Satan finds the words that he hopes will change Jesus’ mind, words which are followed by the verse, “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” (v. 11) But Jesus responds and counters with God’s holy word once again: “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (v. 12). That’s Deuteronomy 6.
Lost: a dramatic rescue by the angels of God.
Found: A right relationship with God, one in which God is served rather than tested.
Jesus knows that the verse from Deuteronomy about testing God is followed by the words, “Do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, so that it may go well with you.” (6:18).
Yes, it is certainly true that God will send angels to “protect you” and “bear you up” in times of danger— but not if you willfully put yourself in harm’s way and challenge God to save you. Don’t drink or do drugs, and then get on the highway, saying, “Save me, God!” Don’t intentionally behave in promiscuous or reckless ways and then say, “Help me, Jesus!” Instead, do what is right and good and righteousness and goodness with follow.
The idea of God showing up in dramatic and miraculous fashion will be lost, but how God truly shows up in our lives when we follow in the ways of God will be found.
After all of these temptations, the devil departs from Jesus until an opportune time. Jesus comes through this game of Lost and Found by letting go of some things and finding some others. In the end, he finds much more than he loses.
The same is true for us. We can find real nourishment in the word of God— in teachings that show us the path to deep and lasting satisfaction. We can find rest and peace by worshiping God alone. And we can find safety and security in a right relationship with God, one that is based on serving instead of testing. As always, Jesus shows us that which is worth losing and that which is worth finding.
So may we, in these forty days of Lent that is reminiscent of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness which included the devil’s temptations, come to know that God knows what we need to lose and what we need to find. May we look to face the temptations in our lives with a willingness to lose—lose the things that hold us back from finding our way back to God and God’s ways.
For in doing so, we will find our healing and wholeness. Amen.