Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-7 • Psalm 32:1-11 • Romans 5:12-19 • Matthew 4:1-11
The theme for this week is “The do’s and don’ts of love.” In Genesis 2, God tells Adam and Eve about the Tree of Life, and in Genesis 3, Satan misleads Eve, twisting God’s words. In Psalm 32, David shares how it is when we live out of sync with God’s love and how our valuable connection to God draws us back into love. According to Romans 5, Adam’s living out of alignment with God’s love is all resolved by Jesus. Our sermon outline, “How Love Doesn’t Work,” is based on Matthew 4, where Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness contrasts the devil’s temptations (i.e., how love doesn’t work) with Jesus’s responses (i.e., how love does work).
How Love Doesn’t Work
If you were alive in 1970, you might remember the movie Love Story, which starred the actors Ryan O’Neill and Ali McGraw. There was a famous quote from the movie that says, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Now if you’ve been married or in love for any length of time, you probably know this quote is far from true. With human nature, the exact opposite is true: Love often means having to say you’re sorry.
Today marks the first Sunday of what we refer to in our GCI Worship calendar as Easter Preparation. (For more on the difference between Easter Preparation and Lent, watch for our March 2020 issue of Equipper.)
Let’s look at the biblical background of this season to help us understand what this season in the GCI Worship calendar is about.
The 40-day period of Easter Preparation is based on replicating Jesus’ time in the wilderness, the 40 days of fasting right before he began his ministry, and during which he was tempted by the enemy. While some seem to believe Jesus had to “work something up” in order to battle the devil, or that he had to fast in order to have the strength to battle the enemy, the truth is, Jesus was preparing for ministry by spending time with his Father, solidifying his desire to follow the Father’s will. During this time of preparation, the enemy tempted Jesus to do things his way.
Let’s recall that Jesus went into the desert right after being confirmed by the Father. Remember his baptism? “A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” Jesus went into the desert full of assurance and desiring to get closer to God and his will. This is the purpose of fasting, not to get God to do something for us, but to get closer to him so we can see and follow his will.
Easter Preparation is a season of learning more about who Jesus is, who he is in us and who we are in him, what his love means and how we better participate with him. It’s a season of spending time with Jesus—the One who saves us because he loves us. The wilderness story shows how love works and how love doesn’t work.
Let’s read the text:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. (Matthew 4:1-11 NLT)
We can notice how love doesn’t work by looking at how Satan approaches Jesus in three different ways and how Jesus responds:
- In verse 3, Satan says if you’re hungry, turn these stones into food. Jesus is very hungry after not eating or drinking for 40 days and 40 nights, and Satan is pointing out the problem and telling Jesus to fix the problem himself. How often, when we are faced with a problem, do we think it is all up to us? We know we are sinners in need of a Savior so we repent and try harder. We fast, we study, we pray, we work harder, and we still sin. We eventually learn it’s not about what we do, it’s about who we know, or better stated, who knows us. It’s about Jesus’ forgiveness and love for us that motivates us to change. It’s because we are loved and cared for. We see this in Jesus’ instructive response to the enemy: he emphasizes his connection to the Father. He knows that his physical needs will be taken care of at the proper time. We could summarize his response as Being loved means I am cared for.
In verses 4-6, Satan says to Jesus if you are really God’s Son, you can throw yourself off a high tower, and God will send his angels to save you. He’s telling Jesus to make the Father prove his love for the Son. Jesus points out that testing love is not how love works. We could summarize his response as Being loved means I must respond to that love by showing respect.
- In verse 9, Satan says if you worship me, I’ll give you all the world’s kingdoms. He’s making love a transaction here, and that’s not how love works. We could summarize Jesus’s response as Being loved means I am more interested in giving than getting.
- Recognize you are loved and cared for and know that you are never alone. While there are sometimes positive steps or actions we can take to move out of a difficult situation, some situations are not ours to fix (especially when it involves others and their personal choices). We need to recognize and trust in God’s loving care for us and for others rather than thinking we must solve everything ourselves.
- Show respect to those who love you by taking care of yourself and allowing others to take care of themselves (i.e., have autonomy over their lives). We show respect to those who love us by appreciating their love and by not making ourselves difficult for them to love.
- Rather than trying to get love, seek to give it, and give it lavishly. Be more interested in giving than receiving.
Satan’s encounter with Jesus in the desert shows us how love doesn’t work. Satan’s warped view of love makes it a “Me first” test and transaction. Jesus shows us that when we’re loved by God, we know we are cared for, we respectfully rest in that care without requiring special signs, and we’re more focused on giving love than getting it because our cups are overflowing with a strong assurance of our place in God’s heart.
Knowing we are loved is essential as we prepare ourselves for Easter.
Small Group Discussion Questions
From Speaking of Life:
- What do you think it means to have a connection with God?
- Share a time you thought God wasn’t right by your side and later you saw how he was working in you or in others around you.
- Share a time you have felt God’s gentle nudges guiding you in a right decision.
From the sermon:
- Have you ever participated in a fast or some sort of special activity for Easter Preparation or Lent? If so, please share your activity and how you found it meaningful. If you haven’t, consider sharing your thoughts about what type of reflective activity might be meaningful to you. What ritual or discipline might serve as a devotional?
- Have you ever faced a situation where you felt compelled to fix it (like “telling stones to become bread”), even if you knew it was beyond your control? If so, share how you managed to move toward resting in God’s care and provision for you.
- Psalm 32 talks about God’s instruction and how being in tune with it is like the bond between a horse and rider when the rider doesn’t have to rely on the bit and bridle to control the horse. Can you think of a time when you felt in tune with God’s wisdom like that in dealing with life’s circumstances?
Why do you think that for us to be willing to give love, we first must know we are loved, especially by God? How do you see the connection between vulnerability and love affecting our ability to express love?