NextSunday Worship

March 5, 2017

“Our Lord knows the way through the wilderness”

Dr. James M. Pitts Matthew 4:1-11 Year A - First Sunday in Lent

The scripture translation is from Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2012)

Then Jesus was taken by the Spirit into the country, to be given a test by the Confuser. And after a forty-day fast he was plenty hungry. Well, the Confuser came around and said to him, “So you’re God’s Head Man, huh? Then order these stones to become pones.”

But Jesus told him, “The Scripture says,

‘A man shall not live on a pone alone, But on every word falling from the lips of God.’”

Next, the Confuser takes him into Atlanta and stands him on the steeple of First Church and says to him, “Okay, let’s suppose you’re God’s Head Man; now, jump down from here, for the Scripture says, ‘He will make his angels responsible for you, And they’ll carry you along on their hands, To keep you from stumping your toe on a stone.’”

Jesus replied, “Yes, but it is also written, ‘You shall not try God’s patience!’”

Again, the Confuser gets him way up on a high mountain and points out to him all the nations in the world and their splendor, and he says to Jesus, “Now if you’ll just let me be boss, I’ll turn all this over to you.”

Then Jesus tells him, “Scram, Satan! The Scripture says,’ You shall let the Lord God be your boss, and you shall give your loyalty to him alone.”‘ At that the Confuser leaves him, and you know, angels came and began waiting on him.

Matthew 4:1-11 (Cotton Patch Gospel, Clarence Jordan)

The season of Lent is a forty days spiritual journey through life and death and to resurrection.  The Gospel reading for this first Sunday in Lent is a report on another forty day and night experience.  Immediately following his baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan with the confirmation by the Spirit of God that “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;” the scripture relates that Jesus is ushered into the wilderness.

Following the tradition of Moses, God’s Son begins desert, spiritual survival training.  It is an intense time of testing.  There in the wilderness, Jesus spends forty days wrestling with the important issues of life and faith.

Wilderness University became his alma mater.  There between Jordan and Jerusalem, in the barren and jagged hills of Judea, filled with intense heat and emptiness, Jesus walked alone.  He pondered and prayed over his life purpose and mission.

He was attacked with suggestions of alternate ways of achieving his goal.  An unsolicited consultant – the devil – became his enemy.   The temptations, offered by the adversary, were self-serving approaches to the ambitions of life.  Jesus’ answers and developing pattern for living would shape his identity and intentions.

There in the wilderness, we see the formation of his chosen way of sacrificial love and obedient service.  Such choices, since we have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story, eventually led to his humiliation and death on the cross.

This time of testing gives us an intimate glimpse into Jesus’ inner life.  Remember, he was alone in the wilderness.  This is His Own Story as he recounted it to his disciples.  The drama is not only an expression of his vigorous mind, but it reflects the intensity of the struggle with all of its subjective elements.  The wilderness report is a spiritual autobiography.

The Confuser put Jesus to the test focusing on the points of his power and ability.  Would Jesus use his spiritual privilege to fulfil the will of the Father and God’s glory, or would he use it for his own self-interest.

The episodes move from:

(1) “When he had fasted forty days and forty nights, then he was hungry and the confuser came to him and said, “If you are God’s son, tell these rocks that they should become loaves of bread.”

Jesus rejected this appeal to crass materialism, for he knew that persons cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

(2) “Then the Confuser takes him into the holy city.

And he sets him on the pinnacle of the temple and says, ‘If you are God’s son, if you really want to be head of this God movement, throw yourself down; for it has been written, ‘He shall speak to his angels about you, and they shall carry you along on their hands, lest perhaps you stump your toe on a rock.”

Jesus rejects this appeal to ecclesiastical exhibitionism.  “Don’t try out the Lord God with such religious nonsense.”

(3) “Then the Confuser takes Jesus up to a high mountain and he points out all the kingdoms of the world in their glory.

And he says to him, ‘If I give you all these things, if you will fall down and worship me, Jesus.  I’m really a king maker.  I can make you king over all these political empires, if you will just let me pull the strings.”

Jesus rejected this offer.  He refused to sell out to power and prestige.  Jesus responded, “Get going Satan, for you shall worship and give supreme loyalty to the Lord, your God and Him alone shall you worship.

Jesus sent his unsolicited management consultant back to hell


In his hours of decision, which was a long time, forty days and nights, Jesus rejected three powerful temptations.  He refused the seduction of materialism, religiosity, political and military power.

These worldly approaches would not be a part of his personal identity and ministry intention.

Within the wilderness story, we encounter the clarification of God’s revelation in human form.

We see Jesus…

the one who totally renounced the temptation to use God for his own purposes and entrusted his entire life and death to him;

the one who rejected the superhuman temptation “to be like God,” to have power and score success;

the one who proved himself to be “truly human,” who ruled out assurances and guarantees and accepted the vulnerability of freedom and faith.

the one who faithfully followed, as the children of God before him had forged their identity and way of life in the wilderness of Sinai.  Out of the bondage of Egypt, they journeyed in the Exodus for 40 years through the desert to the land of promise.


Why this story now?  Because, life is difficult!

Regardless of where you are in your life-long learning experience, the chapter of living and learning now unfolding for you in many ways is very much like a wilderness.

Now, you may not hear voices with seductive appeals to sell out and embrace less than the best.  But before you stretches an unknown road, with blind curves, intersections, pot holes, ruts obstacles and conflicting directions.

You will be making choices, not only between right and wrong, but between the good and the best.  You will be fleshing out who you are where you are going as the move from this check point to the next in your pilgrimage of life and faith.

Psychologist Carl Jung reminds each and all of us…

“All of the old primitive sins are not dead,

But they are crouching in the corners of our modern hearts!”

This morning, here in worship, I want to affirm that our Lord knows the way the wilderness.  Now it is our turn to follow.

There is hope for today.

Help along the way.

The One who brought you to this point in your journey

will be present to guide you through today

toward his good tomorrow.


What was Jesus was doing in the wilderness?  He was coming to a clear and mature understanding of both who was and what he was to do with his life.

That is also, your task.  To discover who you are, and what you are to be about with your lives.  Here in this garden where you currently reside, you too will need find your way through this wilderness and discover God’s will and way for you and your life.

Remember, you are not alone. Others are making this journey toward tomorrow with you.  And most importantly, the same gracious God who brought you to the place is present and will lead you all the way toward your eternal destiny.

The wilderness experience of Jesus assures us that it is necessary, survivable and he will help us make it through to the other side.  Our Lord knows the way through the wilderness; he has really been there and survived.  All we have do is faithfully follow.

My Lord know the way thru the wilderness -

All I have to do is follow;

My Lord knows the way thru the wilderness -

All I have to do is follow.

Strength for today is mine all the way,

And all I need for tomorrow;

My Lord knows the way thru the wilderness -

All I have to do is follow.

About the writer:

Dr. James M. Pitts is university chaplain [retired] and professor of religion emeritus, Furman University.  A native of Washington, DC, Jim is a graduate of Furman University in Greenville, SC, Southeastern Seminary at Wake Forest, NC, and Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY.

An experienced pastoral counselor, he has worked in both congregational and hospital settings. His professional expertise includes crisis counseling, substance abuse intervention, and career guidance for persons in ministry.

His sermons and essays on biblical and pastoral themes are published in books, magazines and on One of the founders of Smyth & Helwys, Jim has served as Chairman of the Board for the past 26 years.

In addition to serving as the editor of , he is the principal photographer and editor of  an educational resource with a comprehensive collection of high quality photos illustrating the geography and archaeology of the Biblical world.

Jim and his wife Nancy are the parents of two sons and two daughters-in-law: Stewart (deceased) and his wife Kelley, and Jonathan and his wife Jackie. They are the proud grandparents of three grandsons, Will, Jon Walker and Colton, and a granddaughter, Lilli.


Scripture and Music:

Genesis 2:15-17

Genesis 3:1-7

Psalms 32

Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11



Amazing Grace

Be Still My Soul

O Worship the King

It Is Well with My Soul

Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley

There Is A Fountain Filled with Blood

Because He Lives

O How He Loves You and Me



Shout for Joy (Pethel)

Be Strong in the Lord (Duane Blakely)

A Lenten Walk (Hal Hopson)

It Is Well with My Soul (Fettke)

Because He Lives



Lamb of God

Something Beautiful

O How He Loves You and Me

Calvary s Love

Posted in Dr. James Pitts, Sermons on February 9, 2017. Tags: , , , ,