"Life God's Way" #81-27
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 9, 2014
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Why Is The Color Purple Displayed In Some Churches During Lent?)
Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Christ is risen; He is risen indeed and because of Him we can face whatever life throws at us. Amen.
Today is the first Sunday in the church season called Lent. For those of you who might not know about such things, it is a penitential season, a time to take an honest look at yourself before God. It starts right after the day called "Fat Tuesday," on a Wednesday, called "Ash Wednesday." If you've heard about Mardi Gras, New Orlean's style or St. Louis style, you know about the tradition of having a final feast, a last "Fat Tuesday" fling before getting Ash Wednesday serious.
But here's the point; at the stroke of midnight on Ash Wednesday a season of sacrifice begins which points us to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus as He walked to the cross to bear the sins of the world and to make life possible again for all. So, if you practice the tradition of giving up something for Lent, that tradition is supposed to connect you with Jesus who gave up everything to save us. And, every person who takes up something for Lent, who engages in service to others or shows God's love in a special way, that also connects us with the self-sacrificial love of God shown in sending His only Son to save us.
And all of this, all of this is pointing to the Passion Story of Jesus. You see, Jesus' journey to the cross is often called the "Passion" of Christ. If you remember, that was the title of Mel Gibson's stirring movie about the last 24 hours before the death of Jesus. Passion is a good word to describe the focus of Lent. On the one hand it directs us to the suffering of Jesus that opened the door for our forgiveness and eternal life. The word passion comes from the Greek word that means: "to suffer." On the other hand, it's a word we can easily understand these days. We're told to do what we're passionate about, what we really love. Well, God directed His energy to what He really loved: you and me. So He sent His one and only Son to die in our place, to wash away our sins, and to open the door for us to life and hope that lasts forever.
But before Jesus faced the cross, before He preached, and taught, and healed, Jesus first encountered our greatest enemy, the devil himself, in the wilderness. Jesus endured testing and temptation. Matthew 4:1 says: "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."
Immediately after Jesus was baptized, right after He literally stepped into the waters of our own plight, our own journey, Jesus faced real trial and temptation, even beyond anything we could experience or imagine.
When you think about what was at stake in this event, I wonder why Satan so boldly played his hand this early in Jesus' public ministry. After all, He generally likes to tempt and discourage people from behind the scenes; that's a much more effective way.
But maybe this fallen rebellious angel had seen enough. He saw the miraculous Baby born in Bethlehem and he tried to end His life to no avail. And then all grew quiet. Jesus grew up and seemed fairly ordinary. Maybe this Boy wasn't the Son of God, right? But now, after God the Father spoke up at Jesus' baptism saying "This is My Son," I wonder if Satan was puzzled again. Jesus didn't fit the devil's idea of what God should be like.
In typical Satan fashion, the devil might not have believed what God said. So Satan approached Jesus in the wilderness and tried to shape Jesus into the kind of god he would construct in his devilish mind. Each of the temptations were attempts to make Jesus into what the devil thought he should be, derailing Jesus' messianic mission to save people and to bring eternal life into a world of death and sin.
Make Jesus into what he wanted, rather than receive Him for what He is. That's something we're tempted to do as well, right? We're skilled at telling God what He should be like, what He should do, when He should do it, and how the world would be a much better place if God just listened to us and followed our plan. We're good at designing life our way.
That's what the devil tried to do. We hear in Matthew chapter four: "The tempter came and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread'" (Matthew 4:2-4).
Satan started each temptation with the words, "If you are the Son of God." You see, in the devil's mind, a real god would never tolerate hunger and discomfort. A real god would be about feeding his every desire.
Then the devil tempted Jesus again: "The devil took him to the holy city, set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you," and "On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone"'" (Matthew 4:5-6).
Pulling out an alleged Scriptural proof, the devil insisted that a real god would have his most fantastic whims and desires appeased at all times. Like a rock star on tour, Jesus should receive what He wanted, when and where He chooses. At least, that would be Satan's design for God.
Finally, we hear that third temptation: "Again, the devil took him up on a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, 'All these things I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me'" (Matthew 4:8-9).
The devil showed his true colors in this temptation. He wanted to be worshipped. He wanted to be God. He claimed to be able to give Jesus a life much better than God the Father could ever give Him. That was the devil's design for what God should be really like.
But it was a flawed design, wasn't it? Not just for Jesus and His mission, but for you and me too!
You see, the devil wants you to fall for his design for God, too. He wants you to believe that if God is really God, He would keep you comfortable. Why should you struggle or be wanting? And if you find yourself suffering, God must be falling down on the job or perhaps He shouldn't be Someone you should put your trust in anyway.
The devil wants you to believe that if God is really God, He would always support your lifestyle. Spending? God should give you enough so you can be pleased. Perfectionism and control? God should whip people into shape so that they start doing things your way. Sexual choices? God should let you feel good when and how you want to feel good. Habits? God should let you have some fun and not trouble you with personal, spiritual, or moral consequences.
And if God doesn't conform to your design? You should lash out at Him just like the devil did to Jesus in the wilderness. Or you can get so angry at Him you deny that He really exists. Or you can live as if He doesn't exist, happily pursuing life your way, putting yourself in the place of God.
Let me tell you, dear friend, there have been times where I have even asked God why He wasn't coming through the way I thought He should. I've wondered about grief and struggle, pain and injustice, a world that is broken and lives that are hurt. I've called out to God in prayer and asked Him about the way things are. But let me tell you this; it's okay to do that. God wants you to call out to Him. Just be ready for the answers He gives because He really loves you. He loves you even more than you know!
The Bible says, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV). God does care about each one of us. We hear it again in Psalm 34: "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted. He saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalms 34:18).
But the devil wants you to believe in his flawed design of God and His work. His design is to put you in control, even him in control and to put God at our beck and call. The devil wants you to believe in his design of God because he despises God's patience and forgiveness. Satan is infuriated by the fact that God came to us in the flesh as a lowly, humble, suffering servant to save us. He would love for you and me to buy into his flawed design of being on your own without God, because then you'll share in his miserable, lonely, empty existence and ultimate condemnation. What do they say, "Misery always loves company," even eternally!
But today, you get to see how Jesus handles all this; you see how Jesus exposes Satan's flawed design, showing how foolish it is to trust a flawed design when you have God's perfect design at your disposal. Seeing Him in action, Jesus in action for us, it encourages us sometimes, especially when we need it, doesn't it?
Have you ever heard of the "Products that Hate You" website? The subtitle is: "Design so bad, it hurts." The site highlights poorly designed products that make life very difficult. Featured on the site are some clunker computers and tech gear, some very ugly and poorly functioning vehicles, and a few odds and ends that make life miserable. One item listed is a hand dryer; you know; the kind that you find in public bathrooms. A woman commented about the product this way: "This is not a hand dryer, but a high-decibel, permanent-hearing-loss, scare-my-child-into-panicked-screams-of-terror, should-not-be-placed-in-a-restroom type of product that does nothing to save trees! I'd rather use paper than lose my hearing!"
Flawed design, painful consequences, and the list goes on. There's a baby Jacuzzi that causes the risk of electrocution, a bathroom sink knob so sharp that it injures hands when operated, and a computer accessory with an LED light that "shines with the fury of a thousand suns" blinding people who dare to use it.
We're notorious for design blunders, aren't we? It's good to see them in print, so we don't bring them into our lives! Well, the Bible tells us straight about how inept and foolish it would be to trust anything else but God's design for our lives! Isaiah, chapter 44 says it boldly:
The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house.....so he makes a god and worships it; he makes an idol and falls down before it.....a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself. (Isaiah 44:12-20)
Flawed Spiritual design, our track record speaks volumes. Personally designed gods are about as effective as "the celery-flavored Jell-O" that marketers tried to push in the 1950s. That's right, celery-flavored Jell-O. It didn't work. Neither does the god Satan tried to customize when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Neither do the gods we design for our convenience or comfort.
Satan tries to redirect Christ but the good news is this; Jesus answers, Jesus acts, not for Himself, not for Satan's temporal temptation for glory, He acts for you and me, faithful to the Father on our behalf. He lives life God's way for our salvation!
Remember when Jesus told us: "Don't be anxious for anything, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well" (Matthew 6:31-33). Life God's way means letting His design carry you through life, trusting that He is good, that He loves you, that He will take care of your life even when you don't think life is the way you'd like it to be at the moment.
When the devil tempted Jesus, He responded to each temptation with a Bible verse from the book of Deuteronomy. When tempted in His hunger, Jesus replied: "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4). When tempted to jump off the temple as a test of God's care and protection, Jesus responded: "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Matthew 4:7). And when tempted to give His allegiance to Satan in order to gain immediate power and security, Jesus said, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve'" (Matthew 4:10).
God's Word, God's promises can be trusted even when things don't appear right for the moment. Jesus beat back the devil's temptations by focusing on the Scriptures, the words of a loving Father, One who could be counted on, worshipped, adored, and followed as the enduring source of life. All these words were originally spoken to the people of Israel who had been freed from slavery in Egypt and now were entering the Promised Land. God's design for their life had freed them and was leading them to this place of His continued care and provision.
The same is true of God's design for your life. When you struggle, God still cares for you. He is faithful. When you exercise self-control and go His way instead of caving in to your own temptations, God is with you. He is delighting in you and providing His strength and blessing. God's design for life is good. It works.
But, it's so easy to be tempted otherwise, isn't it? You may not always be convinced of God's goodness and grace for you. A long time ago, an aerodynamic scientist was asked by a biologist how a bumblebee was able to fly. After some quick calculations on the back of a napkin, the expert in flight replied, "They can't." According to the proportions of the bumblebee's wings and body, it was impossible to see how it could fly. The design just wouldn't work.
Sometimes people look at God's design for life like a scientist looks at a bumblebee. "It can't work!" they say. But it does!
But in spite of our brilliant objections and input, God became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. Though naysayers sneered, the Baby in the manger became a Teacher with authority, a Healer with compassion, a Friend of sinners. Though the authorities raised their voices in objection, Jesus silently suffered and made His way to the cross. Though the crowd shouted doubt and criticism, Jesus cried out, "It is finished!" Though the powers that be placed a guard at the tomb, Jesus defeated death and rose again. Though the doubters continue to rage, Jesus Himself assures us, "For I have come down from heaven, he says, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me" (John 6:38), and "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:46).
This is the gracious gift of life God's way. And Jesus' success over the devil's temptations literally means the world to us. The Bible says, "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him"(Hebrews 5:7-10 NIV).
Jesus' victory brings you the gift of eternal life. And, today, Jesus' victory in the wilderness temptation means that you, too, will have the help you need, when you need it, by the power of His Spirit to live life in His Name, now and forever! The Bible says, "For because [Jesus] himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are also being tempted" (Hebrews 2:18).
So, this Lent, this time of reflection about your life with God, whether you're having a wilderness challenge, or trying to make sense of life in struggle, or even dealing with the blessings of abundance, you don't have to figure that out on your own. Remember the buzz of the bumblebee, remember the unique message of the cross and the resurrection, remember that God's ways might not always appear right to us at the moment, but that in Christ you have a precious gift: God's strength, God's guidance, God's forgiveness, and the eternal hope He gives as His gift for you right now! God's way in Jesus will always see you through. You can count on that.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for March 9, 2014
Topic: Why Is The Color Purple Displayed In Some Churches During Lent?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer and today one of our astute listeners says they've noticed that the colors used in church change throughout the year. So, why is the color purple now being displayed in churches during the season of Lent?
SELTZ: Wow! What an observant listener, Mark. I like that. That's great! As we enter the season of Lent, it's good to talk about the symbols that don some of our churches during the season.
ANNOUNCER: What do these colors all mean?
SELTZ: Over the years, colors have taken on meaning. This is true around the world, both inside and outside the church. What do you think of when I say "gold"?
ANNOUNCER: Wealth or royalty, maybe.
SELTZ: Right. How about "green"?
ANNOUNCER: The environment or plants.
SELTZ: I think of those same things too. That's how color work for us. They fuel our imagination. They set a mood. The church uses colors to do exactly that. The colors take us through what is called the church year. Our listener asked about purple during Lent. Well, purple points to our unworthiness before God, the King of kings. It is a color of repentance, confessing our sins to God and standing in awe of Jesus as He suffered and died for us.
ANNOUNCER: Okay. What are some other colors of the church year?
SELTZ: Well, as I cover the colors, let me describe a bit of the flow of the church year, too. Unlike a calendar year, the church year begins with the season of Advent. Advent begins around the beginning of December, four weeks before Christmas. The color is blue. Blue symbolizes hope and anticipation. It helps us remember what we're waiting for, hoping for to come.
ANNOUNCER: At the same time the color blue sometimes is used to talk about feeling down; the idea that maybe something important is missing.
SELTZ: That's the idea. Colors express feelings and ideas as well.
ANNOUNCER: And it's important for us to say that the church has always appropriated the fullness of the arts and of music all as part of its witness to the beauty of God's message of hope for the world in Jesus Christ.
SELTZ: That's true. So the colors mark seasons, emotions, feelings, ideas. I'm not sure what kind of church we would be if there wasn't beautiful music, beautiful art, windows that glow with the message of the Gospel, and the colors that surround us as we hear the Word of God, celebrate it, receive Baptism and the Lord's Supper. God's gifts do make the world a more beautiful place, so why not have some color to celebrate that, right?
ANNOUNCER: Right, and it brings us back now to the season of Lent.
SELTZ: Yes. As I've said, Lent is the color purple, a time of repentance and self-examination as believers prepare for the coming Passion of Jesus who suffered and died for our sins. It's a time when the church thinks long and hard about life, its purposes, and the Lord who came to bring that life to us abundantly as the suffering Servant for all!
ANNOUNCER: In that sense, Lent is preparing us for Easter, and the season of Easter is represented by the color white.
SELTZ: Now you're getting the hang of it, Mark. Yes, Lenten preparation gives way to God's Easter victory, the celebration of the risen Christ, who conquered death and offers His life to us all. So, you see white or you may also see gold during Easter, too, symbolizing the majesty of our victorious Savior over sin, death, and the devil.
ANNOUNCER: All right. So, I'm getting the impression here that the flow of the church year is trying to cover the life of Jesus and marking it with appropriate colors that convey anticipation and fulfillment.
SELTZ: Well said, and it does. The first half of the church year is called "the time of Christ." It proclaims the life of Christ from the prediction of His coming through His birth. It teaches about His ministry and miracles. It walks with Jesus in His suffering, death on the cross, and His resurrection from the grave. Then it tells of His promise to return and His ascension into heaven. After that, the color changes from white to red.
ANNOUNCER: It changes to red on Pentecost Day!
SELTZ: Right, red symbolizing the fire and power of the Holy Spirit for the mission of the church; Jesus through His church by the power of the Spirit. Pentecost Day is the day of the New Testament Church being born. It's also the beginning of the second half of the church year called "the time of the Church."
ANNOUNCER: And that's when the color green takes over.
SELTZ: It does, because it's time to get to work in the life we've been given to live! But, even before that, there is one Sunday all decked out in white, called the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. Before the season of the Church, again we're reminded of the God of the Bible, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, the One who makes all of this life and mission possible!
ANNOUNCER: And these colors help us to remember God's goodness for us in Christ and serve as a way of teaching that to others! Thank you for showing us the meaning of those symbols, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Lord, Throughout These Forty Days" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"Go to Dark Gethsemane" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)