Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
March 5, 2017
Text: Matthew 4:10
O.T.: Genesis 2:15-17
N.T.: Matthew 4:1-13
Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, is a classic in children’s literature. As in many children’s stories, there are several scenes that have sublime messages for adults, as well as children. One such scene is when Alice is on her way to the Mad Hatter’s tea party. She comes to a crossroads where she meets the Cheshire Cat.
“Which way is it to the Mad Hatter’s house?” sh asks the cat.
The Cheshire Cat responds with a grin, “It depends on where you’re going. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
As we enter this season of Lent we’re going to examine where we’re going as Christians, and how we’re getting there. The next 40 days gives us a good amount of time to examine life’s journey.
For many Christians, Lent is no different than any other time of the year. Their daily schedule doesn’t change. They’re totally immersed in their plans for their day, their week. Running, running, running – without reflection on where they’re going. Each day is another set of plans, another set of places to go, people to see, things to do.
We’re ignoring the Cheshire Cat’s wisdom – “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” We dive headlong into each day without considering what that day will cost to the ultimate goal of life – as if reaching the ultimate goal of life doesn’t matter, or we don’t know what it is. Or, we don’t think what we do today matters in the ultimate scheme of things.
Each day turns into another year that slips away in endless running, endless doing, endless going and coming . . . FOR WHAT END? Towards what goal? Will all that we’re doing help us reach God’s goal for living?
On the way to life’s finish line stands an awesome symbol of the cost of getting there: the Cross. The Cross loams above the crossroads of life. Its stark figure reminds us of the decision each of us must make about how to reach the goal God has for our life. Christian living is about not only what direction to take to get to God’s goal for our lives, it’s about what is God’s goal for our lives. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there!
Let’s examine success as life’s goal. People believe achieving success is their goal. Of course, there are many ways of measuring success. There are many decisions to reach success – whatever success means to you. Each of us measures success differently. But ultimately, worldly success is the achievement of power and authority over what we want for happiness and for the happiness of those we love. Success can be being wealthy so that we are independent from financial worry. Power and wealth are measuring sticks of success.
Jesus is faced with measuring success. During his 40 days in the Judean wilderness, He has the opportunity to stand at the pinnacle of life’s achievement with our good friend, Satan. Jesus, like us, is faced with defining success. Is success having the power and dominion over all the kingdoms of the world? This could be His if He chooses to worship Satan. Is success being independently wealthy – liberated from worldly fears of poverty and depravation?
I once had the opportunity to stand at the pinnacle of White Face Mountain at Lake Placid, New York. I was at the starting point of the Olympic Downhill Slalom. From there it seemed you could look into Canada. I was told I could see at least 20 miles. It was a beautiful experience filled with sunlight streaming across the landscape. I had never experienced such a view. The wonder and glory of it felt limitless.
Jesus no doubt felt something similar. The beauty of what He saw, the majesty of standing at the pinnacle of the mountain left Him breathless and dazzled with wonder and possibility. But what was beautiful and breathless, what seemed limitless and wonderful was filled with darkness. There was a cost to what Satan was offering Jesus on that bright sunny day.
That cost was the Cross. Jesus stood at a Cross roads in life on that mountaintop. He could either choose to be a child of the world, with ambition and drive as His path to success. Or, He could be a child of God, who saw the bigger picture beyond the earthly horizon. He could either accept the world’s definition of success with the limitless power and wealth Satan promised, or, Jesus could accept the powerlessness of the Cross.
You see God does not measure success by the amount of power we have over others. God does not measure success by the amount of freedom we have in wealth to live a life of beauty and splendor. God measures success by whether or not we love Him. God measures success by how much we want to serve Him. Jesus reminds us, “Whoever wants to save His life, will lose it. And whoever loses His life for my name’s sake will save it.” Jesus showed us on the mountaintop in the Judean desert that choosing the Cross is the path to the goal of the Kingdom of Heaven.
There are choices we have at the cross roads of life where we must ask ourselves are we serving our desire to achieve success, or serving God? Are we using our knowledge and skills to empower ourselves? Or, are we using God’s gifts of knowledge and talent to serve God? How do we daily show our willingness to serve God by accepting the Cross?
Jesus chose to serve God when He arrived at the cross roads on the mountaintop of life. He saw the ultimate purpose of His life was not to pursue His own success, but to serve. He saw the decision He was facing had an ultimate consequence for God’s plan for the world. He did not need Satan’s promise of worldly authority over kingdoms and rulers. He already possessed all He needed to be Lord over the powers and principalities of this mortal life.
More importantly, Jesus knew the fulfillment of His ultimate purpose lay in showing His daily gratitude to His heavenly Father. Jesus recognized His integrity of worshipping the Father that day was as important to be shown by Himself on a remote mountaintop, as it was in the middle of teaming crowds in Jerusalem where everyone could see Him. What He did in that desert waste would prepare Him to reject the crowds’ effort to coronate Him as earthy king in Jerusalem – with all the wealth and power that would accompany His privilege.
The Lenten message that first Sunday in Lent is every day we stand before the Cross in the road. God permits us the choice to show how much we worship our Him and seek to be with Him in heaven. We can be dazzled by lesser offers that promise achievement and worldly success. They look beautiful and wonderful. They seem to promise emancipation from anxiety and freedom to be happy. We have the freedom to follow paths that lead us to what we want in life. But there is a consequence to the decision we make if we don’t consider first what goal are we trying to reach.
Satan presents us with all sorts of tantalizing opportunities that appear to blessings, without negative consequences. Do not forget His skill in transforming darkness into light. His ability is finely honed to appeal to our weaknesses as humans. Those who resist Satan’s temptation remember not every opportunity we receive for success is from God. But they also know, that the path to eternal life came with a cost – a Cross.
And that Cross deserve our daily gratitude, repentance, and praise. This is the life that follows, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This is the life that takes the path less chosen.
True success in life comes when choose the path less chosen. The success towards which we walk is a spiritual journey, a heavenly goal. As you choose the Cross to direct your path upward, you will follow the Lord to His Cross so that you can reach, through Him, the Kingdom of God.