The 40 Day Challenge

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.  Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.  Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Mark 1:9-15

Mark makes it sound so simple fast and easy. Jesus is baptized. (Check!)… He hears the voice telling him that God is pleased with him. (Check!)… The Spirit drives him into the wilderness for 40 days. (Check!)… then He begins his ministry in Galilee proclaiming the kingdom of God has come near… repent and believe in this good news he is about to preach, teach and practice. Check… Check… check… If you were only to read Mark’s gospel, you might skip over that Wilderness story (from Baptism – Ministry… )You may hardly notice that Jesus was tempted and tested by Satan… We might not pause to think about what it was like for Jesus to live and fast in a desert for 40, count them 40 days.

But thanks to Matthew and Luke, we know more of those 40 days. In Matthew and Luke we read the details of those temptations Jesus faced…

The first temptation is a physical one tempting a famished Jesus… to turn stones into bread…  and we are not only talking about food. It is about physical needs. “Sacrifice everything for your physical needs, not just for food but for anything you crave- because you deserve it. Your body, your comfort, your physical well being comes before anything else.
Ever been tempted to put your own needs before other needs?  Jesus is tempted to do a miracle for himself, which he never does in the New Testament.

Ever been tempted to test God?- That second temptation to throw himself off the top of the temple is saying, “Show everyone how great you are. Show people that God loves you the best. You’re on the top. Which is the opposite of what Jesus wanted for himself or his followers. They are called to be servants.   Faith is not about celebrity… it is about service. (Problem is celebrity is that we begin to follow the messenger rather than the source of the message)

Then there is that third temptation for Jesus… to become the most powerful person in the world… if only he would worship Satan… this is a temptation to power at any cost. “Do anything to acquire and hold onto power—power at work, power at home, power even at church over all others.  If you have enough power, so conventional wisdom goes, … no one would ever do harm to you… you would be in control and who doesn’t want that?  Grab it and be willing to sacrifice compassion and charity to keep it. Jesus rejects this temptation as well… His power will be the power of love, not the love of power. His power will be humility… his leadership in service. [i]

If you know any of these temptations, and who doesn’t, you know something of what Jesus encountered in that wilderness… for 40, count them, 40 days.

And the wonder of it all, according to Hebrews is that he was tempted as we are, yet without sin. Who of us, in this Sanctuary, can say that … that we have been tempted, yet never yielded to temptation? Who of us here is without sin?

Lord, have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord, have mercy.

We need not take this story lightly or skip over it.  William Barclay suggests that Jesus told the story to his disciples (how else would they know of it?), so it should be taken seriously. [ii]

Perhaps he told the story because he knew we would be tempted by the same things that tempted him. Perhaps Mark, Matthew and Luke shared that story because they knew that we who read their gospels in some way or another will face our wildernesses of temptation on a daily basis.

And lest we forget, we bring that back to mind during the season of Lent. Lent supposed to be our trip to the wilderness… our ordeal… Some Christians still go through the actual practice of fasting or giving up things very important to them… to drive us into our wilderness… to  remind us of our temptations and our need to depend on God. Fasting is one of those practices meant to drive us there…

One of the things I have learned to admire about our Muslim friends is that they actually fast  during Ramadan. They don’t talk about it… they do it!  From from sunrise to sundown for about 30 days. No eating at all. Only water.  It was also interesting to be in Turkey last year as Ramadan began.  This was a huge thing in Turkey.

On the opening night of Ramadan, there was a crowd of several thousand at the Blue Mosque gathering—all shown on national TV. There was an event with a scholar where people could ask their questions about Ramadan… A 12 year old stood up and said, “Fasting through Ramadan is so very hard… I get so hungry? Help me know how to get through Ramadan.” A 12 year old fasting for his faith! You have to be impressed.

I heard that and thought of Jesus fasting for 40 days… and the Christians who still fast in some form during Lent… And it is hard, so very hard. It is a wilderness… it is a boot camp for the soul.  Reminding us of the ordeal of Jesus… but also the ordeal Israel faced in the first wilderness… their long journey where they were hungry and thirsty and only had God to depend upon.

Which may be the reason we are given our wildernesses… our ordeals in the first place: To learn to depend on God… for survival, for love, for identity, for peace…   they learn not to depend on bread, power and prestige to fill those needs but God.

During the season of Lent we are asked to remember and maybe embrace our ordeals – some we are going through right now… some we have not chosen and others we have… Sometimes we choose fasting or other spiritual practices as a way to walk the path Jesus walked… It is not simply about giving up chocolate… I think it is harder.

I think it may be about practicing some things that are very hard for us… It could be a food fast of some form… but how about this… How about a cell phone fast… or a computer fast… or fast from facebook or twitter… or a cable show that does not lift your soul but feeds your cynicism…  Maybe not all at once… but something that may drive you into a wilderness…if not every day—how about for a few hours a day.  Something to make you dig deep and experience some form of hunger…

Or how about this?  How about going to work with a diary and list the temptations and trials that show up in your life on a daily basis… keep a list… try to face them as Jesus faced them… knowing that while the wild beasts are there… that there are voices of Satan that sound very rational—may even be able to quote scripture… but they lead us away from God…  knowing  we also trust the angels to be there at the end of the journey.

Or, maybe you can set up your life to take some time away from everything… perhaps it is a pilgrimage… perhaps it is taking time out of your busy life… sacrifice some time…  and dedicate yourself to coming to a midweek meditation… Perhaps you can commit 40 minutes a day to silence…. Or if you are not the contemplative type, how about 40 minutes a day to Bible reading… the gospels… or a book …

40 minutes… 40 days… they can make a difference in a life. Imagine how that might challenge you and transform you… renew your faith.

Perhaps you will choose something that fits your spiritual type that we’ve explored.

I stumbled upon a website called the 40 day miracle. It asks people to make a commitment and accept a challenge to change.  (I have adapted their challenge for the season of Lent… to correspond to the temptations in the wilderness). It is one example, but you could make up your own.  You can pick up a copy in the Narthex:

Here it is- a 40 day challenge:

“Just as your Son was tempted for a 40 day period, just as Israel faced 40 years in the wilderness…,  I consecrate before you this 40 day season of Lent, as I seek to renew my life and live more faithfully as a follower of Jesus.

During the next 40 days, I  pledge the following:

1) As I seek to confront my temptation to only look after myself and my needs…

I pledge that I will compliment someone each day and will say nothing negative about anyone.
I pledge that I will stop eating BEFORE I am full.  This helps me to control the flesh’s strongest physical craving which is food, and helps me to control gluttony.

If I am doing this, I pledge that I will stop flirting, having affairs, looking at pornography, or inappropriately communicating with a person who is not my spouse or who is an ex. This helps to control the lust within me.

I pledge that I will not get angry, curse or complain.
I will not raise my voice in anger. Nothing great or small will make me angry or react in anger. I will not complain about ANYTHING. Not the weather, not the government, not the news, not my aches, not my money, not my kids, my spouse, my job, my car, traffic, or anything else. I will NOT complain about ANYTHING!

2) As I seek to confront my temptation to use my life and gifts only for personal wealth or to get ahead…

I pledge that I will give someone something material each day.
The size does not matter. Whether it is a dollar or a donut or buying someone’s lunch, or participating in activities that feed the hungry like March Madness,
I must give someone “other than my own children” something each day.
At least every other day it must be someone OUTSIDE of my family.  Concentrating on giving helps me to control greed and realize my own blessings.

I pledge to use my gifts, especially the gift of time, to help others in some way…

3) As I seek to confront my temptation to sacrifice compassion and love to the seduction of power…

I pledge every day to acknowledge my pride- to seek power as a way to be in control of my own destiny — and realize my dependence upon God.

And, as Jesus was empowered by his knowledge of the Scriptures to confront his temptations so that as the devil quoted Scripture to tempt him to be selfish and self centered…

I will pray and read scripture for my age in minutes daily.**
Each morning I will pray for ___ minutes and read scripture for ___ minutes.
Before bed I will pray for ____ minutes and read scripture for ____ minutes.
This helps me to control spiritual laziness and to learn the Word and encourages me to listen for the voice of God.

I love the idea of that challenge… even though I know that it is a hard, hard challenge… Almost as hard committing to an exercise program for 40 days… And during those 40 days… the people who accept the challenge, may yield to temptation and fail every now and then. I remember when I was training for the half marathon, my Team in Training Coaches gave us this very precise schedule that we were to follow if we wanted to be ready in a few months to run every day… In the beginning it looked daunting… and I wondered… what if I miss a day or two… Should I give up? They had heard that before… they told our group… No doubt you will not follow the schedule every day… and likely, something will happen and you may miss a few days. But don’t worry… just get back to running. Stay the course and at the end of the training you will be ready for the race.

Those words are gifts of grace and encouragement to me and so I offer them to you even as I challenge you and me to take on a 40 day challenge. No doubt most of those who start this challenge may end up failing at least once… or more than once. After all, only Jesus was tempted without sin… and we are not Jesus! But even this may be a good way to battle the pride that can come by saying, “Look at me… I was perfect in completing my 40 day challenge!)  I’m not too worried about that – most, if not all of us, will make it all the way through without a stumble.

But when that happens, I encourage us to get back to the challenge… whose goal is this… to teach us how we might live through the wilderness called life, that comes to every one of us… To learn to listen for God’s voice above the others—that do not come from God.

You know them… those voices that tell us that we are unworthy of God’s love, that nothing will change, that all is hopeless. Surely you know those are not the voice of God… those are Satanic voices… in the wilderness… we learn to turn toward God. Jesus knows our need to turn away from the dark voices.

As Jesus was driven into the desert, so are we from time to time. But what we learn is that he was not alone. Neither are we. The same power that helped Jesus in his desert helps us in ours. That’s what we are to learn in the wilderness. And when it is over, like Jesus, we are ready to return to our lives… not the same, but different… we are ready to return to the ministry and mission God has called us to in our particular circumstances. Ready to be disciples of Jesus Christ… ready to join him in sharing the good news of the Gospel… ready to  be the Body of Christ in the world.


[i] Insights on temptations by James Martin, Jesus, A Pilgrimage p.108-109

[ii] Noted by James Martin, Jesus, A Pilgrimage, p108