Menu Close
26th February 2023

Making A Statement

Passage: Matthew 4;1-11


Think of the expression “a Statement Piece,” it can be used of an item of furniture, a piece of clothing, a book, a sculpture, a political speech, anything making a bold statement about who you are and what you stand for. The season of Lent is a good time to reflect on our own personal statements: who am I? Why am I here? What do I stand for?
Life has a way, doesn’t it, of tossing us from one situation into another, with no time to think about what we are doing, who we are becoming and where we are heading. So yes, let us stop right now and make a statement.
Except, you may think “sorry, but no way. I am not ready to do this. My life is too uncertain. I am not sure enough yet of where I am and what I am doing. My beliefs fluctuate from one day to the next. How can I make any definitive statement?“

John Bunyan was a non-conformist preacher who spent twelve years in prison during the seventeenth century because he conducted worship which was not in line with the Church of England. Whilst in prison he wrote his book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory of the human journey through life in this world toward (hopefully) heaven in the next. The man called “Christian” falls into the Slough of Despondency; treads fearfully through the Valley of Humiliation; is captured by Giant Despair, but he also finds companions named Faithful, Hopeful and Mr Great-Heart. This book is what you might call a Statement Piece. It is a powerful description of what Christian life actually looks like, especially in a hostile environment. And it makes the clear statement that Christian life is a pilgrimage: an ongoing journey of discovery. Right to the last moments of his mortal life, Christian is a Pilgrim, moving forward into unknown territory. So, maybe you do not have to feel strong and sorted to make a statement about your life and faith right now? John Bunyan was in prison, for goodness’ sake…..

Let’s look at the reading for the start of Lent- the story of Jesus camping out in a bleak desert for seven weeks. Hungry, lonely, frail, he was an open target for that voice whispering in his ear:
Go for the quick fix: produce some food. Eat something, drink something, buy something- get some comfort. What’s wrong with that?
Or- prove yourself. Make people look at you. Throw yourself off the temple roof. See if the angels catch you. Make God do something for you. Why shouldn’t he?
Or- take control. You could rule the world if you wanted and never be hungry or vulnerable again. You would never have to wait for other people to take action. You might need to compromise some of your ideals but why not? Everyone else does it.
IF you are the Son of God, you can do all this. Make a statement. Prove yourself to yourself and to the world.

It occurred to me that those suggestions are very similar to those prescribed by good people when treating depression: comfort yourself with something nice; call out when you need help; start taking control of things. It is not all bad- in moderation. But for Jesus these were dangerous paths, being only about self-help and self-help alone can lead to self-destruction. (We’ll come back to that, later)
Jesus’ clear statement to the voice of the tempter was that his life was not about himself but about God. It was what God said that mattered; the way God directed was his pilgrimage; the power God gave would be his strength. And Jesus had a whole armoury of inspiration drawn from the Bible, which he had been taught in his childhood. He could answer back, using words of truth others had written down about the reality of God. So, it was not just about what he thought- after seven weeks starving in the desert, who could manage any kind of rational thinking? IF he was the Son of God then his statement was going to be about God and not about himself and other faithful people who had walked God’s pilgrim way were backing him up.

So, Jesus answers, then walks out of the desert to begin his ministry as the Son of God. He preaches and teaches the kingdom of God; he heals sickness of body and mind; he challenges false religion and corrupt politics; he comforts the broken-hearted, straightens out twisted minds and forgives the guilt-ridden.
His life is a pilgrimage- constantly on the move, not just physically but also in terms of being presented with new challenges, different questions, rising dangers. Yet his basic statement is unchanged: “I am here to do the will of God, to speak the word of God and I am upheld by the power of God.”

Does that sound as though it comes from someone who is not living in the real world? I guess it all depends on what we call “the real world.” Yes, we have to take account of the realities of science, economics, politics, social systems, human nature but if we believe in God then we have to believe in God as the giver of life; that the “real world” belongs to God and that, if it is ever going make sense, then God has to be at the centre of our living. What other option is there for a believer? The psalm we used as our opening prayer is the statement of someone who had learned that no matter where he was or what he was, God was there with him.

I said that self-help alone can end in self-destruction. We live in a culture of self-help with gurus and manuals all over the place and it is not a bad thing. We are independent creatures, after all. Perhaps our mistake lies in believing that it is all down to us; that we can do and be whatever we choose. First, this assumes that we are invincible-which we are not. Second, it assumes that we are “singular”- in that other people need have no claims or effect on us, which is not true. Third, it claims that there is nothing worth living for except your own satisfaction, which is a lie. And when you base your life on lies, you are heading for destruction. So for Jesus, proving himself Son of God through physical gain, attention seeking and power grabbing would have been a lie, which was why he rejected it. &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

OK, you might say, but Jesus’ own life ended in crucifixion. He did all these great, godly things, but still ended as the victim of hatred and injustice. How mistaken was that?
Back in the Pilgrim’s Progress, the Christian begins his journey with a cumbersome, and heavy burden on his back. We are told it is the burden of sin- all the things he had done wrong, the mistakes he had made, the injustices done to him by life, the pain inflicted on him by others. We have probably felt that burden on our shoulders, haven’t we? And seen it weighing down other people’s lives?

After struggling to carry this burden a long way, Christian comes to the cross of Jesus and, as he falls to his knees before the love and the suffering he sees there, the burden falls from his back and he is free.
There is so much evil and suffering in this world and we all carry some part of it. And when you look at the cross you can either see it as proof that yes, this life is rotten through and through; that there is no hope and no God. Or you can see the cross as the ultimate sign of hope: that in Jesus Christ God himself bore the full weight of evil and suffering, yet came through victorious even over death- with love, life and grace abounding now able to set us free from the burdens we carry.

So, for me, to make the statement “by the grace of Christ Jesus, I am a child of God, walking in the light of God” is not to step out of the real world. It is facing up to the realities of sin, suffering and uncertainty in life; facing up to the reality that we cannot cope with this alone; facing up to the awesome reality that in the cross of Christ we witness the love and the power of God reaching out to each and every one of us, able to lift the burdens from our shoulders, setting us free to walk on our pilgrimage, and trusting the grace of God more than we trust ourselves.
It is not a statement which says “I have arrived. I now know exactly who I am and what I am here for and where I am going in life.” (More or less given up on that kind of statement by now….) It is a statement acknowledging the pilgrimage of life- the growing in faith and understanding through every path we have to take from the start to the finish of life. And it is a statement welcoming the presence and redeeming power of God on every step of that pilgrimage.