Column – Passing Up the Easier Life
Published 6:47 pm Friday, March 3, 2023
George Buttrick, once the renowned pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian in New York City, was flying back to his home one week. While aboard the plane, he was working on his sermon.
The man next to him noticed and said, “I see you are feverishly working on something. Do you mind if I ask what it is?” Buttrick replied that he was a pastor and was working on his sermon.
The man said, “I’m not really much into religion. I don’t really do church or faith. To me, everything boils down to ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’” Buttrick agreed that while this wasn’t the whole faith, it was a good summary.
Then Buttrick said, “Let me ask, what do you do?” The man replied, “I’m an astronomer. I spend my life studying the stars and the planets. The universe is so complex, you know.” Buttrick replied, “Well, I don’t know. I’m no astronomer. I’m not really into looking up at the sky. To me, it all boils down to ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star…’”
Lent has begun now. I don’t know if you’re really all that into the season of Lent. It’s a time for us to ponder the Lord of our faith as we prepare for Easter. It is time for us to once again consider what Jesus did for us. Unless for you, it’s all about Easter.
In Matthew 4: 1-11, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. You may remember that He had just been baptized. God instructed all those around to listen to Jesus. God had identified Jesus as a beloved son. We know that Jesus prayed for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
We face trials in our lives, too. Sometimes, we face tempting shortcuts or other compromises of what we know deep down to be right. As Lent begins, one way we could learn is from watching Jesus. Our best prayer is that the Spirit is leading us, then, to be a little more like Jesus and less like ourselves.
Jesus is met there by the Tempter. In late-Judaism, the face of evil was personified by Satan or the Devil. So whatever you believe about evil, what we see here is Jesus encountering its power in his life.
The Tempter’s biggest offering to Jesus, if you sum it all up, was for him to take some shortcuts. For Jesus to reach out and take an easier path. These were offers for him to be the thing he could be, instead of what he was sent to be.
Instead, Jesus resisted. Then, he walked out of the wilderness into a journey that would be filled with heartache, pain, persecution and suffering. He walked into a journey in a place that was even wilder. The wilderness of civilization.
Why not avoid all that? Why did he pass on the easier life? Actually, he walked out of the wilderness and instead went toward Golgotha eventually. He was crucified in the end.
A veteran baseball coach lectured at a coaches convention one time. He pointed out that from the youngest Little League up through the professional Major Leagues, home plate is always 17 inches wide.
If a pitcher can’t throw strikes, they don’t widen home plate. The Tempter offered Jesus chances to essentially widen his figurative home plate.
What Jesus taught us when he passed up the easier life was that following him wouldn’t exactly be easy for us at times, either. Our faith wouldn’t always make life easier. If we’re willing to be honest, sometimes the life of a Christ-follower is noticeably difficult.
Because compassion isn’t always easy. Honesty isn’t always easy and sometimes carries a cost. Empathy is rarely the path of less resistance.
You get the point. What we’ll notice this Lent, on our way to Easter, is that if we’re paying attention Jesus’ way is costly. But, it’s also the way to grace and it ultimately leads us not to death, but to life!
Our hope is anchored in our understanding that on the third day, he was raised. That’s what we’ll celebrate. But Jesus’ intentional, chosen and deliberate journey is where our faith is shaped and informed.
If we use these days of Lent to their fullest, we’ll watch Jesus. We’ll listen to him, as God instructed. We’ll try to grow in our understanding of Jesus, and how we can become more like him. Unless you’re not into that sort of thing.
Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.