You all have heard that the coronavirus is still beyond the control of the healthcare professionals and authorities. The vaccine production is still at least a year and a half away. In this doctor-dependent culture, some people might feel extremely fearful and helpless.
Is there something we can do in the meantime? The good news is yes. It is a timely subject to talk about on this first Sunday of Lent. Jesus has an answer for us. I’ll show you from today’s scripture lesson how to brace yourself against all threats—body, mind, or spirit.
You know that viruses and bacteria are always surrounding us and even inside us. The reason we don’t always get sick is not that there are no harmful viruses and bacteria around us, and it’s not because our environment is squeaky clean.
The real reason we don’t get sick by the viruses and bacteria is because of our immune system.
So, the best way to brace yourself against the coronavirus or any virus attack is by maintaining a healthy immune system.
Now, the question is, what’s the best way to maintain a strong immune system? I have an ancient remedy for you.
Let me start from here: studies have shown that churchgoers tend to live longer because they have a stronger and healthier immune system.
The truth behind it is your immune system is affected by your spiritual state more than your physical state. If your spiritual state is down, your immune system goes down. So, it’s important to maintain your spiritual state.
How do you gauge your spiritual state? Your spiritual state is the state of your happiness. If you are happier, you are less likely to get sick and, even when you do, you are more likely to recover quickly.
Then, how do you maintain your happiness when everything around you is falling apart? How do you maintain your happiness if each time you turn on the TV, there’s news that makes you angry?
How do you maintain your happiness, if you are stressed out by the stupidity of other people? You know that’s how people lose their happiness, right? They are too smart to tolerate stupid people. Let me tell you an ancient story.
There once was a monkey keeper. He was allowed to feed the monkeys seven chestnuts a day. That was the ration. So, he gave them three in the morning and four in the evening. The monkeys got mad at him, trying to attack him, scratch him, and throw things at him.
He said, “Okay, okay, let’s do it this way, I will give you four in the morning and three in the evening.” The monkeys became very happy, even though the total number of chestnuts didn’t change at all.
This is a more than two-thousand-year-old fable told by Zhuangzi, but most people don’t understand it. They thought it was just a funny joke, but this fable is not to be taken lightly. It’s about spiritual maturity. It’s about grace.
How would you have handled the situation? You gave the monkeys three chestnuts in the morning and four in the evening and they got angry. What would you do?
If it were me, I would yell at them, saying, “this is your ration. Like it or not, take it or leave it.” This is how you lose your happiness — by not being gracious. In this case, being gracious is not finding more chestnuts to feed them, but being flexible and willing to accommodate them.
Even if I were smart enough to try out four in the morning and three in the evening and they became happy, I will still yell at them for being stupid. I might say, “Stupid monkeys. What’s the difference? You are still getting seven a day after all.”
See, this is how you lose your happiness. By not being gracious, you become stressed out by the situation, and at such conditions, your immune system becomes compromised because stress is the main reason for weakening the immune system.
In life, you will face a lot of unreasonable monkeys. This fable is not about demeaning the unreasonable people, but about how to maintain your spiritual equilibrium as you handle unreasonable people. Like parables, this funny fable is to make you remember the lesson.
The fable teaches us that all you need is a little bit of grace and imagination. Is it worth losing your defense system by sweating the small stuff? No.
In the context of today’s scripture lesson, Jesus was about to launch an earthshaking mission. He was about to face all kinds of threats—physical, emotional, and spiritual. He was about to be attacked by a lot of monkeys, namely the Pharisees, scribes, and the contemporary religious leaders.
They were also highly educated. That’s even more irritating, isn’t it? But the Bible said Jesus treated everyone with grace upon grace. How do you maintain grace upon grace in a world of disgrace upon disgrace?
In plain language, how do you maintain happiness in a fallen world and keep yourself immune to not only physical viruses, but also mental, emotional, and spiritual viruses?
Here is how God braced Jesus for the battle. The Bible says,
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Mat 4:1).
It was right after his baptism, Jesus was “led up by the Spirit.” It means the temptation was intentional. God put him to the test. Maybe God wanted to see whether he had what it takes to save the world.
It also means that the devil cannot tempt us without God’s permission. You read about this in the book of Job. The devil had to get God’s permission to tempt Job.
Jesus was tempted by the devil as a preparation to fulfill God’s greater purpose—which is to save the world from disgrace with his grace. So, if you are tempted, do not fear, because God may be preparing you to use you to fulfill a greater purpose.
The preparation involves three important immunizations: food, fame, and fortune. The temptations are like immunization. If you can overcome them, you are likely to stand against greater threats.
This is how Jesus prepare for the temptation. Verse 2 says:
“He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.” (Mat 4:2).
I used to think fasting for forty days and forty nights was either a poetic figure of speech, or something only a divine being like Jesus could do. However, today’s science has proven that a man of average built has enough body fat to burn for about forty days. When you fast, your body uses your body fat as fuel. So, you burn fat.
I have tried twelve days of fasting, but I have never done forty days because I don’t think God has called me to save the world yet. After all, Jesus has already done it.
Science today has proven that fasting can boost your immune system. It’s called autophagy. Google it if you want to learn more about it.
Do you know that a lot of people get sick and go to the hospitals, and in many cases, the hospitals do nothing but starve them for a couple of days, and they become well, and they discharge them? Then they bill them thousands of dollars for doing nothing.
It might be cheaper to check into a luxury hotel and stay there for a couple of days without eating and you will get well if you can resist eating.
I have talked about fasting a lot in the past, so I won’t elaborate.
Through fasting, Jesus overcame three important temptations that could have compromised his grace. Remember that when you lose grace, you compromise your immune system. Let’s look at them briefly.
The first one is Food Temptation. For the sake of our subject, let’s call it physical immunization. Verse 3 says,
The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” (Mat 4:3-4)
How many of you would turn the stones into loaves of bread? As Americans, we have this power. We can turn dollars into bread anytime, and every one of us has enough wealth to magically turn up three meals a day plus a lot of snacks. Yet, 99% of our illness comes from food.
When we eat, it puts stress on our body because our digestive system consumes a lot of energy, so it shuts down other functions and ends up compromising our defense against diseases. If you are eating or snacking a lot, your guard is down. You become vulnerable to viruses.
Jesus has a great mission to fulfill and he couldn’t afford to be sick. He had three years to save the world, so he must keep his physical defense system in the best shape. Of course, he frequently feasted with friends, but it’s was balanced with fasting when he was alone.
My principle for fasting is, “I feast with friends and fast with family.” When I’m in public and in parties, I don’t fast. I don’t want my friends to feel awkward. Jesus also doesn’t want us to let people know that we are fasting.
Most importantly, a full belly prevents us from hearing God’s word. It has been proven that our digestive system shuts down not only our defense system but also our spiritual sensitivity. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is an example.
It’s God’s word that truly satisfies us, nourishes our true happiness and boosts our immune system. Jesus said we need it. ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
The second temptation is Fame Temptation or emotional immunization.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “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, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (Mat 4:5-7).
Human emotion loves attention. Just as our physical body lusts for food, our emotion lusts for fame. We want to prove ourselves, we want to impress others, and we want to build our own kingdom and make a mark in this world.
We want to be famous. It’s an even bigger lust than that of food.
Some people argue that they don’t want to be famous, but at home, they still want to prove themselves. In a small scale, we want to impress our family, in large we want to impress the world. The lust for fame takes your guards down and makes us susceptible to stress and compromises immunity.
God’s word has a satisfying effect, and you don’t feel the need to prove yourself anymore and you don’t need to put God to the test. You are totally happy as a child of God and you become emotionally invincible. The unreasonable monkeys don’t bother you anymore. You become flexible and willing to accommodate with grace.
The third temptation is Fortune Temptation. I would call it spiritual immunization.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” (Mat 4:8-10).
Behind the lust for fortune, there is a desire for happiness. Most people know money cannot buy happiness, but they still want a windfall of fortune so that they “wouldn’t have to work at all, but fool around and have a ball.”
Happiness is a spiritual desire which we are born to seek but fortune cannot fulfill it. It is the strongest temptation of all, even more than food and fame. If you have a fortune, you can buy a lot of food and fame. Consciously or unconsciously we think fortune will give us the Midas touch.
The devil says he would give you the fortune if you fall down and worship him, but it’s a lie because he doesn’t own it and doesn’t even have the authority to give it to you. The devil is like a naked man promising you to give you clothes. Your lust for fortune will make you fall for it, and in the end he still leaves you empty, unhappy, and unsatisfied.
Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” It was a quote from Deuteronomy 6 where God promises to bless you abundantly for worshiping him and serve only him. Both the devil and God promises you a fortune, but the former doesn’t have anything to give you at all except empty promises, but the latter is the true owner of the universe who has it all to fulfill his promise.
Most importantly, you will find total satisfaction and happiness in worshiping the Lord and serving only him which is more precious than any fortune in this world. In fact, the fortune comes as a side benefit of worshiping and serving the Lord alone.
There you have it! If you can overcome the temptation of food, fame, and fortune, you will have a invincible immune system and ready to take on any adversaries.
This Lenten season, I encourage you to consider improving your spiritual fitness by rediscovering the lost art of fasting. It’s worth it!
If you want to learn more about spiritual fitness, please feel free to let me know.
May God bless you all. Amen!