Saturday, February 20, 2010
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
Many of us are familiar with the story of the Temptation of Christ by the Devil. There has even been a movie (I haven't seen it and I hear it is not very good). Our lenten season of forty days is based on Jesus temptation by the devil.
But what many don't realize is that this is really a template for our own spiritual journey.
So, many times, right after we have a "mountain top experience" when we are most full of the Holy Spirit and closest to our Lord, that is when the devil will strike!
Just like Jesus was immediately led into the desert for forty days to be tempted by the devil so are we.
But wait. Who led Jesus into the desert?
The Holy Spirit? You mean God led Jesus into the desert and abandoned him to the Devil to be tempted for forty days?! That stinks!
Well, no - that's not what happened.
The Holy Spirit, God, did lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the Devil but He didn't abandon Jesus. That is the key part. Even when Jesus was "alone" with the devil - he was never really alone because God was with him.
God was with Jesus in his heart and in his mind. For every temptation that the Devil had, Jesus was able to defend himself with passages from the Bible. And Jesus was physically weak.
"He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry."
I know the feeling. On Ash Wednesday, I had a banana for breakfast and a small potato for lunch. Even then, I was hungry and feeling a little faint - I can't imagine how Jesus felt at the end of the forty days of nothing to eat when the devil came.
We know Jesus was hungry, almost certainly faint, the good feelings that he had coming out of the Jordan was a long time ago. Jesus was in bad shape physically and that's when the devil came to tempt him.
The same is true for us.
The devil does not come to tempt us when we are strong - he knows it is a waste of time. But he can wait. And he does. The devil waits for us to enter a part of our lives when we are vulnerable - tired, weak, angry, lonely.
And that's when he comes for us.
Offering the same temptations that he offers Jesus. Whatever we think we need, whatever we think we want.
The pleasures of the physical world - food, drink, something else. "Coffee, Tea, or me...?" Lots of us fall for the physical because we are physical beings. We are vulnerable.
The temptation of power. Money, power, fame, glory, career success - it can all be ours if we just set aside God and play the game. The next lines by the devil are huge - it should almost be accompanied by an evil soundtrack. Here it is - read it carefully.
"for it (all the kingdoms of the world) has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Again, this temptation is huge because we are in this world and it has been handed over to the Devil. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." That's not trying to be coy - it is the truth. Jesus' kingdom is our kingdom and it is not of this world - this world has been handed over to the devil. As beautiful as it is, as much joy as we can get from it - this is not our kingdom - we are pilgrims here, getting ready to return to our real kingdom - the kingdom of God.
But while we are here - this temptation is enormous and many of us fall victim to it. How often our brothers and sisters have said, "I am working this hard so that my family can have the very best. Me being away from them is for them." When what they really want and need is for us to be there - with them!
The final temptation is perhaps the toughest because it is the test of faith. Testing your faith for a God that you cannot physically see, touch, or hear. Challenging for proof of your faith when faith means that you do not need proof. We hear these challenges all the time. "If there is a God, how could He let this happen?" "For all your belief in God, look what it has gotten you." "So-and-so says he is a Christian and look what he's done!"
Continuing to believe when the world attacks, maligns, and mocks you for your faith - it is a big temptation. Sometimes we want proof. Show us a sign - help us know that our prayers are not going to waste!
And how do face these temptations when the devil is so strong? How can we have any chance against this fallen angel who has been handed over the whole world?
We don't. We don't have any chance - alone.
But we are not alone. If we arm ourselves with our faith then God is with us - and God is more powerful than the Devil. God handed over the world to the Devil but He still owns the whole show! He knows how it is going to end and so do we.
How did Jesus defend himself? With the word of God.
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
And Jesus faith in the word of God is what defeated the Devil's temptations. And it can be true for us too.
We are not Jesus and we don't have to be. Jesus already died for our sins so that we can have eternal life. We have God's grace so even when we sin - we can still be redeemed. We can confess and be forgiven!
We can fight the devil's temptation and win! And even if we stumble and succumb temptation - we can still recover and still win! But we have to try.
And we have to remember that this fight will not end. Let's review the final lines after Jesus has won.
"When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time."
Even after Jesus won, the devil did not give up. He waited his time and made another pass later. This time at the cross. With Jesus' back against the cross, would Jesus give in? The ultimate temptation and the ultimate victory - for us.
And what does this mean for us?
The devil will be back for us too. He will tempt us and try to separate us from God. Not because he wants us but because he hates God. And God loves us. The devil can't hurt God directly but he can hurt Him but getting at us.
And the only chance we have is with Jesus. He's already been through temptation - he knows how strong it can be and he is rooting for us!
And we can do it. No matter the temptation, no matter if we stumble, if we stay faithful to God - we will make it!
That is the promise and why the season of Lent and Easter are so important to us. Make it a season to remember by getting closer to God!