26 February 2023: First Sunday in Lent

Faithful Conversations #2
The Temptation of Jesus

Readings:
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11 (Below)

            Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying 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.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

REFLECTION:
Today is Ash Wednesday, meaning we are 46 days from Easter (40 days not counting Sundays). Lent is a time of deep reflection for Christians across the globe as we prepare to walk through the events of Holy Week leading to our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

The Gospel for this Sunday focuses on the story of Jesus confronting the Devil and being tempted three times in the wilderness during a 40-day fast. Interestingly, this comes immediately after his baptism by John, a powerful moment in which God identifies Jesus as his “Son, the Beloved.” The temptation story comes in like an immediate test of how Christ will handle that identity, and the Devil engages Jesus at a vulnerable moment, in the midst of a fast.

As a 21st Century Christian, I often struggle with the concept of evil, but the striking presence and reality of the Devil are hard to miss in this story — a good reminder of the cosmic struggle between good and evil in our world (the Devil is also present in the Old Testament reading for this Sunday). Our spiritual ancestor, Martin Luther, wrote a good deal about the devil and there is no doubt that Luther saw our struggle over the “forces of evil” as central in our personal and public lives. Luther used the word Anfechtung to describe “despair” which he viewed as temptation — something he surely experienced in his life. One of Luther’s biographers, Roland Bainton, defined Anfechtung this way: “a trial sent by God to test man, or an assault by the Devil to destroy man. It is all the doubt, turmoil, pang, tremor, panic, despair, desolation, and desperation which invade the spirit of a man.” Wow! That sounds like an apt description for much of what is afflicting humankind in 2023, doesn’t it? As he did with Jesus, the Devil steps and appeals to us when we are most vulnerable.

Luther believed that we must approach this struggle, this test, with constant prayer. In his Small Catechism (written in 1529 for the education of children), Luther said this in his explanation of the 6th petition of the Lord’s prayer (“And lead us not into temptation” or “save us from the time of trial”): “God indeed tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, nor lead us into misbelief, despair, and other shameful sin and vice; and, though we be thus tempted, that we may still in the end overcome, and hold the victory.”

One final thought: I’m intrigued by verse 11: Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. Angels — messengers from God — show up numerous times throughout the scriptures and attend to Jesus on several occasions (I want to study that more). Psalm 91, referred to as the “Soldier’s Psalm” was one of Luther’s favorites, and verse 11 is applicable here: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” We are never alone when confronting the Devil.

Rykken

PRAYER:
Lord Jesus Christ, May we follow the example of Jesus in the wilderness when confronting temptations and despair in our lives.  Help us to stay steadfast in prayer and may holy Angels attend to us in our vulnerable moments.  Strengthen us in our weakness and help us to confront evil with clear thinking and the confidence that comes from our faith in you. Amen.

Briton Rivière – The Temptation in the Wilderness (1898)