Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. – Matthew 4:1-11
Jesus is not some fly-by-night TV preacher. He is not some conjurer of cheap tricks to amaze you. He is not a political revolutionary who tried to upset the status quo only to be killed for his rebellion. He is the Son of God, and we hate him for it. He is the Son come from the Father to capture for himself a people set apart, even in your weakness and sin, to free you from death and the devil. He is what Hebrews says is our high priest who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses…one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – but without sin.” And that is what we hate, he is who we can’t be, but that is what we need - a Sineater. One who has put on your humanity, and then stole your sin from you to kill it in the grave. The temptation being the loss, or ridicule, of this truth to replace it with a lie, or to forget it altogether.
My wife is a fabulous baker. She makes chocolate chip cookies that are to die for. She stole the recipe from her mom, but I forgive her of that as long as she makes the cookies. She also makes these white chocolate chip craisin oatmeal cookies. They are the spawn of the devil. If these grew on trees I would be Adam and Eve too. I’d ask the serpent if I could have seconds, or fifths maybe.
The struggle is though, that Carry is such a great baker, but we can’t have the food in the house. We can’t because I have no self-control. I pretend I do, but I don’t. It’s like thin mint cookies from the girl scouts – you eat one, and then one sleeve, then you’re dipping them in ice cream. It sort of escalates. Gets a little out of hand, so we just don’t have baked stuff around anymore.
But that is life. Life is one in which you find you have a struggle, a temptation, a sin, that you can’t control, then somehow it goes everywhere. It becomes this vice gnawing at you. Pushing you. Making it harder and harder to avoid as time goes on.
Even worse is when we don’t know our sin. When we think things are fine, and they grow from there. Becoming bigger and more unbearable. Shared throughout the generations, from one to another. We usually whitewash them a bit. Dress them up with words like “bad habits”, “systemic problems” or “stumbling blocks.” Not wanting to say that they might just be what they are - sins. Sins against yourself, or your spouse, your friends, your kids, your grandkids. You can see it in cycles of poverty or wealth. One generation after another having their lives defined by what they have or don’t have. What they are used to or not. Think alcoholism and drug addiction. Think gang violence or spousal and child abuse. Sins, more than bad habits, but things that maybe we don’t realize them as the diseases they are that have infected our souls and are in need of some remedy or cure, or at least just some freedom.
So being at this point of capture, enter the Categorizer. The one we don’t talk about because we call him a superstition or fake. Yes. Satan. In the book of St. John’s Revelation we are told of Satan as the Accuser. The one who stands before God day and night accusing us to him, it says, in Revelation chapter 12. Accuser is how we translate kategoros, from the verb kategoreo, meaning accusation, but where we get the word: category. The Accuser being the box maker. I’ve talked about it before and will always do so because accusing, categorizing is Satan’s favorite work, and ours too. Saying – you will always be this. That man will never be anything. You aren’t pretty, you aren’t smart, you aren’t loved. Categories. Decisions. Accusations coming to you in the form of these temptations. Allowing what it is that we do, the sins that ensnare us to become our defining characteristic, and thus turning us away from God in whatever way Satan can, so that we are left to die in sin instead live in Christ.
In the temptations in the desert, yes it is Christ being tempted, but the temptations are those in which we fall afoul every day. If you are the Son of God, do this. If you really are a child of God, then do this. Sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong, Satan attempts to cause us to doubt. The doubt being measured by the loss of three things we receive from God in Christ: provision, promise, and presence.
Provision being anything. Anytime we look at life and think God will not provide, but then realize he has given us all we need. Satan saying to Christ here – If you are who you think you are command the stones to become bread, because I know you are hungry Jesus. Wishing to take away the faith that exists in God giving to you what it is that he does – daily bread. Both actual bread, but also the bread of life which is Christ. Thinking that at the worst times of life God is actually absent, when he exists here and now in words spoken to you. In this promise of provision for you that you live because God created you, breathed life into you, molded you from dust and now speaks words to you that you might live again in him apart from any doubts that he will provide you sustenance, in both body and soul.
With provision under attack, the Temptor thwarted, he moves to the promise of not only provision, but temptation to take you away from the actual promise. The promise of salvation, of freedom, of healing, of cleansing. Of what God will actually do for you. The times he has truly been your God, and the chief doubter tries to get you to join him. Well, God says this so prove it. God says he will never leave you, but has he really been there for you? God says he will be your refuge and shield but has he? Why don’t you jump off this building Jesus and prove you are the son of God because the Father should save his son from danger. It says it here in the word. Going after the very promises given to us as though they are not true to test our faith in the actual promise.
The struggle becomes worse when we actually believe that God takes care of you by miracles instead of by flesh and blood people. Thinking that what we want is the good we deserve, God steps in with his good to give you the promise even when you want it to be different. When you expect something supernatural, God sends you some normal friend who brings love and care to you. He sends you bread and water in so many ways, but what do we do when we want ding dongs and beer? As though God is being unfaithful because he doesn’t give us what we want. But God is faithful to his word, we just need to not allow someone to change or alter what it is God has given. It is then that we fall, and the worst is when we fall because of the temptation to leave the promises of God, which find all our life in peace wrapped in this Jesus as the very flesh of that word.
Going after the provision God gives, where we see his hands reaching out to us, and after the words God speaks of his promise to you found in Christ who dies for you, the Accuser makes the final effort to destroy your faith by denying you the very one for whom you are to trust – God himself. See all these kingdoms Jesus, I’ll give them to you, even though they are not mine to give, if you will just bow down and worship me.
Being a child of God, a beloved member of the Body of Christ, it is the goal of the Deceiver to distract you, to take all of that away from you. Opening up your eyes to other things, the attempt is to make you want things other than Christ. To serve everything but God as one captured by the cross, by the Kingdom that is Jesus. Look throughout your life and maybe you can remember the times when pursuing something that seemed too good to be true caused you to stumble. So too here.
Come on. Look at all the kingdoms, all the stuff you could have. Distractions. Mere distractions. Causing you to walk away from the path of righteousness paved by the love of God found in the blood of Christ. As though all the other kingdoms, ones we construct ourselves or ones others make for us can stand the test of time above and beyond the eternal kingdom that is God’s kingdom. A Kingdom given to you.
Now you may think me anachronistic. You may assume me to be some bible thumper here. The church lady from that old Saturday Night Live skit – could it be Satan?! Go ahead and ignore that part, but don’t ignore the reality of temptation. Not temptation to eat another cookie, but temptation to take away your faith in God, your hope in Christ and the love of the Spirit. Trying to remove from you all that God offers to you.
Lent is the season of repentance. Repentance is such a loaded word. A word that we tend to see as depressing or hurtful. But repentance means a change of thinking, or even more, a turning. Going in one direction to repent is a turning. Lent being that time during the year to truly be turned. Turned by God calling to you in the distance of that hill outside Jerusalem. Calling to you above all the temptations to break you free from the deceiver. To take you out of all the boxes, all the categories, all the accusations and to place you at the feet of the Christ who loves you and gave himself up for you. A voice that calls to you now – come to me all the tempted. Come to me all the burdened and heavy laden. Come to me all the lost and alone and I will give you rest. Rest from temptation and life in my blood shed for you. Amen