Wednesday, February 22, 2012

And The Tempter Came -- A Lenten Meditation

Once a week during Lent, I'm going to be offering a little meditation on some of the biblical characters who appear in typical lectionary readings for this season. I present them, not as the work of some erudite biblical scholar, but rather as a life-long Bible reader who often is so familiar with the stories and people in them that he forgets to see them as "real." So I tell these stories with the hope that I will see them with fresh eyes -- and learn some new spiritual lessons.

I am also doing it as part of IVP's Lenten Blog Tour. IVP has invited several of its authors to contribute their thoughts and devotions to a Lenten blog tour.

Every Monday until Easter, a Lenten reflection by one of our authors will be posted on his or her own personal blog. A variety of authors have volunteered, and we are excited to share the different perspectives of each during this holy season.

Follow the tour—

February 20th (Available now!): Rachel Stone, forthcoming author

February 27th: Margot Starbuck, author of Girl in the Orange Dress, Unsqueezed and Small Things with Great Love

March 5th: J. Brent Bill, co-author of Awaken Your Senses

March 12th: Logan Mehl-Laituri, forthcoming author of Reborn on the 4th of July

March 19th: Andrew Byers, author of Faith Without Illusions

March 26th: Valerie Hess, author of Spiritual Disciplines Devotional

April 2nd: Beth Booram, co-author of Awaken Your Senses

Good Friday, April 6th: Chad Young, author of Authenticity

This week's meditation/story is based on Matthew 4:1-11.


And The Tempter Came

His hair and clothing were still wet with water from the Jordan and his ears echoed with the words, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” when he made his way to the desert. Jesus knew that the voice from heaven was God’s own. God had broken the silence between himself and humankind that had been in place since the days of the prophets and was again revealing himself to his creation.

Jesus knew, too, the meaning behind the words. They confirmed what he had long known in his heart -- the words of the 42 Psalm “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’” And, echoing the words of Isaiah, they revealed the very nature of his ministry. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

Jesus knew these scriptures – and their implications. Yes, he was chosen. Chosen to be, not a conquering hero as the Israelites wished for, but a suffering servant, a Messiah who would revive the spirit, not the nation.

This would be no easy task. It would be easier to the righteous warlord the people wanted – to call down angels from heaven and rally the earthly troops who were long tired of foreign invaders and rulers. To prepare for a spiritual messiahship called for preparation.

So following the Spirit, Jesus headed into the desert. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. He chose a forty day fast to reflect Israel’s forty-year wandering. Israel’s wandering and Jesus’ hunger taught the lesson of dependence on God. For Israel, the wandering was a purifying time, to purge them of self-centeredness and whining. For Jesus it was a way to prove his obedience and loyalty to God in preparation for his appointed work.

Jesus remembered that the Israelites, on their trek in the wilderness, were tempted. He knew he would be, too. So, Jesus, weak with hunger, awaited the test.

Soon enough it came. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Ah, wily one, Jesus thought. You come not raising doubts my of sonship with God, but assuming it. Yet, you try to twist its meaning. As the Son of the living God, you suggest, that I have the power and right to satisfy my own needs. I do have that power. Maybe I even have the right. But would doing that be consistent with my mission? Such powers are mine but I have given them to God; to my Father's mission. How then do I answer. My hunger is not what really is at issue here. It is my utter dependence on God's word. My true food is to do the will of my Father who sent me.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The tempter knew those words. The one who had once been a prince of light in God’s heavenly kingdom was well familiar with celestial constructs. These words came from the Book of the Law, the Torah. They were ones hurled at him when he tempted the people of Israel on their 40 year march from Egypt. He knew it was time to take another tempting tack, to try something else.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. I’ll fight Scripture with Scripture, Satan thought, knowing the words came from Psalm 91:11-12. “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.’”

Of course, he omitted a few the words – specifically, “to guard you in all your ways.” Deceit works so much better if it is based on truth, no matter how that truth is skewed. Satan's misapplication of this quotation, turning it into a temptation, might trap Jesus’ devout mind. The way he said this passage of scripture makes it appear to gives approval to something that might otherwise be sinful. After all, it does say that the angels will lift anyone who trusts in God up in their hands.

Pondering his answer, Jesus remembered a passage from Exodus where the Israelites “put the Lord to the test” by demanding water. What an ungrateful people. God’s protection had been with them on their whole journey but they wanted more. Now he was being tempted to do something similar. He saw that for both Israel and himself, demanding miraculous protection as proof of God’s care was wrong. His proper attitude should be one of trust and obedience, no matter what lay before him. Jesus recognized Satan’s testing as a sort of manipulative bribery expressly forbidden in the Scriptures.

So he responds with a verse from Deuteronomy 6. Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

So 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.”

The world at Jesus’ feet. Once again, what the tempter offered was legitimate in itself. The Messiah would one day rule all the world, possessing all “authority and splendor.” The temptation here was to achieve power by taking a shortcut to messianic authority. It also meant sidestepping the agony of the Cross, not an altogether unpleasant option.

At the heart of this temptation lies Satan’s claim to possess the world. Jesus neither challenges nor acknowledges this claim. He lets it pass.

Instead, he remembers the words he heard on his baptismal day, the words of Isaiah that implied that the Messiah should first suffer and only then “enter his glory.” The way of the Cross is his way; the journey to Jerusalem and Calvary is one he must take. Jesus sees that Satan’s suggestion means depriving God of his exclusive claim to worship. That is against the centrality of Jesus’ message. He has come to point people to God, not himself. He has come to restore a right relationship between God and humans.

Jesus said to him, again using the words of the Law, “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.

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