Let us pray:
Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. Take us to that place within You that heals, listens, and molds our longings and passions, our wounds and wanderings, and transforms us into a more holy human shape. For it is in You that we live and move and have our being. Amen.
I spoke last week about letting Lent be for all of us a time of preparation for new beginnings. 40 days to reflect upon what it is God is calling us to do and be. During our 40 days, what things do we need to set aside for newness to happen in our lives? Put another way, what lives in us that we need to “put to death” with Jesus so that we might be redeemed with his rising again? I imagine all of us have something we personally struggle with, something we need to let go of so God can work something new in our lives. But it could be something on a congregational level, perhaps something to let go of, or perhaps something we have left undone that we could be doing for the sake of our Lord and the mission that has been entrusted to us. Keep that in your mind for a moment while we look more closely at today’s scripture. We will revisit that idea at the end.
Today’s story reads, “Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” The 40 days of Lent remind us of the 40 days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness as he prepared to engage his ministry-a ministry that ultimately drove him to his death. This temptation of Jesus can be interpreted many ways, depending on your personal theological understandings of the spiritual world.
They could be a scriptural reflection on the 40 years of wandering in the desert when Moses had to lead a stiff-necked and hard-hearted people out of their old ways an into a new personal understanding of themselves as the people of God. Those 40 years were a preparation of a people to become their own nation. With those lenses on, Jesus is the new Moses, and his 40 days of temptations are his preparation for the ministry he was to begin. A ministry that extends all the way to us in this time and place.
The writer of Luke’s gospel describes the temptation of Jesus as originating with the devil. One way of interpreting the devil, or antagonist in this story, is as the mysterious figure that embodies all the darkness that crouches within ourselves – urging us to turn our backs on God and focus on ourselves. Another possible understanding is that the devil is the leader of fallen angels working to undo all that God has done within us and for us as God’s human creatures.
For the moment, I am going to suggest we interpret the figure of the devil in the first way. Why? Specifically, today, in our modern experiences, there are a multitude of things – devils, if you will – that impact our lives, driving a wedge between the will of God for us and our own personal will. What is God’s will for us? Put in the simplest way, it is, as the Luke’s writer tells us in chapter 10 to: “… love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” When we examine the multitude of things that seem to drive the wedge between God and us further apart, they always seem to return to the very human weakness of exploiting something for personal gain.
In each of the temptations Jesus faces in our scripture today, he is faced with a decision impacting one of our basic selfish needs: Bread, power, protection. Jesus, of course, passes every test, and is filled with the Holy Spirit, moving on toward Jerusalem – his ministry – and his death. Without his death and resurrection, though, redemption wouldn’t have been accomplished for us and this world that we inhabit. In Luke’s perspective, Jesus knew this right from the beginning; and, as the gospel writer tells us in chapter 9, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:15).
Jesus completes his preparations in the wilderness, and sets out to engage the world with his mission. Now let’s bring this back into a more personal arena for our own 40 days of Lent. Maybe we should consider them as days of wilderness preparation. Have you experienced wilderness moments in your life? Have there been serious temptations that have come up, threatening to rule your life in place of God’s will in your heart or in place of your service to God and the Greater Good? With such a Gospel story as backdrop, an appropriate response to that might be, “Hell yes.”
I have struggled with things – I cannot think of anyone who hasn’t, but the question remains: who or what might be a modern day devil to us? Only you know what darkness lives in your own being, threatening to take over your life. Perhaps the more difficult examination is the one I mentioned at the beginning…what could we be doing that we aren’t for Jesus and the Kingdom of God?
For our 40 days of Lent, know that we are not alone. We have an Advocate in heaven, seated on the right hand of God, who upholds us with His might – if we ask it of him – and this is important.
One of the readings from Ash Wednesday this past week, 2 Corinthians 6:2, records: “‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”
Friends, each day we wake up we have that chance to give our lives anew to the One who made us, the One who gave up as ransom for the world his life, choosing to be cut off from God, tasting the bitter death of all, then rising again to bring up from the depths all fallen life with him in order that it be made new and all of life might be renewed. That includes our corporate life together as a congregation.
Ash Wednesday reminds us, with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads, “from dust we came and to dust we will return.” But the Easter message after the 40 days are up is this: like the phoenix from the ashes, we rise again, re-born, re-created and made new. Personally, and corporately.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us; even Him who is the Head of our Church, Jesus Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Adapted from a poem by Ted Loder