Jesus and the Devil
(Matthew 4.1-11; Mark 1.12,13)
1When Jesus returned from the Jordan River, the power of the Holy Spirit was with him, and the Spirit led him into the desert. 2For 40 days Jesus was tested by the devil, and during that time he went without eating. When it was all over, he was hungry.
3The devil said to Jesus, “If you are God's Son, tell this stone to turn into bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say, ‘No one can live only on food.’ ”
5Then the devil led Jesus up to a high place and quickly showed him all the nations on earth. 6The devil said, “I will give all this power and glory to you. It has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7Just worship me, and you can have it all.”
8 Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say:
‘Worship the Lord your God
and serve only him!’ ”
9Finally, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on top of the temple. The devil said, “If you are God's Son, jump off. 10-11 The Scriptures say:
‘God will tell his angels
to take care of you.
They will catch you
in their arms,
and you will not even hurt
your feet on the stones.’ ”
12 Jesus answered, “The Scriptures also say, ‘Don't try to test the Lord your God!’ ”
13After the devil had finished testing Jesus in every way possible, he left him for a while.
The devil has two favourite haunts, two places he likes to pay us a visit: gardens, and deserts.
Gardens are places of beauty and ease. There is abundant food, shade, birdsong. A garden is a taste of paradise. We are in a garden when our lives are pitch-perfect: great job, great marriage, close to God.
Into that, the ancient serpent—that old theologian—slips and asks questions: Is this enough? Don’t you want more? Don’t you feel that maybe God is keeping the best from you?
It turns out, the well fed, the well heeled, the comfortable, the pampered have little resistance to that line of logic. We don’t even break a sweat trying to fight him. Our sense of entitlement is so large, our sense of being cheated and hard done by so consuming, we instantly give our assent. We may not be hungry—we haven’t been for a long time—but our appetites have grown huge.
And then there are deserts. Stark, lonely, haunted places, barren of food, shade, song. A desert is a taste of hell. We are in a desert when our lives are off-kilter: horrible job, lousy marriage, far from God.
Into that, the ancient serpent—once again proving his knack for theological debate—slips and makes promises: Had enough? I can give you so much more. Don’t you feel that God’s ways are harsh? Come, follow me . . .
It turns out, the truly hungry, the desperately thirsty, are almost invincible. They can spot false logic a mile away. They can reduce to devil’s best eloquence and most cunning tactics—his testing “in every way possible”—to gibbering and blundering. They don’t even break a sweat defeating him. Their sense of dependency is so large, their sense of living by every word that comes from the mouth of God, they unhesitatingly make their refusal. Hunger has crucified their appetites.
It makes you almost wish for more deserts.
I confess I grow fat and lazy and complacent in gardens. I admit I grow lean and shrewd and dependent in deserts. Lord, I dare to pray, don’t leave me too long in this garden.
In Christ’s name, Amen.