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1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.’ ” 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
When I was a kid, it was always quite the gift to have a friend with a hot tub. Not so much for the summer months, but rather for the winter months. When it was so cold outside, and yet you could soothe your bone-chilled body by sinking in to this steaming water, all the way up to your chin.
But being kids, we could never just relax in the hot tub. We had to play too. We had to push the boundaries. We had dare each other to do crazy things. The most common dare I experienced was to challenge someone to jump out of the hot tub and run into the snow. Maybe you had to roll in the snow or tag the tree in the middle of the yard, but either way, the goal was the same. You had to get cold. Really cold.
Only after you had checked off all the demands of the dare could you then experience the sweet relief of that warm water once again.
But what none of us young kids were prepared for was the fact that it was not a relief to jump back into the hot tub.
In fact, it hurt. A lot. You think you are going to experience that sweet and comforting warmth, but instead your experience the sudden disruption of pain. Such a dramatic shift in temperature feels like a thousand little needles pricking you all over. What we expected to be a smooth transition from cold to comfort quickly became a sudden disruption of pain. And it hurt.
I have to be honest, that’s how the arrival of Lent has felt this year. It has felt like a sudden disruption.
Now, it’s not like I didn’t know Lent was coming. I did. In fact, just like that snow covered kid running for the hot tub, I kind of looked forward to it. But then suddenly Ash Wednesday was here. And soon this expected transition became a sudden disruption. Moving from the bright lights of Advent and Epiphany to the dusty darkness of Ash Wednesday was too quick, much like going from icy snow to steaming hot tub. And it hurt a bit.
Why? Because nothing can prepare you for the punch in the gut that comes from placing ashes on the foreheads of people you love to remind them that they are dying. Some recently widowed or recently diagnosed, who needed no reminder. Some who have such hurdles facing them in life that death is the least of their worries. And some whose foreheads are still so small that you can barely fit a dusty cross on there, and you don’t even want to try.
After worship on Wednesday night, I arrived home to find my boys fast as sleep from their car ride home. Each of them still marked with that same smudgy cross.
Ash Wednesday. Lent. It is disrupting. And I was not prepared for it.
But then it hit me. Maybe this is how it is supposed to be. Maybe there isn’t supposed to be a smooth transition into Lent. Maybe it is meant to disrupt us.
Lent after all is modeled after Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. 40 days in the wilderness for Jesus. 40 days in Lent for us.
And year after year, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is the Sunday gospel story that kicks off this season. And Jesus’ transition into the wilderness was not smooth, but rather was quite the disruption too.
Our gospel reading said that Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, had just returned from the Jordan river. Which invites us to remember what happened at the Jordan.
Well, it was Jesus’ baptism. Where he was soaked in the river Jordan and where he heard those claiming and identifying words from heaven – You are my Son, my beloved with whom I am well pleased.
So Jesus is still dripping with baptismal water. His ears are still echoing with the sound of God’s voice – naming him and claiming him as God’s very own beloved child. And immediately, he is sent out into the wilderness, into the dry desert, where the disrupting voice of the devil begins to whisper in his other ear.
There was no transition time for Jesus. There was no time to prepare for such an experience. No time to sink into those beautiful words of God.
Just *Bam!* Water to wilderness. Words of God to the words of the devil.
And did you hear what the devil did? The devil took God’s word and simply added that little tiny word “if” to the equation. God says, “You are my Son”; the devil says, “If you are God’s Son…”
A friend of mine plays trumpet professionally. Years ago, he was playing principal trumpet with an orchestra over in Asia and the opening piece was Pictures at an Exhibition. Now, this is easily one of the most exciting and difficult pieces to perform for a principal trumpet. It is assigned to almost every single orchestral trumpet audition. The opening notes are the sound of the trumpet and only the trumpet. It may sound easy, but it’s not. The whole rest of the performance rests on these opening notes.
The concert was held in a huge outdoor stadium. Large enough that there was a jumbotron for the people in the nose-bleeds seats. The conductor walks out. The audience applauds but then gets quiet. The conductor raises his baton and looks at my friend. And just as my friend takes a deep breath, ready to play, his stand partner leans over to him and whispers….”Man, if you mess this up…”
If you mess this up. If. It’s a small but powerful word. If – it is a word that immediately stirs up doubt. If you mess this up. Which means…you could mess this up.
According to Luke, that is the devil’s word. He uses it to plant a seed of doubt in Jesus’ ear about to whom Jesus belongs. “If you are the Son of God…” the devil hisses at Jesus. The voice of God – it makes clear and claiming statements – you are. You are my Son. But the devil. The devil makes deceptive, destructive, and doubt-filled statements – if. If you are the Son of God…It pokes at one’s identity. If you are that person…I mean, maybe you are or maybe you aren’t.
You see that’s what the devil does. The devil tries to take away the Word of God.
He tries to get Jesus to doubt the word of God – he tries to take those claiming words away from Jesus.
So, if you struggle, like I do, with the devil, let me put it this way – the work of the devil is anything or any message that tries to take away or get your to doubt that you are anything less that a claimed and beloved child of God.
So, the devil is after Jesus. And what does Jesus do in the face of this devilish voice? He remembers and speaks more promises of God. The devil tries to take them away and Jesus just keeps giving them back. Sometimes just remembering God’s promise can be vehicle for God’s mercy.
With every temptation the devil throws at Jesus, Jesus responds by quoting the Scriptures in Deuteronomy.
Don’t you want some bread Jesus? The Scriptures say…one does not live on bread alone.
Worship me Jesus and you’ll rule the world! The Scriptures say worship the Lord your God and serve only him.
But then the Devil catches on to what Jesus is doing. He notices that Jesus is using Scripture. So, what does the devil do? He starts using Scripture too.
Well, if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, because Psalm 91 and that beautiful hymn based on it say that God will command his angels to protect you, that they will bear you up on eagles wings…
Only the devil would take one of our most favorite Scriptures and most meaningful funeral hymns and use it for evil.
But it didn’t work against Jesus. And it won’t work against us.
But what we learn is that we have to be careful with Scripture. Because it can be used to remind us of the hope-filled promises of God or it can be used to get us to doubt those promises. Just because something is in the bible doesn’t mean it can’t be used for evil. We have to be careful just quoting Scripture, because the devil can quote Scripture too.
Take, for instance, Paul’s words to the Romans.
Paul writes, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
I get a little fidgety when I hear that text. Because we live in a world where some of the people we know and love the most are not Christians. Or who are people who struggle to believe. Some of my closest friends grew up in different cultures and different religions. Others grew up in the church but were so hurt or so confused that they just can’t in good faith claim themselves as Christians. Some of the refugees who most need our help are Muslims.
So what do we do with these words from Paul? Because my fear is that the devil can convince us to use them as a weapon: for us to claim victory over the religious landscape. See, the Bible says only those who believe in Jesus get saved – so there. We win, you lose. Which builds a wall between us and them.
When in fact Paul is using these words to tear down walls. To tear down the wall between the Jews and the Greek Gentiles. Because the Jews didn’t want to let the Gentiles in. Into the circle of salvation. A friend of mine says that the Church has never faced a bigger controversy than that of whether to include the Gentiles or not. The Jews think that they have salvation because of following the Law. The Gentiles think they have salvation by having faith. And Paul says there is no longer Jew nor Greek. There is no longer a wall between you, Paul says.
But it would be so easy for the devil to grab a hold of this text and use it to divide us. Because he is a nasty creature that will whisper doubts in your ear, and he’ll use Scripture to back it up.
Here is the thing: When devil climbs up on your back and gets you to doubt who you are in the eyes of God or who someone else is in the eyes of God, know that you have the Holy Spirit by your side too. And you get to whisper back the remembered promises of God that also come from Scripture.
All flesh shall see the salvation of God
Nothing can separate me from the love of God
God has called me by name. I belong to God.
This time of Lent. It is a disrupting time. It is wilderness time. But maybe that’s how it is supposed to be. Because maybe at least once a year, all of us are called to come face to face with death and the devil and all the things that divide us, so that we can shake them off with words of God’s promise and grace. Because the good news of the gospel, the good news that Lent is pushing us towards is that because of God’s abiding grace, death and the devil and our divisions…they don’t stand a chance. Amen.