Submitted by Pastor David Wynn, First Christian Church, Tarkio, Missouri
Have you noticed how fast time has flown by since Christmas? Now, I know it’s been cold and we’ve had a lot of snow, (unless you are lucky enough to be in Florida) but still January and February just flew by. And now, before you know it, the season of Lent is here, then Good Friday, and then the celebration of our Savior’s resurrection.
I always like to use the time between these two celebrations to focus on the events of Jesus’ life, His miracles, His teachings, His parables. His experiences both as the Son of Man and the Son of God, His travels with His disciples, His encounters with the forces of evil as well as the forces of good. You see, nothing that happened in the life of Jesus is to be overlooked. Everything that happened to Him happened so that we, as God’s children, might learn.
Today we are going to focus on that time in Jesus’ life when he first wrestled with the devil, Evil, and how He handled it, and what that means to us. Jesus is 30 years old. We haven’t heard anything about Him since He was 12. Eighteen years pass before we hear from him again.
At the age of 30, when according to Jewish law men could legally enter the priesthood, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the lushness of the River Jordan. And while he was being baptized, a white dove flew down and landed on Jesus’ shoulder, and it was at this point that the Holy Spirit entered Jesus. Luke tells us that at this point God spoke to Jesus, saying . . . “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”
And then suddenly Jesus finds himself in the wilderness of Judea to confront the temptations of true evil. Jesus, young and inexperienced as He starts out in His ministry, is at His most vulnerable.
God didn’t put Jesus in the wilderness to be tested . . . Evil did. But God the father realizes that by giving Evil this early chance to challenge Jesus, Evil will learn what it’s up against. The wilderness where Jesus was led is a place where nothing can grow, nothing can flourish, nothing can survive. The same barren wasteland still exists today in the Holy land, in an area, appropriately named, around the Dead Sea.
Three temptations are offered to Jesus, temptations that are continually offered to us as well today. Jesus fasted for 40 days, sustained only by the power and presence of His Father. Although the Holy Spirit has sustained Jesus for 40 days, Jesus is famished, and it is at this point that Evil begins its attack.
A thought began to form in Jesus’ mind . . . a voice whispered in His ear . . . “Jesus . . . you’re hungry, aren’t you? Very hungry . . .But Jesus, you’re the Son of God, you’ve got the power! You can take one of those flat stones and turn it into a loaf of fresh . . . succulent . . . baked bread. Come on, Jesus, you can do this, and satisfy the hunger in your belly! So go ahead, just this once, no one else is here to see it, and I promise, I’ll never tell.”
Never underestimate the power of Evil. Never underestimate how smart Evil can be. It came to Jesus at his weakest point, and viciously attacked him. Evil comes to us at our weakest points, and they are many: anger, jealousy, alcohol, drugs. We all have at least one, even if we don’t want to admit it. And it is then when Evil is at its strongest.
But Jesus knows the voice of Evil. He recognizes it, and says to Evil: “Listen, I know you, I know your voice, I know your intention . . . but you see it is written that ‘One shall not live by bread alone.’ And I believe it . . . so beat it!”
But Evil does not give up that easily. One down, two to go.
Evil says to Jesus . . . “Listen, Jesus, I control all the wealth and power on earth today. Me alone. Hey, I’m not asking for much . . . just a little respect, acknowledgment from the Son of God. Listen, you’re just a carpenter’s son. No one is going to pay any attention to you . . . nobody! But with me, the sky’s the limit. You’re only going to live once, Jesus, so don’t you want to have it all, right now?”
“I’m not asking much,” Evil says. “Just a little compromise, sacrifice your values, and you can go a long way!”
Jesus says to Evil . . . “It is written that we shall worship the Lord our God ONLY. So I don’t need all that cotton candy you’ve offered me. God is the only true thing.”
Two down, one to go.
Evil comes to Jesus and hoists Him to the top of the temple, 200 feet off the ground, and tempts him to jump.
“You don’t really believe all that stuff, do you Jesus? That God speaks to you, that God would pick you, a lowly carpenter, to be the Savior of mankind? Look around you Jesus, look at all the suffering today.
“And here, I’ll show you a glimpse of all that is to come: wars, death, the triumph of evil. Listen, Jesus, is there really a God who would let this happen to his children? Is there really a God AT ALL? Is it real, or made up? If you’re so sure God is going to make sure nothing bad is ever going to happen to you, well then, go ahead and jump!”
This third temptation is a temptation of suicide. Evil throws all he has at Jesus: No more voices, just jump, and you will have peace. Most suicide notes convey these feelings: self doubt, guilt, lowliness, loneliness, a world gone mad, faith gone. The third temptation exists more today than ever before.
We’ve all felt them some time or another, those dark nights of the soul. Everything has been going so good in our lives, our faith is strong, and then something happens, the rug is pulled out from beneath us. And it feels like no matter how long or how hard we pray, we feel like nobody is listening. That God is so far away. The voices of evil are so loud that we are tempted to chuck it all, one way or the other. That dark night of the soul, when Evil whispers in our ear. Evil loves to do that. It loves to take away from us the plan that God has for all of us. And Evil laughs when it has taken away one more of God’s lambs. Puts one more notch on its belt.
So it’s important to remember what Jesus did here:
He remembered all those things that his mother had told him, all those times that God the Father was there when he was growing up, the voice of God saying to him . . . “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus looked at Evil and spit in its eye, and said, “I choose to believe, I choose to trust. I have given my life to God. I have listened to your lies, Evil, and I don’t, won’t, can’t believe them.”
“And so it is written that you shall not test the Lord your God . . . I TRUST MY HEAVENLY FATHER, and I still choose to follow Him.”
And Evil left.
Oh, to be sure Evil would come back and try to beat Jesus again and again. But it was just wasting its breath.
Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians: Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
The next time you hear Evil whisper in your ear, turn to it and say . . . “Is that the best you’ve got? In the name of Jesus, be gone!”
And Evil will vanish, and the seas of life will become calm once more.