PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, AMEN.
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
This week’s Lectionary readings are rich with meaning and encouragement: Giving our first fruits to God (Old Testament); Trusting God during times of trial (Psalm); Who may be saved (Epistle). But we zoom in on this week’s Gospel passage–the Temptation of Jesus Christ. Tuesday is Mardi Gras. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, when we transition from Epiphany to Lent. The great lesson of Lent is the lesson of spiritual warfare, and how to win it.
“And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure;
God’s word shall overthrow him.”
—third verse to the traditional hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” lyrics by Martin Luther (1483-1546)
“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.”
PRAYER FOCUS: Trials, Tests, and Truth (Winning in the Wilderness)
Everyone gets to have a wilderness experience. Everyone goes through times that try their very souls. Some may spend more time in the wilderness than others, but sooner or later everyone goes there. Perhaps you’re there now.
During one such time, a German philosopher named Nietzsche wrote, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Many of us can relate to that sentiment. But it may not be a true statement. And if it is not true, it may not be helpful.
A wise king named Solomon wrote, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” We know this popular saying is absolutely true. Why? Because we found it in the Bible (Eccl. 1:9).
Just before Jesus went to the Cross, Pontius Pilate asked Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Even though The Truth, the Word of God made flesh, stood right before his eyes, Pilate could not recognize it. How terrible for him.
Likewise for us, not knowing the truth, or not recognizing it, can have terrible consequences. Especially when we’re in the wilderness.
On the other hand, knowing the truth, and that there is absolute truth, will keep us from being persuaded to follow a path that is false. The truth is our reference by which we navigate right and wrong. Truth sets us free. It keeps us free, and moving in the right direction. All truth originates from Almighty God. Unlike Pilate, we can find the truth between the covers of our Bibles. For Christians, this should not be a complex issue.
We will all face trials in life. No exceptions. No waivers. We will all be tested. But what if we knew, in advance, what the tests would look like? There is no new temptation under the sun, either (1 Cor. 10:13).
Once Jesus had been baptized He was led by the Holy Spirit “into the wilderness” to be tested by the devil himself. For forty days. The Bible emphasizes that our Lord ate nothing during that time, and He became hungry.
Actually it was worse than that. There is a special place of weakness beyond hunger (just try fasting for that long). Satan, our enemy, knows where and when we are weak. And he was waiting for Jesus to come to that place. Satan is always looking for an opportune time.
But Jesus was ready.
Pay attention to what the Enemy says to Jesus:
• “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
• “If you, then, will worship me, all of this (all the kingdoms of the world) will be yours.”
• “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Very crafty. Very subtle. But once again, there is nothing new. This is the same deceitful ruse Satan the Serpent employed against Eve in the Garden of Eden. First he questions the truth. Next he fashions a personal appeal to our vanity, our pride, using any-and-every dishonest pretense this father of lies can muster. Then, once he sees us waver, he offers an alternative version of the truth, which is, in fact a lie, and asks us to believe it—then to act on it.
It’s a good strategy, a winning strategy. It’s been winning for thousands of years. It works against individuals. It works against nations. It works against churches. And that’s a terrible truth.
But Satan’s stratagem of deceit is easily defeated, provided we can identify it. That requires us to know the truth. Look at Jesus…
• “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
• “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
• “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Say it out loud: “It Is Written.”
We cannot overstate the simple elegance of this defense. The Word of God is our sword (Eph. 6:17). Faith in that word is our shield (Eph. 6:16). God has many ways of providing for his people, and indeed He has been exceedingly generous. He also expects us to do our part. God can and will show us how to train for these battles, but He cannot train for us. We must learn, and know, what is true. Or we will be deceived into believing what is not true.
Like Jesus, we must constantly guard against any abuse of Scripture by Satan—or by men. By twisting Scripture into a lure of unwarranted confidence in his Father’s protection, Satan was tempting Jesus to his own destruction. Our enemy preys on ignorance (1 Pet. 5:8). God’s people are destroyed by lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6). Paul warned about it. So did Peter. And John. And most of the rest of the Bible’s Divinely-inspired writers.
Therefore let us resolve to read God’s Word, to study it, to meditate on it. His Word is more than our defense, more than our way, it is our life. Maybe we, like Jesus, would also share it.
This week marks the beginning of Lent, traditionally a season of fasting and self-denial. Whether or not you personally observe fasting during this season, we pray you will use it to feast on God’s Word. This week, let us pray for ourselves, and for each other, that we may not be deceived.
It’s Monday morning. Have you studied for your test?
A mighty fortress is our God,
A stronghold never failing;
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Conspires to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with bitter hate,
On earth is not his equal.
—First verse to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”