When temptation calls...
It is the season of Lent and, traditionally, it is a time when we reflect on our own shortcomings and focus on spiritual growth. Around the 10th century, Lent became linked with Jesus spending 40y days in the wilderness where he was tempted by the Devil.
Now, whether you believe there to be a real Devil or not, we certainly know that evil is very real and present in our world. Evil exists. And the temptation of Jesus was about three things that evil seeks to do. Ultimately, evil wants to destroy our relationship with God and it does this in three ways – by separating us, by denigrating us, and by making us feel insecure. And this is exactly what happened to Jesus.
The first temptation by the Devil was to convince Jesus, who was hungry, to turn a stone into bread. It seems innocuous enough, until you remember that Jesus was part of the Holy Trinity – inextricably linked to the Father and the Spirit. What the Devil was trying to do was say, "Hey, you don't need the other two. Act on your own!" The Devil wanted to split up the Holy Trinity. Jesus reminded the Devil that, "One doesn't live on bread alone."
The second temptation by the Devil was to offer Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would bow down and worship him. The Devil wanted to make the King of all creation lower than himself. He wanted to denigrate Jesus and reduce the status of the Holy Trinity. Jesus replied, "Worship the Lord your God and serve only him."
The third and final temptation by the Devil was to convince Jesus to throw himself down from the top of the temple because God had promised to protect him, however, Jesus was secure in his relationship with the Father and the Spirit, and when you are in a secure relationship you do not need to test it. The Devil was asking, "Do you really trust the Father and the Spirit?" Jesus replied, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
The temptation of Jesus was to deny his membership of the Trinity, to deny the status of the Trinity, and to deny the relational security of the Trinity. And today, the Devil also wants us to be separated, denigrated, and insecure.
Today, evil wants you to be separated from God and from others. Evil says to you, "Do you really need God? You're managing just fine and doing great on your own." But it's a lie. We cannot do this thing called life on our own. We need God's love, and at the very least, we need the love and support of God's love expressed through others; people who will journey with us, hold us, encourage us, and comfort us.
Today, evil wants you to have low self-worth and low self-esteem. Evil says to you, "You are nothing and a waste of space. You are not worthy to be called a Christian. If people knew what you thought and said and did in private they'd reject you." Again, it's a lie. We are God's beloved children, with inherent worth and precious value. No matter who you are or what you have done, God values you and welcomes you as his child.
And finally, evil wants you to feel insecure. Evil wants to sow seeds of doubt in your heart and mind. Evil says to you, "Are you really loved? Are God's promises really true? You are not really saved and part of God's family are you?" It's another lie. You are loved – more than you can possibly imagine – and have an inheritance from God greater than all the gold in the world. The gift of life in all its fullness is available for you in the here and now, and for ever.
We are all broken. We all make mistakes. We all fall short of our own standards, let alone God's, and evil wants you to be separated, denigrated, and for you to feel insecure, however, God wants you to be connected, honoured, and for you to feel safe. Therefore, our church communities should be places where all can meet with God, be respected, lifted up, and find mutual love and trust.
Jesus' response to the Devil was to say, "No!" And we must say, "No!" too.
On Sunday, at St Mark's, we celebrated International Women's Day, and I was reminded that all people of any age, race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, ability, language, or cultural background are welcomed into God's family. In fact, so important is this that I have added that statement to the front page of our website and on our Facebook page too.
This season of Lent, if you are feeling alone, distant, low, worthless, or anxious, may you find a church family that will love you and journey with you. May you know God's joy and peace as the Holy Trinity ministers to you through the kindness, support, encouragement, and comfort of others. And if, and when, the Devil comes knocking, may you tell him to take a hike (or use two words of your own choosing)!
Rev Gav is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm