Lenten Devotion, February 21, 2015

Matthew 4:1-25

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: 
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, 
and they will lift you up in their hands, 
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. 
 
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, 
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, 
Galilee of the Gentiles— 
the people living in darkness 
have seen a great light; 
on those living in the land of the shadow of death 
a light has dawned.”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
 
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,”Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”At once they left their nets and followed him. 
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis,Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

SATURDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY

It starts with a flicker of thought, a tiny little idea that darts across the mind while you’re doing something else. It seems harmless, just one of the millions of things that the human brain comes up with. But then it returns, a minute or an hour later. You feel it now as something familiar, and perhaps enticing. If I claim travel expenses for that trip, even though I had a ride from a friend…if I had a chance to say that really cutting remark to the man who’s always been mean to me . . . if I played my cards right, I might persuade my friend’s spouse to spend an evening with me, and then maybe . . .

Always, to begin with, it seems quite reasonable, only just a bit off limits. But if we play with the idea, or allow it to play with us, then a new course is set, heading for disaster at one level or another.

Christians have always found comfort in the fact that Jesus was tempted as we are. But his temptations, in this famous story, are not just an example, showing us how to resist, though of course they are that too. (Notice how his mind, well stocked with scripture, comes back again and again with the right response.) They are part of the larger story of how ‘heaven’s rule’ came to earth.

Part of the point of the ‘kingdom of heaven’, you see, and of Jesus’ own mission to make it happen, is that there was another power ruling the earth. If Jesus was to bring God’s rescuing rule to the world, the present power had to be defeated. Jesus’ ‘temptations’ are therefore the personal side of the larger battle he had to fight if God’s rule was to take hold. Like David fighting Goliath, he had to take on the enemy one to one if the people as a whole were to be set free.

The three temptations here, like most if not all temptations, are good things that are being distorted. Bread is good. Jesus will later create a huge amount of it from a few loaves, to feed hungry people. But should he do that just for himself — and just to satisfy himself that he really is the ‘Son of God’, as the heavenly voice at his baptism had said? No: Jesus will satisfy himself with what God has said, rather than with any attempt to prove it.

So, too, Jesus may already have had a sense that his own vocation would end in a horrible death, trusting that God would raise him from the dead. But the satanic distortion of this is that he should perform a crazy stunt to attract attention. Again, Jesus refuses: that would be using God’s power as magic.

Finally, it’s clear throughout Matthew’s gospel, and particularly at the very end, that Jesus as ‘king of the Jews’ is to become the true lord of the whole world. But the path by which he moves to that lordship is not the satanic one which would make him grab it for his own ends. The whole of the book is about the alternative path, the true way by which Jesus comes to embody heaven’s rule on earth.

Once more, we are not simply spectators in this extraordinary drama. We, too, are tempted to do the right things in the wrong way, or for the wrong reason. Part of the discipline of Lent is about learning to recognize the flickering impulses, the whispering voices, for what they are, and to have the scripture-fuelled courage to resist. We, too, are part of the ongoing battle for heaven’s rule to be established on earth. Every successful fight against temptation is one more step on the road to the ultimate victory.

TODAY

Lord Jesus, as you saw through the temptations and refused them, give us wisdom to recognize the tempter’s voice, and strength to resist.

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.

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