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Posts Tagged ‘adversary’

“If You are the Son of God.”  These are familiar words to some of us.  These are the words Jesus hears from the devil in the wilderness.  This is not the first time this comes up.  Luke wants us to know who has come onto the scene.  This Jesus from Nazareth is the Son of God.  It is announced from heaven “You are My Beloved Son in You I am well pleased.”  It is implied in the genealogy where Luke traces Jesus to Adam, “the son of God.”  And then it is evident in the episode with the devil as twice we read “if You are the Son of God.”

During his forty days of temptation, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy at the devil.  It would be great if that is all we would have to do to resist the devil.  While I like that (I am surprised it is not a t-shirt slogan or a bumper sticker “Quote Deuteronomy at the Devil!”).  It would be nice if Luke gave us a code to resist temptation.  Or a formula to withstand it.  But we can’t help but notice that the devil is also busy quoting scripture in the wilderness.  Luke seems more interested in telling us that the world changed and that it changed when this one who could withstand the devil arrived on the scene.

If Luke were to record an encounter that one of us might have with the devil in the wilderness it would be a disaster.  We cannot watch a thirty-second commercial without buying something, how would we respond to forty days of the devil’s best work?

We want to notice the movement in the Gospel from this introduction of Jesus as Son of God.  He then leaves the devil and returns to his hometown where he preaches his first recorded sermon.  This brings us to the reality of the matter.  Luke may be asking, “How will people respond to the Son of God?”  If that sermon is any indication, we can be sure that some will respond with favor and some will reject Him.  Luke brings us into the company of the Son of God and then asks “what will you do with this?”

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Creation appears safe.  Things are in order.  Threats appear minimal.  The early chapters of Genesis are a good place to spend time on a Sunday morning.  This seems like the kind of place you could shake hands with a grizzly bear if you wanted to.  The sights of creation are brilliant, “look at that.”  The sounds of creation cause you to be still, “did you hear that.”  Something new steps into the scene and arouses your curiosity, “what is that?”

But then, the story continues with the introduction of a new character. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field… And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’”  Suddenly we realize that God talks to Adam and Eve but God’s voice is not the only one that people hear. There is another voice contrary to the voice of God. God has an opponent, an enemy. This world is at war.

The entrance of evil brings us to an intersection. We know that intersection.  We pass that intersection every day.  A place where decision-making is put to the test.  Will we listen to the voice of God or will another voice persuade us?  We never move far from this intersection.  Every day is a contest where we must discern between voices and make a decision about which one to listen to.

Desire can drive you crazy.  It can become an obsession.  Genesis does not tell us how badly Eve wanted the fruit from that tree.  But we do know that “the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise.”  And where was it?  In the middle of the garden.  Not in the corner where we can avoid it.  Not along the fringe where we can act as if we are not really thinking about it.  In the middle of the garden.  Right where we spend most of our time.  Constantly in front of our face.

We know what happens next.  Although they were told not to, Adam and Eve eat the beautiful fruit of the tree they are not supposed to touch.  This is a tragic story.  In spite of our screams, “don’t do it!”  Every time we read Genesis 3, they eat the fruit.

This is one of those places in scripture where you wish you had not turned the page.  On the verge of a great adventure with unknown mystery and romance.  We are on the edge of our seat wondering what will happen next.   Things were going along just fine and then something happens that makes you ask why.  We are people who would rather just live in the positive.  Avoid the negative.  Retell the story to make it sound better for the children.

Every day we are reminded that there is something that we do not have, but we want it.  We have everything we need.  But we want something more.  Something else.  We blame Adam and Eve for ruining things for all of us.  We could have been running through Eden without worry.  Without needing anything. Everything was right there.  But, we can’t stand back and blame Adam or Eve.  We know that Genesis has invited us into a story about us.  We know that we can’t resist a good marketing effort.  That is why commercials work so well. We are always going for things that are desirable and a delight to the eyes.  We see things we do not need every day and convince ourselves that we should have them.  In fact, we convince ourselves that we deserve them.  That we have earned them.  We know that we would not have done things any different, because we go for new things that we don’t need all the time.

Genesis has invited us into a story about us.

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Luke tells us that Jesus’ ministry begins in the wilderness with the devil.  Here Jesus is tempted to turn a stone into bread.  He is offered the authority and splendor of all the kingdoms.  He is asked to throw himself from the highest point of the temple that he might be caught by angels.

The devil is a major player in the temptation narrative.  But then Luke tells us that the devil departs “until an opportune time.”  In fact, he does not appear again for eighteen chapters.  Ben Witherington summarizes this period in this way, “the dominion of God is breaking into human history.”  He adds “Satan is on the run.”  It is no wonder that Jesus claims to see Satan fall like lightning from heaven.

It is not likely that you will be tempted to turn a stone into bread or to throw yourself from a temple.  But you might be tempted to lash out at someone who thinks differently than you (oh wait that’s me).  You might be tempted to think that lack of caffeine intake or sugar or television will keep you safe from the devil.  Luke wants us to see the devil as real.  He wants us to know that danger lurks.  Lent is not exempt from Satan’s activity.  In fact, Lent may place us right in a context of temptation.

I am part of a class that meets on Tuesdays during Lent to discuss the Gospel of Luke.  It is enjoyable.  It is insightful.  It is purposeful.  But reading scripture will not automatically bring us closer to God.  After all, Jesus is not the only one quoting scripture in the wilderness.

The image of Satan looking for an opportune time to strike makes clear that Luke sees Satan as one with intentions and plans, not an impersonal evil force that afflicts humans randomly.  C. S. Lewis gives two equal errors into which we can fall about the devils.  “One is to disbelieve in their existence.  The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”  He notes that the devils are equally pleased by both.  Lewis then advises “the devil is a liar.”

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I stand in the lobby of the elementary school talking with other parents as we wait for our children to be marched to their classrooms.  As they file down the hallway and unknown to us, planes were leaving airports with terrorists on board.  One parent comments on how great the weather has been.  I agree.

I sit in a restaurant and sip iced tea while reading the Gospel of Mark.  There Peter remarks that Jesus is the Christ.  A server relays news to me that an airplane has hit one of the World Trade Towers.  Later, that another plane hits the other.  Later, another hits the Pentagon.  Even later, I learn that another plane has hit near Somerset, PA.  I think to myself that Mark is good reading while sipping iced tea inside a triangle of tragedy.  Another server claims to be scared.  Yet another asks that I say a prayer for her.

In my car I listen as radio reporters try to explain what has occurred.  They do their best to describe such an unexpected tragedy.  As I drive around surrounded by terrorists attacks, I think to myself that life is risky.

I sit through a meeting and hear a variety of responses to what has happened.  Someone worries about those hurt and their family members.  Someone wants to enact revenge.  Someone fears that we will be hit next.  Another wants to blame the president.  I walk away from that meeting out under a cloudless sky and listen to crickets sing as I make my way to the car.

I sit on a couch and hold Madeline.  She is six days old.  Here I get my first look at television footage of what has occurred.  I witness chaos as buildings are hit and later collapse.  Surrounded by this chaos, Madeline sleeps peacefully in my arms.  Her mother and grandmother beam.  On the way out, I scratch the head of a Golden Retriever.

A friend and I watch these attacks over and over again on CNN.  We listen as the president responds with language of war.  We discuss this tragedy and how it may affect us.  We discuss the joys and concerns of parenting.  We talk about people we like and those we do not.  I think of how hard it is to “love your enemies” on a day like today.

I return to the elementary school to pick up my daughter.  I see some of the same faces that were there earlier.  Some have tears in their eyes.  The weather is still perfect; no one seems to notice.  Later, I speak to a friend on the phone who talks of a day spent listening to reports of tragedy and chaos.  He noted the contrast he felt leaving his office and looking over the calm Susquehanna reflecting a clear blue sky.

It may not always be as visible as it was on this day, but we are surrounded by catastrophe every day.  Although things often appear to be calm, tragedy is all around us.  I drink iced tea, crickets chirp, and Madeline sleeps while terrorists are killing thousands.  We send our children to school, sit through meetings, and discuss the weather while surrounded by sin.  We visit friends, listen to the news, and pet Golden Retrievers while evil abounds.  We pray for others and read Gospel knowing that we are at war with Satan.

We are well aware that the unexpected can happen. We are reminded that buildings do not stand forever.  That suffering and death are real.  We dare not minimize the feelings evoked by these events.  Yet, we must not forget that each day we face an even greater adversary.  I am reminded of other words from Peter about the Christ.  Specifically, that we cast our cares upon Him.  Because he cares for us (I Peter 5.7).  Life is risky, not because of terrorists, but because the devil is on the prowl.  Satan seeks to devour us (5.8).  That is why I Peter warns us to “be on the alert.”  To resist the devil (5.9).  But then he brings our attention back to Christ and proclaims “To Him be dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”

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