Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness
to be tempted of the devil.
Lent has been a time in the Church year for us to pause and to look up at God but also to examine ourselves to see obstacles to drawing nearer to God and to be aware of signs of new life in us from Him. It is about growing in love, as Ineke pointed out last week.
The devil wants to keep us so busy that we don’t have time to think about God or about ourselves and about our lives. You may remember that the first demand of Moses to Pharaoh in the start of their liberation from slavery, was to ask that the people might go into the wilderness to offer sacrifice to God – that is to have a Sabbath rest. And Pharaoh’s response was to double the amount of work to be accomplished so they had no time whatsoever to look up. I hope that you will have a little more time during this Lent to pause from work and to look up and to be refreshed. And indeed you are here today to pause and to remember what our lives are about in the light of God.
Our Old Testament [Genesis 3:1-7] and Gospel [St Matthew 4:1-11] readings this morning are to bring before our minds the most profound subject matter – something that is significant for every one of us in our daily living: the original fall of Man through the temptation of Satan, and the overcoming of the temptation of Satan by the Son of Man in the wilderness, so that we might also overcome temptation.
There is so much here in these two Biblical stories, so we have to be selective.
In the Genesis story, there is a garden and all that Adam and Eve need to flourish – it is paradise. There are also limits placed upon Adam and Eve by God, and the devil wants Adam and Eve to violate those limits, to disobey God. What is the fruit? what is the tree? What are the consequenses? these are questions much discussed through the ages. But what is clear, is that the serpent, later identified as the devil and Satan [Rev 2:20], takes what God says and twists it or tries to create doubt, “Did God really say?”, and then outright denies it is true, “You will not die”, in order to get Eve to eat the fruit. And in the aftermath, Eve acknowledges to God, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” [Genesis 3:13]. In other words, the devil twisted the truth and she believed a lie, Adam participates in it, and the consequences were the fall of humanity and of the creation.
Jesus tells us in the Gospels that the devil is the father of lies [John 8:44]. That’s how the devil works to bring destruction. When we believe a lie and act upon it, it brings ruin to our lives.
I’ve been listening to lectures by a Canadian psychologist and philosopher, Jordan Peterson. He believes in God but has not declared himself to be a Christian, yet he is very much seeing the beauty and truth of the Christian Gospel and is not afraid to speak about it in the very secular environment in which he teaches. He has given a series of lectures on the Old Testament. This week I watched the lecture: Adam and Eve: Self consciousness, Evil and Death. I don’t agree with some things but there is much wisdom in it.
As a clinical psychologist, Peterson says that there is a wealth of clinical evidence that “what cures in therapy is the truth.” He summarizes some of the major thinkers in psychology. He says, Freud understood that “repression, [which is a kind of self-deception], is at the heart of much mental suffering.” Adler understood “that people get into problems because they start acting out a lie in their lives.” Carl Rogers believed that “honest communication, mediated through dialogue, has redemptive consequences.” Behaviourist psychologists believe that if they do a careful microanalysis of the problems that are laid before them, and help introduce people to the things they are avoiding, that they can receive relief. Peterson summarizes by saying that these are secular variations on the religious saying (which is from Jesus), “the Truth shall set you free.” [St John 8:32]
He goes on to say, from his 20 years of clinical experience, that it seems people can generally survive traumas to health and from natural disasters but that what people find most difficulty dealing with is betrayal or deception from a loved one – a lie. Psychologists can help in the careful untying of the knots of deception and the lies and confusions which are holding people back from greater flourishing. And in this is their task we can be very grateful for them, they are working together for good.
There will also always be a place for the Church and its teachers in the untying of the knots of lies we tell ourselves around the relationship between human beings and especially in relation to God. The Church is a means to learn about truth and to grow in it. It is the recipient and steward of the Word of God written. And the Church is an instrument through which grace can flow – through its worship, its discipleship and fellowship and through the sacraments, to strengthen us to follow in the path of truth. Jesus said of himself, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we are his body.
I think you can probably see what this has to do with Lent and with our readings and with our lives here this morning. The readings are about the lies the devil spins to trick us and to bring ruin upon our lives and about seeing through them.
Jesus, God in the flesh, is the author this account. Since there were no other witnesses, he must have told the disciples what happened to him when he went into the wilderness by himself to be tempted by the devil. Jesus tells us this story because it is helpful for us when we are tempted by the author of lies.
Jesus does not defeat Satan by using super human powers like a superhero. And he does not defeat Satan by using His divine nature. Jesus defeats Satan by carefully cutting through the lies being told him as Jesus holds on to the truth. The implication are that we can do this too.
Remember that Jesus grows up as a human being and comes to know himself as the Messiah, the Son of God. We, are adopted sons and daughters of God, by our baptism and through faith. We are promised this in the Scriptures, by the actions of Jesus, by the sacrament that he established, by the writings of the Apostles that assure us of this fact. It is the very core of who we are in Christ – we don’t need to prove this to anyone. It is the start of the catechism – what is your name?… who gave you this name?… my godparents when I was baptized and became a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. Our being sons and daughters of God in Christ is foundational – and attacks on this status are demonic attacks – resist such attacks by recalling the promises of Christ, by recalling your baptism, your faith. Whatever our failures in our Christian walk, we do not sever that bond, that (ontological) reality [see for example. Romans 8:38, John 1:12]. We don’t have to prove it to ourselves or others.
So let’s look at the three temptations:
- The first temptation – Jesus reminds us (the devil actually doesn’t care to know) that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That every word from God’s mouth is the truth, God creates by speaking the Logos, the Word, and the Word is Truth. Jesus is saying that the foundation of our being is the truth – we are to live in the truth, we are to enact the truth by walking in it. This is where we find our freedom, this is how we find life and being itself. Food is important, but even prior to food, is truth.
- The second temptation – Jesus reminds us (the devil doesn’t care to know) that “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” God has created us with great power and freedom in our actions and that gives us great responsibility in this life – our actions matter, what we do for good or for ill has consequences, we can grow bitter and cynical and hate-filled or we can grow in wisdom and in love. What we enact is what we become. This is a terrifying responsibility – we must take seriously how we live our life. Don’t willingly violate God’s commands of love. If we do, return to the truth, return quickly to God with a contrite heart, pray for forgiveness, what we do matters!
- The third temptation – Jesus reminds us (the devil doesn’t care to know) that “you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Who we worship affects our very being: if we worship a lie, we will become a lie, we will tend towards non-being, towards nothingness; if we worship the living God, we will become like Him, Truth incarnate. And by the way, Jesus promises us that we will inherit all things…a curious statement, something worth pondering more.
This Lent we are to recall the importance of speaking and living in the truth. This is not the whole of our redemption, but it is a core element that we ignore at our peril. We can’t change the whole world and its problems, but we can start in small ways, by cutting through the lies we tell ourselves and others, and instead, speaking the truth clearly and living it out in our lives. We call upon the Holy Spirit to reveal the Truth and the Truth will set us free.