St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Tuesday, February 09, 2016
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Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “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.’ ”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Here at the beginning of the season of Lent, we return to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. At Jesus’ baptism, Jesus experiences the powerful affirmation that he belongs to God and that he is loved by God. John the Baptist was administering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness, or release, of sins. Jesus submits to John’s baptism, and when he comes up out of the water, he hears the Divine Voice, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” And it is just after this extraordinary affirmation that Jesus, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” is led in the wilderness where he experiences tests for 40 days and nights.
Forty days in the wilderness would remind the readers of Luke’s Gospel of the 40 years of wandering and testing that the Hebrew people endured after they were released from their bondage in Egypt and came up out of the water of the Red Sea. The earliest Christians, in other words, saw the events of Jesus’ life as mirroring the events of Israel’s release from bondage and their passing through the waters of baptism that swallowed up their pursuers. These were the events that set the people of Israel free and set the stage for their entering into a deeper relationship with God (just as baptism sets us free and sets the stage for our entering into a deeper relationship with God). In the wilderness, the people of Israel would receive the covenant, and they would promise their obedience. Of course, the Israelites would fail and become disobedient. So, in the events of Jesus’ life, the earliest Christians not only saw a mirroring of the life of Israel, but also a kind of undoing of Israel’s disobedience.
Another more general angle on the juxtaposition of the baptism and the testing in the wilderness would be to consider how times of affirmation, spiritual highs, consolations, and so on are often followed by times of testing,spiritual lows, desolations. While affirmation is good, we might consider the role that testing, temptations, wilderness, and even failure can play in our spiritual growth and maturation.
The lesson ends with the devil departing from Jesus “until an opportune time.” Of course, the devil will return when he enters Judas and sets the stage for Jesus’ last temptation at his arrest, trial and crucifixion.
Ideas for discussing the application of this lesson to our daily lives
1. When have you had the experience of being “filled with the Holy Spirit”? What is that like? What does it mean? And how can a person open himself or herself to be filled in this way?
2. Immediately after his powerful experience of God at his baptism, Jesus is led in the wilderness where he experiences temptations. What experience do you have of this pattern in your life – a powerful religious or spiritual experience being followed by a time of testing, temptation, and wilderness? How might such a period of testing, temptation, and wilderness be just as formative as the experience of powerful affirmation, love, and belonging?
3. What is your experience of spiritual wilderness? Have you had a sense of being ministered to when you were in the wilderness? What is it like trying to minister to others who are in their own wilderness? How can we love people through their times of wilderness? How do you love others when you are in the wilderness? How do you love yourself when you are in the wilderness?
4. Forty days is a long time. Imagine the extended periods of silence, the extra time to think. Barbara Brown Taylor asks, “Can you handle the silence, in which thoughts and feelings you have outrun will have time to catch up with you?” Is this why some people take a bottle of Scotch with them when they go on retreat?
5. The season of Lent is our 40 days. Where do you stand spiritually, here at the beginning of this Lent, your 40 days? How might God be calling you or leading you to use this Lenten season?
6. We might notice that Jesus does not engage the devil in arguments. Jesus simply quotes verses of Scripture to counter the way the devil uses Scripture.
What is your experience of people quoting Scripture to you in order to prove their point? Do you tend to get defensive or ensnared in argument? Or, is it enough to remember that “even the devil can quote Scripture”?
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