You are invited to come along with me during this Season of Lent to reflect on the inner voices of different characters of Scripture during Jesus’ life. This is new territory for me as I embark to engage Scripture creatively, listening for what surfaces between the lines of the text. My prayer before I begin writing is that the Spirit guides my words and for the words to be an offering to God. I begin this week with Satan, who I like to refer to as “The Tempter”. May this prompt your own consideration of imagination and theology as friends, not foes.
We begin with two readings from the Book of Luke:
Luke 3:21-23 “ When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.”
Luke 4:1-13 “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.”
Setting the Scene: Satan is reflecting on Jesus, not yet privy to the baptism about to take place.
This is the one I’ve been waiting for to grow into manhood. The promised Son. The one prophesied about. Yes… he’s a bit of a weakling, this Jesus. Since he was a child his heart has been for the down and under. He’s always reached out to those on the fringe sharing what he has with others. His different ways have not gone unnoticed; especially his time spent with the rabbis asking question after question. I’ve seen the way his brother, James, sneers at him from time to time. Jesus is sure to fall quick, and I am just the one to make it happen. Sooner than later is best. No need for his ministry to take off; I will cut him at the knees quick. This is what I do best. Whisper doubts and tempt with all the desires of a man’s heart. I’ve had a ball watching humans fall and fall again. All I need to do is throw them a seed of power, a bit of false security or a tad of affection from another mortal and before long, they’ve forgotten about God’s love, compassion and provision. Instead, their focus is marred as they notice the tiny flaws in those around them. Now that Jesus is here, let’s see how his so-called divinity stands up to my way.
What should I make of this big gathering of people and Jesus by the river? A different kind of baptism being proclaimed*? One calling for a turn from an old way of living towards a new way? A change? I can’t stand it! Who needs change towards a way of mercy and forgiveness? Accepting the unclean and poor is unthinkable! Who needs acceptance and love? The ways of power, security, greed, lust. These are the cornerstones that keep humans battling with the other. I’ve seen them divide men from the onset. Always pointing fingers at those around them while serving their own best interests. How could one divine man create change? How could a little dip in a river transform hearts. Wait. What is this voice I hear? “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”. Why does envy and anger burn within me?
Jesus must be on some high after leaving the Jordan surrounded by friends, being proclaimed ‘beloved’. Where could he be heading now? I’ll creep in the shadows and follow him. Wait. No, this is TOO good. Too easy. He can’t be! Right into the desert. Yes! Perfect! After such a pinnacle moment Jesus plummets into the barrenness of the desert. Where the hot, dry air forces souls to do anything, anything for a drip of water! Where hunger twists a belly until it groans deep. The desert is such a lonely space that cries for connection. This feeble Jesus will surely give over to my ways in His parched, delicate state. This is the moment.
This stone is perfect. Round, large, about the size of a crusty loaf of bread. Let me dust off my envy and slip on my charm. I think I’ll challenge his divine power. It’s clear to me some food would give him the energy to sustain his body for the rest of His days in the desert. Surely, if he is really the Son of God, he has the ability to change a mere stone into some food. Interesting, he doesn’t take my bait. Of course! He’s using Torah… the line I’ve never understood, ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ This Jesus, using riddles and rhymes on me. If this is the way he’s planning to gain followers, he needs work.
Deep breath. Onto my next step. I’ll simply grab Jesus’ frail arm and lead him to a high place. My charisma is in top form. Bam! I flash before him governments, economies, religious kingdoms and beyond. I entice him with power and the affections of all. All Jesus has to do is worship little old me. I, mean, I have dominion to give these kingdoms to anyone at all. Afterall, they are mine! With Jesus worshiping me, my name will be great! Tales will be spun about God’s son leaving him behind to follow “The Tempter”. This pious man is not even flinching. Did he honestly reply with more Torah, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only”? Even in his wretched condition he remembers the one he calls Abba.
That’s it. No more charisma. I seethe from his defiance. Straight to Jerusalem we go! Here we stand, the highest part of the temple. He thinks he is so smart using lines of Torah on me. Doesn’t he know? I am well-acquainted with the Torah, too. I’ll simply use it on Him for my purposes. All he needs to do is throw himself down from this temple and see if God is sovereign. After all, God promises to care for his beloved boy with the tender hands of angels. Doesn’t Jesus have even a bit of doubt if this is true? Doesn’t he want to tempt fate and see if his Abba will protect him? Again, more Torah plainly stated in my face, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Maybe I have misjudged this Jesus. Maybe he is not as weak as I originally thought. Jesus might not be weak, but His followers will be. I’ll just go after one of them. My work here is done. For now.
Name one or two areas of your own life are you most easily tempted. What helps you (or could help you) resist this temptation? Is there a possible opportunity to share with a friend about your temptation and commit to pray for one another?
It’s interesting how simply perusing a book will stay in your subconscious when you need it. These books are a few that have stayed in the crevices of my brain to help with this writing:
· The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
· Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who by Frederich Buechner
* This concept of a new type of baptism (versus a ritual washing) was laid out in Chapter 20 of Brian McLaren’s book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World