The Whispering, Taunting Devil

Text: Luke 4: 1-13

With the beginning of Lent, our Gospel text requires that we “go back” several spaces on the Lectionary board.

In the Advent and Christmas seasons, we heard of Gabriel visiting Mary, the angels proclaiming the Savior’s birth to the shepherds, and Jesus in the Temple at age 12. Mary held, treasured, and pondered these in her heart.

Then during Epiphany, we heard of the three Wise Men visiting the infant Christ-child, his Baptism, the “first” miracle of water to wine, his preaching in and banishment from his home-town, as well as the transfiguration on the mountain top.

Yet, our Gospel text is before the public ministry of Jesus… that is before the preaching, before the disciples, and before the miracles.

Instead we enter into Jesus’ experience immediately after the waters of Baptism, when the heavens opened and he heard “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”. Perhaps, this was Jesus’ real-time Epiphany to his identity as the Savior, as the Son of God.

We might ask, but how?

Jesus might not have had knowledge about his miraculous conception.
Jesus might not have had memory of the Shepherd or the Wise men, for he was an infant.
And Mary held, treasured, and pondered these experiences in her heart.

In his essay “Temptation and Testing: Made Like Us in All Things“, Dan Clendenin suggests that Mary might not have shared with Jesus his heavenly origin. Perhaps, Mary thought it more psychologically healthy if he did not know. If so, perhaps the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for solitude, for prayer to process the revelation, to understand his humanity and his divinity, and to prepare for his ministry.

Then after 40 days without food, Jesus was accompanied in the wilderness by the devil.

Perhaps, we should pause a moment. The devil, especially in the text, is not the Hollywood devil. This devil is not the supreme source of evil that reigns as the Prince of Darkness. This devil does not command the demonic forces. This devil is not the bright red-colored man complete with horns, a tail, and pitch-fork.

This devil is the accuser, who accompanied the first humans in the Garden of Eden. This devil repeats similar taunting tests to the human, the famished, the weakened Jesus in the wilderness.

Hungry? Of course, you been without food for 40 days and nights. Sustain yourself. IF, and I do mean IF, you are the Son of God transform these stones into bread.

This echoes the devil’s testing of the first humans.
Are you hungry for something sweet? You should try this fruit. Oh, God told you not to eat from this tree. Trust me, it will be fine.

Returning to the wilderness, the devil shows Jesus all the inhabited kingdoms of the earth.
Do you want glory and authority like God? Of course, all humans want to be God. You can have the glory and the authority of these kingdoms, you could be their god.

Again, this echoes the devil’s testing of the first humans.
Do you want to be like God? Of course, well if you eat this fruit you will be like God with the knowledge of Good and Evil.

However, unlike the first humans the devil had not convinced Jesus to cooperate. Therefore, the devil takes Jesus to the top of the Temple.
IF, and again I mean IF, you are the Son of God, you are not confined by the laws of nature. You can jump down from here without consequence, because God would not permit His son to be harmed.

If Jesus had failed this third test, it would have been a win-win for the devil. If Jesus had been rescued by the angels, then the Son of God had submitted to the devil. If Jesus had not been rescued by the angels, then the devil would not have to be concerned about Jesus’ ministry at the hands of nature.

Jesus does not indulge the devil, but how is the human, the faminished, the weakened Jesus able to resist the taunting devil?

Remember, Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and had been led by the Spirit into the wilderness…but the Holy Spirit did not part from him. Instead, the Spirit sustained Jesus with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, might, the fear (or trust) of the God, as well as the joy of divine presence.

Similarly, at the waters of Baptism the minister prays:
Sustain (insert your name) with the gifts of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen*

Then with the anointing oil the newly baptized are sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, the waters of baptism and the seal of the Holy Spirit does not immune us from the evil, from suffering, from the taunts and accusations of the devil.

Perhaps the devil is not taunting us with the false promise of divinity, but… the devil is whispering in our ears accusing, reminding the human creature that we are that… a sinful, unworthy, human creature.

How often has the devil whispered in your ear this morning? This week? This month?

For example, I have a long-time friend, who would describe herself as average… average looks, average intelligence, and average in abilities. Her family has family friends with a daughter only a couple of years younger than my friend. This girl competed in beauty pagents, attended charter schools that excelled her through grade levels, and was working on a professional music career.

My friend’s aunts and uncles begin to compare her to this family friend with comments such as:
You are not pretty enough to compete in or win beauty contests like her.
You are not smart enough to graduate early like her.
You are not talented enough to become a star like she will be.

These comments continue to weigh on my friend. If she bumps into her at a family function or in public, my friend instantly thinks “do I have to play nice? do I have to deal with this right now?”

Perhaps the devil manifest in our families and loved ones, who compare you with another…whispering in your ear that you will never be as “attractive”, as “smart”, as “talented”, or as “successful” as another.

Perhaps the devil manifests in our co-workers or classmates, who question your ability to complete a task…whispering in your ear that you are “not capable”, “not intelligent”, or “not talented” enough for the task at hand.

Perhaps the devil is manifested within ourselves:
We struggle against a lack of hope in the midst of failure.
We experience guilt in the midst of our sin.
We whisper in our own ears, “you are not worthy”.

These whispers weigh heavily on our minds, our hearts, and our souls crushing our confidence to dust and spiraling us into despair.

So, how might we (as humans) respond to the devil?
Perhaps, sealed with the Spirit, we may respond as Martin Luther recalls his confrontation with the devil. He wrote:
When I awoke last night, the Devil came and wanted to debate with me; he rebuked and reproached me, arguing that I was a sinner. To this I replied: Tell me something new, Devil!

So may we, sustained by the Holy Spirit tell the accusing, whispering Devil. I know I am a sinner. I know I am imperfect, how about you come back when you have something new to tell me. Amen!

*Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 231

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