MONDAY AFTER THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT
"Get behind Me, Satan!"
Luke tells us that after his unsuccessful attempt to tempt Jesus in the desert, the devil retreated from Jesus until a more opportune time.
One such opportune time occurred in Caesarea Philippi. Peter had just confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus rejoiced, and He praised and blessed Peter. Then He spoke about the Church that would be founded upon the confession Peter had just made. The relationship between Jesus and His disciples had never been better.
Then Jesus began to speak about His suffering. Peter was terrified. He took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him zealously. What Peter said came from the best of intentions. He sincerely cared for his Lord. He thought God was on His side: “Far be it from You, Lord" (Matthew 16:22)!
Still Jesus said, "Get behind Me, Satan!" That sounds harsh, but it was the truth. The tempter had emerged again, the same one to whom Jesus once said in the desert, "Be gone, Satan" (Matthew 4:10)! He came with a temptation of the very same sort he tried to use in the desert. He begins with these kinds of temptations when he wants to separate us from God. They don't appear to be evil or something God had expressly forbidden. His proposals sound reasonable and well intentioned. If Jesus was God’s Son, why would He then wander around in the desert hungry, starving like a beggar? If He had a good and merciful Father in heaven, then He shouldn't have to suffer and be killed.
This is one of the tempter's greatest opportunities: He appeals to what seems reasonable and right, but only in the short term as we see things. (He had already used this method to get the world to fall into sin the first time. It was, of course, a good tree that stood in the Garden of Eden. There wasn't any real reason for this good fruit to be forbidden.) But Jesus answered Peter, "You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Matthew 16:23). And to the tempter He said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). The first and most important question is not what common sense says is most beneficial or appears more rational, profitable, or loving. The foremost question is what comes from the mouth of God: what God has said, His thoughts, His eternal will. Everything is encompassed in these things. A proper and successful life must always be formed after God's will—even when we think we know better.
Lord, how often do I think I know better? I feel sorry for myself and for others, and then I think that it isn't necessary to go the way You show us. It's so hard to crucify the old Adam in me. I might be willing to do it myself, but I feel that others shouldn't have to. I see how hard it can be for them to forgive, to demand justice, to obey all laws and decrees, to give their money and time. You know it's difficult for me to reproach and admonish them—but many times this isn't even Your desire. Help me to always live entirely after what You desire and do it so joyfully that others begin yearning to be with You and do Your will because nothing can be a wiser or better choice. Amen.
FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT
But one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the Spirit led Him out into the wilderness, Matthew says. The wilderness was the rocky desert in Judah, where steep mountaintops rise above the Jordan valley. Through deep ravines, you finally reach the barren desert. Jesus withdrew to the desert where John the Baptist had lived before making His appearance in Israel. He wanted to be alone with God before He began the work He had consecrated Himself to in Baptism.
This is where He met the tempter. Where did he come from? People in Israel answered that he was once one of God's angels, a being to whom God gave life, freedom, and an independent will. He abused all of this to try to take God's place. There's an allusion to this in Isaiah, chapter 14: "You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of Cod I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north' " (14:13). Satan wanted to be like God. He wanted to make his own decisions. He decided to do what God did not want: evil. He was also successful in taking a part of creation with him in the fall. He tricked the first people into trusting him more than God. Ever since, there has been an unrelenting antagonism between God and Satan, between light and darkness, between love and selfishness.
The devil is a particular power with lifelike desires. He thinks. He has a plan. He takes initiative. He fights to keep his hold on us.
The decisive conflict came when Jesus came into the world. Satan knew what this meant. He tried to take the Christ Child's life. His plan was unsuccessful. Then he tried to win Jesus over to his side. God's Son was, of course, true man. He lived in the same relationship to God as the first humans. He lived in perfect confidence and childlike openness with God. Satan was successful once in destroying this relationship. Why shouldn't he be able to do the same thing again?
So he tried. It's imperative that we think about the temptations Jesus experienced as very real temptations. They were not imaginary. Christ was really tempted in everything just as we are. He could have done whatever He wanted. He could've secured all the advantages in life that usually entice us. That was, of course, what the temptation in the desert meant: He would not have to experience hunger or danger, He would be able to use His power to gain the respect or others. He would be able to create an empire with help from the resources the devil had at His disposal.
But Jesus said no. He was faithful to God. He was the first man ever to fully resist the tempter.
So You, too, had to struggle with temptation, Lord Jesus. Not just once in the desert, but Your whole life. And I once believed that Satan never existed! How could we be so blind, Lord? How could we blame Your Father for everything the evil one does? Lord, help me see the seriousness of it. Help me see how You fought and struggled against all the evil one's actions and his very nature. I thank You for Your victory and that I can be part of it. I submit myself to Your protection and thank You for allowing me to stand by Your side. Amen.
SATURDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY
"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
Today we again read a Bible text that allows us to peek through the door into Christ's heart. Like yesterday's text, it allows us to imagine what compelled Jesus to go to Jerusalem. The text describes something that happened after Jesus entered Jerusalem. When He had spoken to the people in the temple, it became all too clear that the people would forsake God's offer of forgiveness and throw away their last chance.
On one of those days, Jesus was given a message that there were some Greeks who wanted to meet Him. We aren't told why. Maybe it was some of the same curiosity and superficial sympathy that had drawn the crowds to Him in Galilee. Jesus knew how little this meant. So when He answered, He spoke of something completely different than what His admirers had expected. He spoke of the last way out, of God's secret plan, humanity’s only possibility for justification. The Son of man, God's own Son, who was the only true God, would give His life for them.
Jesus openly said that His soul was in agony. He asked His Father to save Him from this hour (John 12:27). But He knew that was exactly why this moment was at hand: to carry out the ultimate plan of salvation, the most extreme demonstration of God's mercy. Now is the time for judgement of this world, He said. Now the prince of this world will be driven out. God can never compromise with evil. The eternal gap between Him and Satan can't be bridged.
The destitute people on the wrong side of the gap still can be saved, but only if God's own Son gives His life for them. He is the grain of wheat that must fall to earth and die. If He didn't die, He would remain a single grain of wheat—the only Righteous One, the only One who remained faithful to God, and the only One who deserved a place in His kingdom. But when the grain of wheat dies, it bears much fruit. The prophet Isaiah foretold this: "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring' He shall prolong His days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand" (53:10).
My Lord and Savior, You didn't love Your life so much that You avoided death. You gave it so I would live. It was just as hard for You as it would've been for anyone to be tortured and die, and yet You did it. I know there was no alternative—otherwise Your Father would have spared You. We wouldn't have deserved anything else. But You took it upon Yourself for my sake. I can never thank You enough for that. Take my life and form it according to Your will, for Your service and for Your glory. Amen.
FRIDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY
“Sir, let it alone this year also."
Only Luke wrote about the events we read about in today's Scripture reading. On the way to Jerusalem, people told Jesus about Pilate's recent outrageous action. He ordered an assault on some Galileans and mixed their blood with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1). Luke does not record why Pilate took this action. Those who reported the terrible news probably wanted to hear what Jesus had to say about it. Jesus bluntly replied that the same would happen to us all if we didn't repent. He reminded them of another tragic event. A tower had fallen in Jerusalem and took eighteen lives. The people wondered why things like that happened. Did the victims deserve to suffer for some reason? No more than anybody else, Jesus answered. If we don't repent, we will all perish.
To fall from God means to be separated from God. In the end, to be separated from God means ruin and destruction. This is true not only of the few who are such obvious and manifest sinners that everyone disapproves of their behavior. Falling away from God is to not love God more than everything else, to not have Him as the Lord of your heart.
Since the fall into sin, an unfortunate fate looms over humanity. That's what Jesus speaks about in the parable of the unfruitful fig tree. He was speaking about Himself and people. He came from God. He was God's Messiah, a messenger bringing joy and forgiveness and calling men to God's kingdom. For three years, He had spread His message on earth. He could say, For three years, I've been here looking for fruit on the trees. But I haven't found any. The logical course of action would be to cut down the trees. That's exactly what the Baptist had said at God's command: the ax at the root of the tree. Every tree that doesn't bear fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire.
But there is Someone who interceded for the wretched fig tree. Jesus is speaking about Himself here. He is like the gardener in the vineyard. He prayed that the owners of the vineyard would leave the vines alone one more year. During that time He would do His best, turn the soil around the tree and fertilize it. Perhaps, in the end, it would bear fruit.
When Jesus went to Jerusalem, it was to make one attempt. The people were given a respite. Jesus carried the burdens of His people and all of humanity in His heart. He saw the danger, and would do His best to avert it.
Lord, dear Father in heaven, how many times have You come, looking for fruit and not finding any? And yet You let me remain in Your vineyard. Lord Jesus Christ, I thank You for interceding. I know what would have happened if You hadn't taken me on Your shoulders. Help me seize the day today, tomorrow, and every other day as a day of grace and a gift from You. I know there is a good reason for it because You gave it to me. Help me to do and be whatever You wanted when You gave it to me. Amen.