The following is the fourth in a series of weekly reflections composed for distribution to Peace Fellowship Church in Washington, D.C. All of the reflections for Lent are derived from Luke 4, focusing on themes of wilderness and temptation.
In Luke’s account of Jesus’s temptation in Chapter 4, we get a fascinating picture of the struggles Jesus is facing. Unlike Israel’s wandering in the desert, Jesus is confronted with a seemingly physical embodiment of temptation, which Matthew and Luke call diabolos, or devil. In this way, Jesus’s temptation is more like Adam and Eve’s in the garden, and though the writer of Genesis never calls the snake “devil” or “Satan,” it certainly plays the same role as the tempter in Luke.
As was mentioned in a previous devotion, it is helpful to think of temptation primarily as a desire to worship something other than the true God. By this definition, Adam and Eve’s original sin was not simply about disobedience, but giving in to worship of knowledge instead of God. They gave up their vocation as divine image bearers and stewards of creation and instead gave homage to a snake and a tree. They became servants of a different god.
However, the parallel between Jesus and Adam and Eve is important not only because of the nature of their temptation, but because the stories highlight the source of their temptation. Put another way, both Luke and Genesis go out of the way to name the accuser (aka Satan) in contrast to the loving provision of God. There is such a thing as evil and that evil wants our worship and allegiance. We too must learn to name our accusers.
Of course, we must be careful when talking about the source of our temptation. It is easy to shift blame for our actions to someone or something else. “The devil made me do it” or something like that can quickly become a way to avoid responsibility. Often we are our own accuser and tempter. Our sin and pride compete with our true selves. And while sometimes it may be helpful to think of evil as personified in one figure like the devil, we must be careful not to imagine a red, hoofed creature with a pitch fork, essentially making a caricature of evil and thus maybe not taking it seriously. Often, as we all know, evil is cloaked in respectable, civil clothing, and is more a force than an individual person.
Yet with these cautions in mind, we are challenged to name the parts of our life and world that would call us to worship and trust something other than God. It might be money, or sex, or status. It might be a relationship or a job. Individual people or situations can play the role of the Satan without being Satan in the flesh. An “accuser” is simply something that questions God’s faithfulness and worthiness of all our worship. We can see such accusers in positions of government, in schools, and even in churches sometimes—people who would point us toward something other than God alone. We might need help seeing our accusers—certainly Adam and Eve did!—and our community and spiritual friends can be that mirror for us.
When we look at these two stories of temptation—Jesus and Adam and Eve—we see two contrasting ways of responding—fear and mistrust, or sublime trust and confidence in God’s goodness. Lent is the season of darkness, of mourning the lostness of ourselves and the world. We must go deeper into that darkness to discover the Light of the World. Lent provides the context for asking again of ourselves and our world, “To whom shall we give worship?” And as the Bible says over and over, most clearly in Revelation 4 and 5, only the One who “was and is and is to come” and the Lamb who conquers at Easter are worthy.