The season of ‘Lent’ has become a ‘Christian Cultural’ time for more than just your old-fashioned Liturgical believers. Social media is full of people posting about what they are ‘giving up for Lent’, but it’s hard to tell if anyone actually knows why they’re doing it.
Growing up in the Lutheran church, I became extremely familiar with the church calendar (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, etc). At the most basic level, many people consider Lent the preparation for Easter. This isn’t entirely wrong, but it’s also not entirely true. Moreover, the parts which make it not entirely true are critically important to truly experiencing Lent.
What Is Lent?
Lent begins 46 days (or 40 days plus Sundays) before Easter. During this time, Christians are encouraged to remember Jesus’ three temptations in the desert prior to beginning his earthly ministry. To physically relate to Jesus’ resistance to temptation and willingness to go without, many believers have chosen to ‘go without’ during the Lent season. Some give up things like chocolate or soda while others give up video games and television. These acts are not bad, in and of themselves, but do they miss the point?
When Jesus was in the desert, he wasn’t just depriving himself for the sake of doing it. The story of Satan tempting Jesus illustrates the dominance of God’s Will over all things of men.
Jesus in the Desert
In Matthew 4, we find the story of Jesus as he walked in the desert for 40 days without food or water. Each temptation teaches us something important about God’s supremacy.
The First Temptation of Christ
Then the Spirit led Yeshua up into the wilderness to be tempted by the Adversary. After Yeshua had fasted forty days and nights, he was hungry. 3 The Tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, order these stones to become bread.”But he answered, “The Tanakh says,
‘Man does not live on bread alone,but on every word that comes from the mouth of Adonai’” (Matthew 4:1-4, CJB)
In the first temptation, Satan tried to convince Jesus to create food for his body. From the text, we can infer that Jesus had already been wandering in the desert for 40 days and was at his very weakest. At this time, Satan wanted Jesus to use his power to support his own desires. It’s important for us to realize that Christ’s power and authority on earth was always used to support those around him and never pointed at his own pleasure. God’s Will was that Jesus would come to earth to save and serve God’s creation. If Satan could convince Jesus to abandon God’s Will to ease the pain of his earthly body, that would mean that the needs of the flesh were greater than the Will of God.
Think of the implications of something like that. If the urges of Christ’s physical body were stronger than God’s Will, might Jesus have saved himself from death on the cross? Might Christ have chosen to not be beaten and mocked by the crowds during his arrest? The entire story of salvation would be broken. When we realize how much God’s Will reigning over the flesh was crucial to the entire story of salvation, we can understand why Satan wanted to tempt Christ during this vulnerable time.
Likewise, we can understand why God wanted to subject himself to this sort of temptation simply to prove his supremacy and authority over Satan and the desires of our human bodies.
The Second Temptation of Christ
Then the Adversary took him to the holy city and set him on the highest point of the Temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “jump! For the Tanakh says,
‘He will order his angels to be responsible for you. . . .They will support you with their hands,so that you will not hurt your feet on the stones.’”
Yeshua replied to him, “But it also says, ‘Do not put Adonai your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7, CJB)
In the second temptation of Christ, we find Satan challenging Christ in an intellectual way. Satan quotes scripture to try to draw Jesus away from God’s Will.
This image is crucially important to our daily lives in western Christianity. As someone who has attended his fair share of education, I have spent time with several extremely educated individuals who were not so friendly towards the Christian faith. Interestingly enough, many of them had grown up around churches or in Christian schools and were VERY knowledgeable on the scriptures. The problem is that many of these individuals are reading to learn and not reading to understand. They want to learn the things the Bible says and not apply it to their hearts and their minds in a synchronous way. Because of this, they misquote, take things out of context, and walk away arrogantly like they have ‘defeated’ the Bible when in reality they’ve only succeeded in defeating the Bible they’ve created in their head.
Satan was doing a very similar thing. Satan was misquoting a verse in Psalms as if to say, “See, Jesus, your own holy people say this. Surely you don’t disagree with them!” Jesus’ response was not to correct Satan’s use of the Bible, but to expose the truth: Do not put God to the test.
Interestingly enough, the word “test” here isn’t just a pop quiz or testing the waters. The word for ‘test’ here is coming from a passage in Deuteronomy that specifically calls out testing God’s supremacy over all things. You might say ‘so what?’ The profoundness in this simply word is in how Jesus was responding to Satan. Jesus wasn’t just cherry-picking a verse that says, “Stop tempting me”. Jesus knew that Satan was testing God’s Will and a test to God’s Will is a test to God’s supremacy as creator of all things and king of kings. Jesus deliberately tells Satan that nothing, not the desires of the flesh or knowledge of man, can compare to the awesome power of our God.
The Third Temptation of Christ
Once more, the Adversary took him up to the summit of a very high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their glory, and said to him, “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.” “Away with you, Satan!” Yeshua told him, “For the Tanakh says,
‘Worship Adonai your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the Adversary let him alone, and angels came and took care of him. (Matthew 4:8-11, CJB)
The last temptation of Christ is a temptation for earthly power. Remember that Jesus’ life was all about self-sacrifice and an eventual death on a cross. Whether Satan had the authority to actually “offer” the kingdoms of the world to Jesus or not is irrelevant. The REAL temptation here is an escape from the death and suffering throughout his ministry and a far greater life on earth than one that would ultimately lead to the death of a criminal. This was a test to how Christ would assume his place as Lord over all creation.
It is important to note that Jesus knew he would die but also knew he would eventually come back again (Revelations) and take his seat administrating the new creation on earth. Satan may have offered an easier way, but no matter of “easier” is more appealing than the Will of God. Every single temptation of Christ, in it’s own way, is a validation that God’s Will will be done regardless of what temptations or roadblocks may stand in the way.
Jesus continually uses scripture to combat the devil. Each time he delves into chapters in Deuteronomy which describes God’s law and promise to his people. It is God’s holy word given to the Israelites to help strengthen the relationship between God and man. God uses these phrases that apply to a nation and personalizes them. While before we learned that God will deliver ‘his people’, Jesus comes to deliver ‘me’. Why before God was worshiped by the people of Israel and a host of nations, Jesus comes so that we can have an intimate one-on-one relationship with God. Jesus’ responses personalize the promises made to a nation which further illustrates that Jesus comes for us as individuals and not just as a group.
Remember God’s promise is crucial to experiencing Lent. I think it is good to practice giving things up during the season of Lent, but when we do it let it mean something deeper than just Facebook posts and Tweets. Let it remind us of God’s personal relationship with his people and the salvation we have in him.