Slideshow image

Welcome to the desert.  

A land overtaken by isolation, depression and anxiety. A land of no abundance but rationing of supplies.   COVID-19 has changed our lives. It has made us depart from our usual way of socializing. We are required to distance ourselves from one another and to self-isolate - even from our loved ones - something very hard for me to do.

Where is the silver lining in this? What about an end date? When will everything return to normal?  The only consolation I have to offer both to myself and you is this: that Jesus, God-with-us, was tested in the same way.

Matthew 4:1-11 (ESV) says:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (ESV)

Jesus was tested by the Devil in three ways:

  1. In the first case, Jesus has been refraining from food and drink by fasting in prayer. The Devil knows this and offers him something to eat. Here, Jesus turns us toward being fed by Scripture instead of just seeking to satisfy the desires of the body. During this time, may we too be filled with that which brings us peace and the consolation of a deeper meaning: Scripture, spiritual songs, prayer, meditation, worship, and the support of friends, family and fellow Christians.
  2. Jesus responds to the second temptation by saying: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. How often do we test God by thinking he doesn’t care? We say, “If you cared this wouldn’t be happening.' The reality is that God does care very much indeed. His ways are beyond our comprehension, but we can be assured of his abundant and lifegiving love. 
  3. Finally, Jesus is tested with the ultimate temptation: worshipping something or someone other than God. Jesus does not give in. Jesus knows Scripture like the back of his hand. But more importantly, Jesus knows how to fight the Devil with it. It’s hard for those of us who don’t know the Bible that well. But what should be our focus is that whenever we are faced with a problem, we have the answer to it: the Word of God.

We have Jesus to remind us how to live, pray, read Scripture and fight the good fight. 

I know this is a time when all of us will be tested - I sure have been!  But we must remember that we have been given the tools and the knowledge to fight this battle.  Prior to our passage, Jesus has just been baptized and empowered by the Holy Spirit. A voice tells us all that this is God’s Son. And then he was led out into the wilderness.     

God prepared us to suffer and endure like Jesus with the very same Spirit.  ‘For God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ (2 Tim. 1:7). He has given us the ability to be obedient and strong in Jesus, even in the most impossible times. And He has graced us with the most beautiful gift of adoption: a gift that empowers us to live like beloved children of God and siblings of the Suffering Servant.

Jesus’ story did not end in death, but in resurrection to eternal life. May our story in this pandemic be one in which we witness to Christ’s endurance, patience and strength. 

+++

Artwork: Briton Rivière, The Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness (1898).