Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Devil Went Down to Jordan (Mark 1:12-13)

Starving, sun-bleached, and surrounded by wild animals, Jesus sure had a rough post-baptism celebration. No one knows why Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, felt it absolutely necessary to go down into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Maybe he was trying to give us a good example, to show what it looks like for human beings to resist Satan; that's the path that I am going down with this post. Option #2 excites me though; since Jesus came to cast [a revolutionary] fire on the earth and to seek and save that which is lost (Luke 12.49-50 and 19.10) -both through his violent crucifixion- maybe the other parts of his life helped to serve the same purpose. Maybe, in being tempted by the Devil, Jesus was actually standing in the place of sinners so that his victory and righteousness could be counted as ours. Like I said, that's not where this post is going, but it's worth a thought just for the implications of it. Let me know what you think about that. But on with the actual post.
The Devil Went Down to Jordan (Mark 1.12-13, With Additions)
"Immediately Joshua, full of the Holy Spirit, was compelled by the Spirit to go into the wilderness to be tempted by the Accuser. He was in the wilderness 40 days. After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. Then the Tempter approached Him and said, 'If You are the Son of God, tell these stones, even this stone, to become bread.' But Joshua answered, 'It is written: Man must not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8.3).' Then the Accuser took Him to the holy city Jerusalem, had Him stand 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 give His angels orders concerning you, and they will support you with their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone (Psalm 91.11-12).' Joshua replied, 'It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 6.16).' So the Accuser took Him up to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The Accuser said to Him, 'I will give You their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. If You, then, will worship me, all will be Yours.' Then Joshua told him, 'Go away, Enemy! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him (Deuteronomy 6.13).' Then the Accuser left Him until an opportune season, and He was with the wild animals, and the angels began to serve Him."

-Mark, Matthew, and Luke (HCSB)
(For note on the text, see end of blog post*)
The demon who seems to lead all of the others is called a lot of things. Sometimes he is called Satan (meaning 'enemy'), other times it's the devil (meaning 'accuser'), and other times the Bible just calls him the Tempter. Remember this about him: along with his other not-so-noble qualities (see John 8 where Jesus calls him a liar and a murderer), Satan is also the tempter, the accuser (devil), and the enemy (satan) of all that God calls good.

Temptation: Distraction, Presumption, and Sin
The First Temptation:
Sometimes, the Devil’s temptations are more about distraction than they are about sin. In telling the Messiah to eat bread, the Devil was telling him not to focus so much on praying and meditating on the Bible; he wanted Joshua to be distracted and disconnected from God. Does that happen to us? Sure. I don’t know how many times I have started a project meant to serve God, only to give up because I am hungry, want to hang out with some friends, or need a nap – “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and [spiritual] poverty will overcome you like an armed man,” so the proverb goes. Ancient Christians also experienced this, like St. Anthony, who went out into the desert for prayer and was tempted by Satan with some of the legitimate cares of the world (like family). When the Holy Spirit leads us to do something, we need to keep on going despite distraction and spiritual opposition. Satan wants us to be ineffective.

The Second Temptation: Sometimes the Devil tries to give assurances that we should not have. When Joshua the Messiah was tempted to jump off the temple so that angels could catch him, it is pretty likely that Satan wanted –and expected- Joshua to fall splat on the pavement below and die. The second temptation is one of presumption, imposing on the grace of God. For us Calvinists, this is a big temptation: do we take up dangerous activities because of our trust in God’s providence? I have caught myself doing some really dangerous stunts because “if God has predestined me to die, I’ll die anyways, but if God wants me to live, then I’m gonna land this.” That is really just a variation on Joshua’s temptation to jump so that angels can catch him. Joshua comes back with this quote from Deuteronomy: “Do not test the LORD your God.” Let’s remember not to test God and presume upon his grace.

The Third Temptation: When it isn’t about distraction, or presumption, the temptations of Satan are just outright invitations to sin: when we have spent long enough without praying and reading the Bible (distraction), and we have not been protecting ourselves from dangerous activities or sketchy situations (presumption), we are easy marks for sin. Satan had told Joshua the Messiah to worship him, an outright violation of the first (!) of the Ten Commandments. Likewise, we are tempted to beat up other people, to be sarcastic to our spouses, or to steal something from another person. The reality is that all sin is a violation of the command not to worship other gods besides the LORD: in breaking the commands of God, we make sin our master and worship at its altar, and make it our new god.

Tactics: Opportune Timing, Confusion, and Twisting Scripture
When had Satan come to tempt the Lord? When he was hungry, desperate, and weak. He comes to tempt when the defences have been let down and weariness has set in; he picks his spot and waits “for an opportune season.” That is why St. Peter urges in his letter, “Be alert! Stay awake! Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” How had Satan come to tempt the Lord? By making him doubt his relationship to the Father (unsuccessfully – "if you are the son of God..."), the same as he made Eve doubt her relationship with God (successfully – “God knows that if you eat of this tree…”). Also, Satan likes to use and twist Scripture. He quoted the Psalms to tempt Joshua, showing that Satan and those who follow him are capable of using the Bible in a misleading way. While not exhaustive, these are some of the tactics of Satan.

Resist: Know Who You Are, Speak to God, and Stand Firm in the Word
Our Saviour shows us how to resist the devil, so that he will flee from us (James 4.7). First, Joshua took care to know his relationship to God, and got to be firm in his knowing of who he was: Satan could make innuendos by saying “if you are the Son of God…” all day, but that would not faze Joshua. He knew who he was, and he knew who God is. Second, he spent time in fasting and prayer: this kept the line of communication with the Father open, so that he could ask for strength to fight the Enemy. Third, meditating on, and memorizing, books of the Bible is important: at least two of the temptations were not even direct invitations to sin, and Jesus could only recognize these temptations because he had spent a length of time reading Deuteronomy (where the prohibitions were) just recently – and because of this, when Satan tries to make Joshua do something unwise, Joshua resists him by quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy.

The Devil's Party: The Flesh and the World
Satan has backup in your life: the world around you, and the God-built desires that drive your human body, can and will be used against you. Satan already owns all the kingdoms of the world, so culture is his ground. He is free to use the world against you, to peer pressure you into abandoning your zeal for Christianity. As for the God-given desires of the human body, Satan knows that hunger can be turned into gluttony, the drive to procreate can be turned into all kinds of immorality, and the need for sleep can be turned into laziness. For this reason, it would be a good idea to discipline your body like St. Anthony (see link below), to gain control over your bodily drives and psychological needs so that Satan can’t use them against you.

A Quick Word of Advice
Talking about spiritual warfare –because that’s what this blog post is about- is easy. Acting in light of the existence of Satan, and being aware of his temptations to distraction, presumption, and sin in our lives is harder. If this article was helpful, then put the information to good use and resist the devil so that he will flee from you. Find out where his strategies are being put into effect in your life. Pray often for strength. Stay in the Word. Think long and hard about the goodness of God and your relationship to him. Do these things, and your life will be more exciting and God honoring and dangerous.

Some Links for Spiritual Warfare
I do not usually do this with blogs in the Mark series, but spiritual warfare is such an important topic that further reading is a good idea. Here are a few links that I think will help:

  • Matthew Henry on Gospel of Matthew 4.1-11 - Commentary on the temptation of Jesus, with a lot of good application. Long, but worth it. Matthew Henry nails it.
  • Athanasius, The Life of Saint Anthony - St. Anthony was the father of Desert Monastics - the men who left affluence and wealth to go and connect with God in the desert. While pioneering this new lifestyle, he fought in very intense ways with Satan and thus serves as a good role model for us to follow in the midst of our temptation. When reading, focus on his drawn out battles with Satan and demons.
  • Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices - I have not read this 160-page booklet by the old Puritan, but Mark Driscoll recommends it VERY highly. The Puritans tend to be very Biblical, thorough, spiritual, and knowledgeable; I think this would be a helpful resource to print out and read bit by bit.
    *NOTES ON THE TEXT: (1) Joshua. Joshua and Jesus are different forms of the same name. Calling him Joshua sounds more common, and reinforces that God came as a man with a familiar name and without power or glory to attract people to him. It seems more familiar, more real. (2) Compelled. Mark says that Jesus "was driven" by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Matthew and Luke both say that he was "led," so I picked a word that sort of carried the meaning of both descriptions. (3) Names of the Devil. Accurately speaking, the devil has no true name that we are aware of - devil means accuser, and satan means enemy; these aren't actual names, so I just rendered the meaning of the words, and I think that carries more of a punch. (4) Parenthesis. I included the Scripture references in parenthesis to show that Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy every time - this is important because it shows that Jesus was meditating on a book of the Bible, studying through it, which is something that I feel we should do more often as Christians (thus the blog series).

    No comments:

    Post a Comment

    Start or join a conversation! Please do not use the 'Anonymous'; option; use the Name/URL form and leave a first and last name (or last initial). Thank you.