With yesterday’s celebration of Ash Wednesday, the season known as “Lent” has officially begun. Lent is a 40-day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter, meant to represent the 40-day period that Jesus spent in the desert at the onset of his public ministry (Read the story here).
While in the desert, we are told that Jesus fasted, and so one of the most notable markers of Christians celebrating Lent is selective fasting for forty days — giving up any number of things for the forty day period. Some examples of the most common items are listed below (based on twitter #lent hashtags, source: Christianity Today):
Giving something up can be a great thing. Denying our fleshly desires and using that energy to focus on God can be a great spiritual discipline. But I think this story teaches a couple other lessons, and that all believers would do well to glean some wisdom from this narrative. (For reference purposes, I will be following Matthew’s account of the story).
THE SPIRIT DID THE LEADING (4:1)
The first fact we see in this story is that Jesus was led by the spirit, for the purpose of being tempted. If the Spirit would lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, he might similarly lead us into times of dryness. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in your weakness.” We shouldn’t live our lives focusing on staying within a comfortable situation, assuming that trouble is always the Devil’s doing. The devil doesn’t show up in this story until the end of the 40 days. Before that it was just a time of hardship. Times of dryness and periods in the “valley,” offer Christians opportunities to feel their own weakness and rely on God’s strength.
SATAN USED SCRIPTURE (4:6)
We need to be seriously watchful against this. Satan knows the Bible, and probably better than you or I. He knows his opponent, has advanced scouting reports and has watched lots and lots of game film. Don’t take him lightly.
Seriously, though, it needs to be pointed out that Satan knows what the Bible says, and in this story he shows that he is okay with mangling it to serve his purposes. He doesn’t say anything that’s unbiblical, but he tries to apply it to meet Jesus’ personal desires. Likewise, as we approach all kinds of cultural issues, we can see many people support their agenda with Scripture but often times they don’t take into account what the whole of Scripture has to say on the topic.
Sometimes it can be a great thing to challenge the “establishment.” But we must be cautious of Scripture being used to push our own agendas. Lies are simply false statements, but deceptions are lies wrapped in truth. Satan is a master deceiver. Be wise in how you accept these arguments and ground yourself in the Biblical text first.
JESUS DIDN’T HAVE A BIBLE WITH HIM
This isn’t explicit. But it doesn’t say that he said, “Wait a minute, Satan, let me look up what the Bible says about this before I respond.” Jesus had internalized Scripture. He knew the tempter’s schemes, and he had Scripture ready to go at every turn. When temptation strikes, it can be a great thing to turn to the Word. If it’s not available, though, you’re in trouble. Believers should know what they believe. We should be ready to combat Satan and his lies. We should invite God’s spirit to speak through us by verbalizing his Words on our lips.
Lent would be a great time to start building an arsenal for just such occasions. There will be times when you feel exhausted from the desert you’ve been going through, and that is when Satan will wish to deliver your final blow. God’s wisdom is the sword with which we fight back.
I hope these lessons give you something to think about as we start this Lenten season this year.
What about you — how are you celebrating Lent this year?