UNAFRAID BEFORE A DESPERATE ENEMY
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. Luke 4:1-13
If you are not afraid to die you are an awesome opponent. The Japanese kamikaze pilots of WW2 struck terror into the hearts of their enemies for that reason. They were willing to fly their craft, brimming with jet fuel, directly into their opponents' ships, knowing that they themselves would perish. They did not do this until 1944, rather late in the war, when they realized that they were losing. That is when they went on tilt, when they became desperate. The devil is much the same. Jesus calls him "the ruler of this world." That title means that he has power. He displayed it in the Garden and never stopped. He tempted David to take a census against God's will, and the one who happily tormented Job, and turned his life inside out. Now he tries the same with Jesus, but Jesus was not afraid to suffer, and Jesus was not afraid to die.
From the moment God made the promise of redemption to the Church in Genesis 3:15, the devil knew that his time was short, but being the devil he convinced himself that he would be the final winner. It's what he thought and what he hoped, but everything changed when the Word became Flesh. In John Milton's poem, Paradise Regained, redemption is won after Jesus emerges victorious from the wilderness, because if Jesus could win there, He would win from the cross and from the grave as well.
We see this in the Savior's passion and death which was the devil's "more opportune time," when heaven and earth conspired against Him. The government turned against Him. The church turned against Him, His friends abandoned Him. There were no angels to minister to Him, and even His heavenly Father, for a time, turned His back on His Son. There He hung, in the balance, one Holy Man; one good Man; alone; praying for His enemies; enduring the awful penlty of our crimes and refusing to save Himself so that by this death He would save us all. Yes, as He won the victory in the wilderness, so He did again on the cross, and because Jesus was not afraid to suffer, not afraid to die, God raised Him up from the dead and gave Him victory over the grave.
We, on the other hand, want nothing to do with either. We don't like deprivation or sacrifice, which is why we are such easy prey for the devil, and why we make such problems for ourselves. But this Lent may we learn from Jesus not to fear temptation, deprivation or death.
Temptation is a constant in our lives. Our New Man is terribly distressed by it, but the Old Adam loves it. He makes it so easy for us to stop the conflict and simply to give in and go with the flow, but that is not what Jesus did. Neither should we! Instead we should fight the good fight with all our might, that is to say, with the power we obtain from God. We are not helpless in the struggle. We are not play dough to be molded by every whim of the devil's temptation. Instead the same Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted gives us the weaponry, power and skill to fight back, to resist.
Where do we get it? From the Gospel that holy mother church supplies us with each week. In today's Old Testament lesson we learn that Moses prescribed a liturgy for God's people. They were to bring gifts to God, and to liturgically acknowledge that their special place in the Land was a gift of God's grace, and to offer thanks! Their faith was visible and audible, so is ours. In this lesson we see the infant form of what we know today as the Offertory. Today we bring currency which represents our labor, but historically God's people brought the bread and wine to be used in the Sacrament, as well as every other type of practical gift for the support of the clergy and for the relief of the poor. The Offertory in our liturgy is the first stop of the dance that culminates in receiving the One who was victorious in the wilderness, into our irresolute and sinful flesh, in order to cleanse it and to strengthen it. To fortify it so that each day we might be better prepared than the last for the warfare every child of God must invariably conduct.
Neither should we fear deprivation. It is not the will of God that we exist without food, that is impossible, but in this world there are seasons of plenty and seasons of want. Like St. Paul who declared, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," we too must learn to live gracefully when we have much and when we have little. In times of plenty may every meal remind us of the Heavenly Bread that God gives us in Holy Communion, and in times of want, let us suffer patiently, but also prayerfully and with hope, drawing endurance and consolation from Jesus who will never deny us His life-giving flesh and blood, but always gives it to us without money and without price.
Nor should we fear death. To preserve our life and to defend it is good and right, and there is no virtue in throwing it away, or in dying before our time, but each of us has an expiration date, and when it finally comes we can trust in God, even as Jesus did: that He will raise us from the dead. We can find relief in the fact that we will be through with this wilderness existence; and that a new life will be ours, one we can embrace with holy joy and expectation.
As we learn these things from our Lord, as we grow in our faith, we too become awesome opponents to him who is the sum of all evil, not by any inherent power within us, but we are made strong by Jesus, who defeated the devil in the wilderness, on the cross and in our baptism to make us strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
~Rev. Dean Kavouras