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Great chances to resist evil

February 22, 2015

tentaciones

Sunday Invocavit

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

    and they will lift you up in their hands,

    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do 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 splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”

Matthew 4:1-11

I was once approached by a pastor while I was a vicar and I ministered to a congregation with another pastor. It was during my first year of vicariate. My mentor pastor in that congregation was no more than 4 years older than me. I was 27 years old after finishing my theological studies.

We invited this minister who came from another church to preach and pray, for it was an ecumenical prayer meeting. This pastor was a humble and yet wise man he told us his experience: he was once a sorcerer, that is, a satanic priest. Simply said, he was a worshiper of Satan. When he told us this, we, still fresh from the faculty of theology and quite intellectual and very young, looked at each other and smiled a little.

We were taught about the existence of the devil in the Bible almost like it was an old myth, as it was the way primitive people of biblical times were understood the more complicated situations in the life of faith. So this pastor gave us his testimony. And then he said something scarier that touched us greatly:

Once they had wanted to ‘attack’ a pastor and lay a curse on his house. When they came to the place they saw a crowd of men around the house. All were armed. This brought their attention to the men. The second time they tried, they also failed to reach the house because two huge personalities like two meters tall or more asked them what wanted there and ask them to leave because they were going to call the police.

Years after this, by God’s grace, he left that practice, was exorcised by a group of pastors and became a Christian. As one of those coincidences of life, one day he came out to find that very preacher and he saw a special occasion to confess the sin he had committed. When he finished telling all this, this young missionary said he does actually live in that neighborhood with his young family and had never known of any group of armed people caring for their home. He also said he had never seen these two almost giant people who were caring as bodyguards.

To us he told us: “You never could imagine what a power Christians have and the aid that often becomes apparent from those who protect the follower of the Lord…!” This led me to think that God sends His angels to protect Christians. That is for those who truly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. And surely this man could testify once he ran across the side from a former sorcerer and satanic priest. And in the same way as there are angels in the Bible and they are not fables or myths, there are even demons that are spiritual beings that have power and influence.

The name for this first Sunday of Lent is “Invocavit” it is the beginning of the Latin antiphon: ” Invocabit me, et ego exaudiam eum ” —he will call upon me and I will answer him— (Psalm 91: 15) And it refers to when we ask for sincere help from God in the midst of all the temptations and snares of the enemy.

If we examine the word Lent, it comes from the Latin Quadragesima (dies) (fortieth day) in relation to these forty days and forty nights Jesus fasted in the desert. The institution of Lent dates back to the early centuries of Christianity, and the forms of observance have changed over time, gradually weakening the rigidity of fasting and abstinence (of all days, a few days were spent with no food, a meal or breakfast and other foods). Today, Lenten practice is virtually nonexistent, leaving no more than liturgical symbols, biblical texts and a spirit of meditation and sacrifice for a few Christians.

Lent began on Ash Wednesday (on February 18) and ends on the fortieth day thereafter, which is at the beginning of Easter day (on April 5). Actually, during Lent (the forty days of fasting), fasting is interrupted Sundays; since Sunday is the celebration of Jesus’ victory over all the powers of darkness. There 40 days are thus calculated (from Ash Wednesday, not counting Sundays).

The central message of this text for today tells us how Jesus faces his ministry and so it should be the way that characterizes us Christians in our own lives. Jesus Christ, through the temptations listed in this Gospel of Matthew, is clearly recognized by the devil (v 3) to be in complete obedience to the Word (for us the Bible) and with serenity before the tempting. He is also shown as an omnipotent and sovereign God when we see the order that Satan makes of him to show some miracle. He is teaching us that although he is a God of power, wisdom involves reserving his power for his children.

Jesus shows us through that suffering of fasting that he is a God who assumes the suffering of people and wants to sacrifice for our sin and pain. He wants to show that suffering is not God’s plan for his people and therefore, through his Son, he wants to accept them and take away all the sins on the cross of Calvary. Today, however, there are many who, when they read this story of temptation, note the historical characteristics and secondary details of the story itself and think that the most important thing in this story are the sacrifices (such as fasting) in which Jesus is engaged. They think the most important aspect is to imitate Jesus’ behaviour without realizing that the message is something else.

There are symbols in this event of forty days in the desert. One of the symbols is that Jesus assumes the sufferings and needs of the world —as the sin on the cross. He wants to show that by recognizing only him as God that his people can learn to overcome that suffering and lack that this world presents us with daily.

Jesus does not want to identify with the human power (v 8) but wants in the greatness of his humility to be identified with the real power from God. He want us to see that He is the real power and not of the world or Satan. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew Jesus will take all the suffering and rejection and ridicule of people with the sole intention of showing us that he is not a God who leaves us alone but through the one and only sacrifice that assumes he wants to do this for us to give us a fuller life (a life in abundance) not only in heaven but from the moment we recognize Him as a God and with power, omnipotence, authority and supremacy.

The central message of the temptations is similar to the message of the cross. It is not a message of defeat, depression, failure, humiliation or “suffering,” as was often misinterpreted throughout church history. The message of the temptations and the “penitential” season of Lent that the church introduced is one of victory, full life, happiness, joy, wonder and divine power that stops once and for all what is happening on this unbelieving and crowded devil world. The moment we accept that Jesus has overcome, we will not see Lent as a mournful and somber time (and many also see the holy week and Good Friday) and we will read the Bible in the light of the victory of Jesus. We Christians often focus more on the defeats and failures and lack of trust of humans than in the victory and power of the risen and always eternal Son of God.

The theme for the first Sunday of Lent is based on the story of the temptation of Jesus. The concept “temptation” has come to be seen as outdated to many, mostly to the increasingly clear questions asked by those who are tempted. Are there really temptations? Is it not perhaps that temptation arises from within oneself? Of course you have to consider these questions when speaking of temptations. The image of a tempting guy with a physical body, the devil, may cause some smiles for some of the more intellectualized. Engaging in preaching today with such images is certainly cumbersome, if not impossible. But the question of the still tempted comes along: Is it a person himself or outside evil forces?

Temptations in this time comes from the same source that tempted Jesus and today it wants to make us believe that defeat, suffering and death, lack of divine power can reach up to enter within our churches and Christian families. The good and unique way that Jesus succeeded, to that tempting devil, is to simply accept that God is a God of power even today in the XXI century and that He moves with all-powerfulness and full life for all His children and daughters.

Martin Luther reminded us that the only tools to face the devil are daily prayer and communication with God by reading the Bible and, of course, belonging to a community of faith. The devil exists and can manifest concretely, but God is stronger and protects those who belong to him.

 

The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

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