At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
Anyone who has wandered in a desert knows it can be
both beautiful and perilous.
and at the same time,
filled with life.
Anyone who stands in the wilderness
stands in a place of both
challenge and reward.
If you look at art work
illustrating “The Temptation of Christ”
you will often see “Temptation”
pictured as a demon—
a twisted, hideous figure
with pointed horns and cloven hooves.
Sometimes, the artist shows The Tempter
with talons instead of hands,
leering at Christ
and pointing to a pile of stones
just waiting to become bread.
In one medieval Dutch painting,
Temptation is a creature with a beaked nose
and clawed feet—
a devil that looks
for all the world
like a demented turkey
from your worst
"After Thanksgiving Overindulgence" nightmare.
In these images,
there is absolutely no ambiguity
about the nature of evil.
Evil is both obvious and obscene.
The Tempter is malice personified
and the loneliness and perils of sin
But outside of the world of a painting,
Temptation is not always that simple,
isn’t that the very problem with evil?
The fact that it can appear so ordinary?
It would be easy to resist temptation
if temptation always appeared ugly and grotesque—
something so alien,
that one glimpse—
would be enough to set us free.
If the urge to abuse power
or an impulse to exploit the weak
suddenly took shape before our eyes
bearing the ugly face of an imp
or the scent of a rotten beast,
then our impulses might become different.
If bad choices were pointed out to us
by sharpened talons and a vicious leer,
then our choices might become wiser.
If Temptation stalked around on goat’s feet
leaving a trail of cloven prints,
then sin might become something
that we could simply step over and avoid.
Unfortunately for us,
the desire to put God to the test
or the urge to betray a friend
is rarely followed by the smell of sulphur
or the sound of clashing cymbals.
It is only in the movies
that ominous music and dim lighting
announce the presence of evil.
One modern illustration of the Temptation in the Desert
is an African painting filled with bright colors
and soft golden light.
It shows Christ walking with a companion—
on a cliff overlooking the desert.
The Tempter stands,
his arm around the Lord’s shoulder,
as one dear friend to another.
His handsome face is like any other face,
his face looks a lot like Christ’s.
This artist has captured something
about the power of temptation.
That it is just so….
Just this once—
Just until I get my promotion.
It’s not like I’m actually stealing her proposal...
She’s too junior in the firm
to be taken seriously.
She'll never be able to sell it to the team,
much less carry it out.
That great idea will just be wasted
unless I take it and run with it.
I’ll make it up to her later,
when I am in a better position.
Well, their influence got me elected,
and the important thing is to stay in office
so that I can continue to help the poor.
I guess this one vote
doesn’t really matter so much…
And what’s so bad
about turning stones into bread, anyway?
Sounds like a pretty good plan to me!
Far from being ugly,
or laden with a sense of impending doom,
temptation is often attractive
at least at the start.
There are even times
when it is hard to separate the seduction of evil
from the ministering hands of the angels
or the urgings of the Holy Spirit.
It hardly seems fair,
Fair or not,
Jesus knew all about temptation.
He was the anointed one,
Son of God,
filled with the Spirit,
even Jesus was led into the desert
to be tempted by evil.
Before his 40 days in the desert ended,
Jesus would be offered power,
He would be tempted to test God.
His time in the desert
was an invitation to reflect on his call;
to examine his relationship with the Father.
It was a time to come face to face—
not only with the idols that would tempt him,
and the demons that might haunt him,
but with the Spirit that stood ready to
form and comfort him.
In meeting those temptations head on,
not only his Father’s love,
but each one of us who wanders in the desert,
stepping over cloven footprints in the path.
By meeting those temptations head on,
Jesus teaches us the true meaning
of words like “authority”,
Jesus didn’t avoid the desert.
He didn’t avoid the hunger.
He didn’t avoid the loneliness
or the trials
or the temptations.
He didn’t hide from encounters with evil.
he used these challenges to define who he was…
and who he wasn’t.
the time of temptation
became a time of formation—
A time of preparation
for his mission into the world.
During this season now beginning,
we are given the same opportunity.
We are led into the desert
to make that same life-giving journey.
Along the way,
we will find temptations and opportunities,
demons and angels,
sin and grace.
Along the way,
we will encounter Christ himself.
On this journey,
our choices will begin to define who we are…
and who we aren’t.
It can prepare us for our own mission--
that of bringing this Story,
to the waiting, hungry world.
Journeys are never simple things.
They tend to take us to places and people
who will challenge us,
and comfort us.
And, no matter how deep our faith,
along the way,
bad choices may continue to look good.
Power can still seduce.
And temptation will persist in being…
very, very tempting.
But when Jesus met his own temptations
He transformed the wilderness journey,
and our lives,