Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 24

Day 24, Tuesday, March 20, 2012

the lure of "saving"


We may never be tempted in exactly the same way as Jesus was during the days He walked on this earth. However, temptations come to us in so many subtle and deceptive ways that many a times we do not even realize that we’re being tempted to take a certain course of action. One of these temptations we face today is through advertisements in the media that influence our shopping habits. Studies show that every day, we are exposed to over 3000 advertisements in the print and digital media, through social networking sites, and other outlets. Most of these ads promise us the moon and ultimately solicit us to buy their stuff. Our emotional impulses lead us to act irrationally and we eventually end up buying the product of the company that does the best job of tempting us through their subtle and yet creative tempting ads. That’s why all big corporations have multi-million dollar budgets just of the advertisements. Many of us go about buying stuff without ever thinking that we’re actually yielding to Satan’s temptations daily. We don’t realize that we may be bordering on the idolatry when material stuff becomes the center of our lives rather than God. Slowly, under the spell of Satan, instead of consuming to live, we start living to consume. Many of us start working ourselves to death in order to pay for everything they want to own. As a result, the stuff we possess starts giving us meaning, status, and even our identity. We often forget that it was a function assigned to our faith—our belief in Christ used to give us meaning and identity, which no more matters when we fall prey to the temptations of consumerism.

Therefore, what shall we do when we live in a culture that tempts us to buy and consume more and more and essentially encourages us to live beyond our means. Please read what Prophet Haggai 1:5-6 said because it is so relevant for our situation: “Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” If you find yourself in that situation today, you need to “give careful thought to your ways” of spending money, your shopping habits, and your method of handling the resources God has entrusted with you. Are you being a good steward who has nothing to be ashamed of (2 Timothy 2:15)? We all will have to give an account to God of not only our sins and spiritual life, but also of our resources, finances, and spending habits. May God give us spiritual discernment to recognize the subtle temptations and power to overcome them today. Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 23

Day 23, Monday, March 19, 2012

 For today’s devotional please read once again the passage on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness from either Matthew’s or Luke’s chapter 4. As we have noted in the past, Satan continues to incessantly tempt God’s people. The devil is always subtle in his words and actions, as we’ve noticed from his dealings with Jesus. Therefore, in the daily course of our lives, it’s not always easy to discern God’s will and to perceive in advance the consequences of our words and actions. Believers often ask: how can we know if a particular proposition is a temptation from Satan. The simplest response is: ask yourself if the action proposed by Satan will result in fulfilling God’s righteousness. Will it produce righteousness or not? Satan will never promote righteousness or inspire people for righteous deeds. He may and does surely promote good works by deceiving people into believing that by virtue of doing good deeds they would find salvation. There are billions of people within the church and outside who fall prey to Satan’s deception.

 Nevertheless, Satan does act as though he is promoting righteousness. However, that righteousness is a counterfeit righteousness. He not only has “false prophets [and] deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ”, but as Apostle Paul says, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11: 13-14 RSV). It is easy to recognize the difference between the righteousness of God and Satan. What Satan calls righteousness will always elevate our own performance and works thereby excluding God’s all-sufficient provision for making us righteousness by His grace in and through Jesus Christ. So, if we realize that we are living our Christian life in order to gain acceptance with God we have fallen prey to the deception of Satan. Moreover, even after doing the good deeds of “righteousness” sin is still reigning in our lives instead of making us righteous, holy, and pure vessels for His glory (2 Tim. 2:22), then, we need to come back to the true righteousness of God. This righteousness is imputed into us only through the grace of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22). Let us not let Satan entice, trick or deceive you with his counterfeit system of “righteousness.” Amen!

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 22

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

Day 22, Saturday, March 17, 2012

We have several things to learn from the temptations of Jesus Christ. One of them is Jesus’ attitude during the temptations and the way He handled the situation. Jesus didn’t complain about being tempted, instead He showed a positive attitude. Jesus didn’t doubt His own identity, as the Son of God sent on a mission. Whenever Satan tried to raise doubts through his temptations, Jesus declined his offers by keeping His eyes fixed on His mission that was of higher good and spiritual nature than the material needs of his own or the stuff he was being offered. Therefore, when He was offered bread, power, or possessions, things that were material than spiritual in nature, Jesus thought in terms of the mission and the kingdom of God that was inaugurated by Him on earth. He evaluated the offers in light of His higher mission and the values of the Kingdom. He kept love as the supreme operating value of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ kingdom would not be forced with power or compulsions upon people but attract them in by the force of His unceasing love.

 Satan continues to tempt His people today just as He did for all the saints in the history of humanity. However, our temptations are not unique, as Paul said In 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Thus, whatever situation we may be in today it has already been faced by God’s people several times in the past. Jesus’ apostles, too, fought among themselves for power and positions and they often wanted Jesus to use force to defeat Satan (see Mark 9:33ff; Matthew 16:21ff; Luke 9:51-56). When we face the similar temptations in our personal and church life, Satan will try to divert our attention from our highest purpose and mission. He wishes that we forsake the kingdom values of love and take our eyes off God’s mission for petty things such as a position of authority over others. He wishes that keep ourselves busy with work, job, activities, programs, and look for ways to control others by our power and positions. Therefore, we need to adopt the positive attitude of Jesus and keep our eyes fixed upon our higher calling, our mission that God has sent us on, and practicing the most vital virtue of the kingdom of God—love. It is this attitude of love that will help us relinquish offers of power and positions and keep us focused on God, His mission, and His Kingdom on earth. Amen.


Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 21

Day 21, Friday, March 16, 2012

 Jesus calmly confronted Satan in the wilderness and was able to come triumphant out of this experience because of His dependence on God’s Word. In the last temptation, Jesus had to finally rebuke Satan and charged him to leave Him alone (see Matthew 4:10). Satan left Him, but Luke adds a very significant little detail that is not found in any other gospel. He writes: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). You might recall that at the beginning of this Lenten devotional we saw that Jesus’ temptations were not limited to just three mentioned here. In fact, He was tempted throughout His earthly life and yet remained sinless. There is an absorbing theological debate about the issue whether Jesus could have sinned or not or whether he was capable of sinning. We don’t want to digress into this dispute now. I would rather leave it for some other day, God willing.

 Luke 4:13 is clear that Satan only temporarily departed from Jesus in the wilderness, but just because Jesus prevailed over him does not mean that Satan threw up his hands and quit forever. Jesus encountered the devil and His tricks all through His ministry in one form or the other. Sometimes the temptations came in the form of His enemies and occasionally in the form of His own disciples. For example, do you remember what Jesus once said to Peter, when he wished that Jesus would not die? – “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16: 23 NIV). Temptation is not a sin, and in Jesus’ case God’s Spirit initiated and permitted Satan to tempt Jesus. Luke also tells us that temptation is not a once and for all event. No temptation is resisted permanently not to be tempted again by the same kinds of temptation or to fall into a similar one time and again. Luke says that Satan always looks for an opportunity to tempt us at the point when we may be in the most vulnerable situation. For example, at the point of Jesus’ most vulnerability in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his disciples to “pray that you may not enter into temptation.” However, he went further ahead of them and prayed for the removal of the cup of suffering that he knew He had to come to drink (Luke 22: 39-44). The book of Hebrews (4:15) tells that Jesus was tempted in every area and thus He is able to help us when Satan brings before us the temptation that we thought we had resisted one and for all. May we take refuge in Jesus when we are tempted and learn from His experience? Amen.

English: Christ is tempted by Satan. The engra...

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 20

Day 20, Thursday, March 15, 2012

In the third temptation of Jesus (please read Matthew 4:8-10 and Luke 4:5-8), the devil showed Him the glory and splendor ofThe Temptation of Christ (detail 6) the kingdoms of the world and then revealed his inmost desire—to be worshiped as God or to become God. From the beginning, the Bible describes Satan telling lies to humanity about God and about becoming God. He wants to be God and falsely promises others to make them into gods. Satan also offers shortcuts and easy options in life.

In the Garden of Eden, he told Adam and Eve subtle lies that they “will not die” and that they “will be like God” (Genesis 3:4-5, RSV). Satan knew that Jesus was on earth in order to establish His kingdom and to be the King. So, he offered Him a shortcut saying something like this, “Look, you don’t have to really go through all this suffering, you don’t have to really die a cruel death on the cross to establish your kingdom and to be recognized as the King of the world. I’ll offer you all that if only you would bow down and worship me!” However, as we have seen earlier, Jesus knew Satan’s lies and knew that His kingdom was not of this world. He preached about the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s why, later on, Jesus reminded His disciples the true nature of Satan who “has nothing to do with truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 RSV). Unfortunately, throughout history far too many people have fallen prey to the devil’s lies and deception. Adam and Eve surely did thus leading humanity into sin. However, Jesus Christ commanded Satan to leave by quoting the first of the Ten Commandments from the Word of God (Matthew 4:10, see Deuteronomy 6:13; Exodus 20:3-4). And the devil left him.

 But now, there are so many lies and deceptions that Satan still continues to spread even in the church and through the so-called Christian preachers. There are millions of Christians today that live believing his lies and being deceived continuously. He continuous to promise the worldly stuff, power, and positions to people and many fall for it. So, how can you and I stand firm in our faith in the midst of lies, deception, and deceit being persistently projected into our homes through all kinds of media, including the Christian ones? If there is one thing we can take home from Jesus’ temptation, it is this: be well-grounded in the Word of God. Study the Word, properly, systematically, and thoroughly. There is no dearth of biblical resources and tools at our disposal these days, but there is no replacement for a personal time spent in the Word of God for ourselves. And then complement it with prayer asking the help of the Holy Spirit to live daily by Word . Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 19

Day 19, Wednesday, March 14, 2012

 Through the second temptation, the devil asked Jesus to take a leap of faith (Matthew 4: 5-7) to prove that He indeed was the Messiah. In reality, devil’s agenda was to kill Jesus before His perfect time so that he could thwart God’s mission in and through Jesus Christ. In refusing to comply with Satan’s deception, Jesus showed us that He would not put the Father to test by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple, but He would rather obey the Father by going to the cross.

Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem.

Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem

 Jesus knew that He had come to die for the salvation of humanity. He was also fully aware that the way of the cross was not an easy one. But He also trusted His Father completely in that He would not keep Him in the grave forever, but He would deliver Him through death, by raising Him from the dead. Here, Jesus was presented an opportunity to choose an easy way out, to get away from the impending life of misery, insult, rejection, capture by His own people, being led as a worst kind of criminal on the way to Golgotha, and finally to be brutally crucified by the Romans. In this temptation, once again, Satan wished Jesus to act independently of God’s will for Him, which was the way of the cross. Thank God for Jesus who chose that path of suffering and death so that you and I could be free from sin today. However, we need to remember that perhaps God’s desire for us may also be that we go through pain and suffering in our lives during our wilderness experience. Satan will certainly show us other options and easy way out of God’s will. There are many false prosperity-gospel preachers that will confidently teach that God’s will for you is to only prosper in every possible way. There are many who believe that Christianity is the easiest religion of just grace and forgiveness. But when faced with such temptations, we need to recall how Jesus acted and chose the way of the cross. And after He came out victoriously from His temptations, He warned us: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7: 13-14 NIV). May we choose to the narrow way—the Jesus’ way—and find eternal life. Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wildernss with Jesus, Day 18

English: The Temptation of Jesus on the Mountain

Second temptation of Christ

Day 18, Tuesday, March 13, 2012

 For the second temptation of Jesus see Matthew 4:5-6 and Luke 4: 9-12. When the devil could not get Jesus to do that was not in God’s will, he took him to the city of Jerusalem. Now the order of these temptations differs in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but it’s of no particular significance. Each gospel writer has arranged the same material in a slightly different order to suite his purpose and audience. In what the devil thought was a better idea than the previous one; he took Jesus to the highest point of the magnificent temple of Jerusalem, and asked him to throw himself down. Interestingly, the devil himself cites the scriptures this time from Psalm 91:11-12: “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.’” Satan proposed that if the angels really came down to protect him from being striking against stones, he, along with many Israelites will be convinced of His divinity and start following Him. Sounds really like a neat plan until we understand what is actually in the devil’s heart.

 You see, the devil also knows the Word of God and he’s the master of deception and disguise. He uses, twists, and misinterprets the Word of God using it out of context, according to his evil purposes, and in opposition to the will of God. Since Jesus knew the scriptures better along with their original context and intent, he fought back with the same but powerful “it is written” statement in front of which Satan could not stand (see Deuteronomy 6:16). However, Satan has not relented in using this trick on Jesus’ disciples, as even today he leads many astray by misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Word of God. If the devil comes in the form of a person who seems to know the scriptures well come along and prompts us to do something ridiculous, we all need to go back to the Bible and examine it carefully in its proper context. A lot of errors in churches today could be avoided if believers were diligent in studying and obeying God’s Word. One of such errors in the church today is going after the physical healings and miracles sans spirituality. In fact, a few preachers teach people to ask for the miraculous thus leading them to test God. Yes, miracles do happen to the believing and yes Jesus is still alive to do them. But only a faith that is weak seeks a sign and/or the miraculous intervention to believe in God and in His almighty power. Jesus told Satan, however, that His faith in God’s power is unwavering and He doesn’t need to seek or show any extraordinary miracle to prove God’s power and presence with Him. May we continue to fight the natural urge to go after signs and miracles; rather let us learn to trust in Him even when God appears to be invisible and silent. Amen.


Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 17.

Temptation of Jesus in desert. HOLE, WILLIAM: ...

Jesus in the wilderness

Day 17, Monday, March 12, 2012

 Matthew 4:1-4 tells us that Jesus was hungry and Satan made it a point of temptation by asking Him to make bread out of stones. Satan fully knew that Jesus was the Son of God and yet he wanted Jesus to doubt His identity in the face of hunger. For the Son of God, there was nothing wrong in being hungry and even with turning the stones into bread to satisfy His hunger. However, Jesus refused to obey Satan because He was on a mission. Jesus knew that He was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and that it was the will of His father for Him to go hungry at this time. Jesus was fasting and praying for a spiritual work that was according to the will of His heavenly Father and Jesus had learned to do nothing outside the will of His Father. The very discipline of fasting is for the purpose of taking one’s eyes and dependency off the material necessities and to focus on God, His purpose of sending Jesus on earth, and how that would be fulfilled in the coming days as Jesus obeyed Him. Thus, any acceptance of Satan’s suggestion would have taken Jesus’ eyes off God and if He had done what Satan wanted Him to do, Jesus would have done the will of the devil instead of continuing in the perfect will of His Father.

 Jesus also didn’t fall for the temptation to prove his divinity because by His refusal to obey him, He wanted to tell the devil and thereby to all of us that to remain hungry is better than to be fed by the bread outside the will of God for our lives. The essence of being divine or, for that matter, the essence of anyone being a follower of Christ is our obedience to the Father by doing His will and not to prove who we are. Our identity is found in doing the will of God rather than in seeking or performing miracles.

 You and I may be in a place of hunger today, which means a place of need and lacking the basic necessities of life, such as food, shelter and clothing for our family. It’s in such points of need that Satan’s temptations become severe in our lives. We may even feel justified by fulfilling those pressing needs by any means for the sake of our family. The temptation may come in any form and at times may not even seem like a temptation at all. However, in such a situation, we need to remind ourselves that perhaps we’re in the wilderness and in privation under the will of God who has led us into this situation. He may have a better purpose for leading us through all this. Like Jesus, may we continue to seek to be in the will of God and choose to go hungry rather than feed upon the goodies that are independent of the will of God? Amen!

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 16

Slices of French Bread

Image via Wikipedia

Day 16, Saturday, March 10, 2012

 In the first temptation when the devil wanted Jesus to make bread out of stones because He was hungry, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4: 4, Luke 4:4). Interestingly, Jesus cited Deuteronomy 8:2-3 from memory. If you recall, we saw how Jesus’ experience is very similar to the wilderness experience of the Israelites. Deut. 8:2-3 (NIV) reads,

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

 Jesus must have been reading the Word of God and contemplating on Israelites’ experience in the wilderness of Sinai. That’s why, in the face of hunger and temptation, he could tell Satan that there is more to our earthly life than just our physical needs. If we go deeper in the Word of God and do in our life what it says, we, too, will soon realize that the Word is life-giving. Compared to the worldly things surrounding us, the Bible says:

“‘But the word of the Lord endures forever.’ Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Pet 1:25-2:2 NewKJV).

The Word of God can satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst and thus we should grow spiritually. There are millions of people today that call themselves Christian, but aren’t growing at all. God has blessed them physically, financially, and in every other way, as He did the people of Israel. But as far as the Word of God and their spiritual life is concerned, they are at the same stage today at which they were 25 years ago or so. They haven’t grown. As a result, they have grown in their dependency on the material stuff that has been accumulated around them. Therefore, in the face of testing of their faith, they will not have the spiritual resources to draw from and cannot win over the tempter. Today, let us look within and in the past. What is the source of your life? Is it the Word of God? What’s exactly the place of the Word of God in your life? Is it only to be kept under the pillow, on the bookshelf, or in the suitcase when you travel? Or, has it just become a habit that you read the Word and then forget about it? How much have you grown in the Word since you became a follower of Christ? God bless! Amen.

Lenten Reflections: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 15.

English: Illustration of "Paradise Lost&q...

Day 15, Friday, March 9, 2012

In the third temptation of Jesus, we see devil’s heart’s desire displayed unmistakably—he wants to be God. Essentially, this is what made him what he is today. Please read Isaiah 14:12-15 and Revelation 12:9, as they describe Satan’s nature and origin. Lucifer, as he’s called in Isaiah 14:12 in several older translations, used to be in the presence of God. But he could not stomach that only God was worshiped in heaven. He was proud as illustrated in Isaiah 14: 12-15 where his “I will” statements appear five times in just two sentences. “I will” often stems from a heart full of boasting. Therefore, due to his pride the devil rebelled against God, and was thrown out of His presence to become the source of all evil.

 In the first two temptations when Satan failed to trick Jesus into obedience to what he wanted Him to do, Satan showed his true colors, and wished that Jesus would bow down to him. He desperately wanted to be acknowledged and worshiped as God. For this purpose, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth. The Roman Empire at Jesus’ time was the greatest in history. Its geographical reach and cultural splendor remained unparalleled for a long time until it fell and what we see today is only its ruins. Jesus must have been surely impressed by the glory and splendor of the kingdoms and nations of the world and what humanity has achieved through its God-given creativity. However, Jesus also knew the depravity of human beings and the temporal nature of all that our hands have produced. His eyes were fixed on the eternal Kingdom of God which he had come to proclaim both to the kings and to the commoner. He, therefore, didn’t want to do anything with the kingdoms of this earth. He knew, as he later stated, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). That’s why Jesus responded: “Go away Satan! The Scriptures say: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him’” (Matthew 4:10). And the devil left him. In the similar temptations of our lives today where so many things are vying for our attention, adoration and adulation, let us focus our eyes on the eternal Kingdom of God. And Satan will not be able to lead us astray. Amen.