Battle in the Desert
Not too long ago, a friend jokingly said that if it were not for the War many conversations and preachers would fall silent. He may be right. Iraq, to Afghanistan, Desert Storm, the War on Terror, Somali War, Libyan War, Egyptian Civil War—IT IS TRUE that we are seemingly bombarded with information about war, and it has become the background of our lives. One online source documents at least 36 different wars, civil wars, and armed conflicts around the world since 2001
I would like to give you one image of war that I recently encountered. A young woman, stands sobbing, her shoulders slumped, her head bowed. Everything about her speaks of fear and sadness. She is a living victim of the war that is going on around her every day. She speaks haltingly, and the sense of helplessness fills her words. “I am afraid to walk outside, I am afraid to sleep at night. As soon as one attack ends and I put myself back together, there starts another, and another, and another. They come and threaten my life—or maybe worse, destroy everything, everyone I find important. I don’t feel that I can go on. Help me.”
These are not the words of a young person in Benghazi experiencing the bombs of the Gaddafi forces day after day, night after night, but they could be. They are not the tears of a fearful woman in Somalia suffering under ethnic and civil conflict, continually fearing the next attack, the one that might come to her neighborhood or target her family, but they could be. However, these are the words of a young American teen, a Christian since baptism, she has recently gone to college away from home. A young woman who is so assaulted by the pressures of the world on one hand, and the perceived demands of her faith to lead a “good” life on the other, with the result that every day is a war for her. She knows the world holds no eternal reward for her, yet everything sees and hears and is being taught directs here to trust in reason and what she can learn and know and do. She knows too, the verses learned in Catechism, and the 10 Commandments. In a world that holds that there are no absolutes of right or wrong, hey too have become demands she feels powerless to meet. She sees no way to win her war. So often this is exactly how we loose our young people—casualties of the war being waged against them, against us.
Over the past months and years, the scenes and pictures of war and armed uprisings have become very familiar to us. Attack and counter-attack are recounted in vivid detail through the reports on the TV, in the magazines and on the news feeds on our computers and smart phones. As Christians, we have always been keenly aware of the terminology of war. We proudly call ourselves Christian Soldiers. Our Scriptures are full of the recounting of battles and confrontations. We read Paul and the Evangelists who tell how our Heavenly King vanquished the forces of darkness and death, and the glory that such victory has won. We sing of Jesus Christ as our Fortress, our shield and weapon. We cannot ignore these images of war, for as Christians we are truly in a constant battle for our very lives. The Devil is always looking for the way to separate us from God. In todays Gospel, Luke tells us of one such battle—a battle in the desert between Christ Jesus and the Prince of Darkness. A battle the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded for us, so that we see how we too can do battle with the Devil, and win.
The Attack—The Tricks of the Devil
Luke takes us from the banks of the Jordan and Jesus’ baptism, to the inhospitable wilderness. In the waters of the Jordan, God the Father had announced to the world that Jesus was the Christ, the Holy One of God—The beloved Son of God. And Jesus was given the power of the Holy Spirit, the power to effect and complete the plan of God to save mankind. The plan of God that would have Him give up his life in a painful death. Then, in the Judean wilderness, in that deserted region, the Devil comes to Jesus after a fast of forty days, after a period in which the “mantel of Messiah’“ so recently placed upon him, must have hung heavy and close, and the Devil begins his attack on Jesus. He takes the proclamation of the Father and uses it like a surgical knife and cuts to the soul, the very human soul of Jesus. “Since you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” You can almost hear the acrimony drip from his words: “After all that’s what He said isn’t it? If you believe that you are the Son of God, why not use your majestic powers and take care of your hunger.” “Son of God—hungry? isn’t there something just a little odd about this picture?” “Come on Jesus, if you are who you believe you are.”
1. Sowing seeds of Doubt – using God’s blessings for evil (v. 3)
The Devil was sowing seeds of doubt, asking Jesus to distrust the Father, to doubt the love of God. “Go ahead,” said Satan, “you got the power. You better handle it yourself.”
The Devil sows those same seeds today, and you and I are fertile ground. How often do we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” yet anguish over how the bills will get paid or how you can fit some overtime into your schedule to ‘beef up’ the paycheck. We pray, “God is gracious, God is good, let us thank Him for our food—although it isn’t very much; it’s all I can afford. Tomorrow I’ll have to work too long for too little, and not do much better.” We look at the promises of God and say, “if God loves me so much, why do I feel so bad?” “Why don’t I ever get the lucky break?” “Why don’t things happen for me like they do for other people?” Doubt. It burdens our heart and robs us of our peace.
And Jesus said, “It is written, ‘man shall not live by bread alone’.”
2. The use of lies. (vv. 6,7)
Then the Devil, in a display of his power, takes Jesus to a high place and shows him all the treasures of all the kingdoms of the world. Power. Glory. Wealth. These could all be His, if He would but bow before the power of Satan. “Forget dying on the cross. Forget suffering and pain. You can have it all—NOW.” After all, these were Satan’s, and he could give them to whomever he chose! Jesus knew that the Devil was lying. Satan has no kingdom but the eternal darkness to which God has consigned him. He seeks to pervert the creation of God. He occupies it, and plunders it, and reaps from it an evil harvest, a harvest of those forever damned with him—but it is not his.
The Devil displays for us his empty promises of paper wealth, and the hope for reward in this world. Every day we are exposed to all those things that are necessary for the ‘good life’. Wealth. Power. Respect. The new car, the best grade, the trendiest wardrobe—the good life, or at least an easy place to sit when you are weary ‘because you earned it’. Satan displays them all around us every day. The standards of the world we live in. The standards of a world under siege and controlled by Satan, the propaganda of his war against God and all God-followers. As we accept the standards set up by Satan and make them our goal and security, we take hold of an inheritance in this world—a world condemned to eventual and complete destruction.
And Jesus said, “It is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’.”
Then, lead by the Devil, Jesus stands at the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Devil challenges Jesus to prove that he is who he says he is. “Go ahead and jump Jesus. Since you are the beloved Son of God, He will surely allow no harm to come to you, right?? After all, that’s what your Scriptures say.” This double attack is meant to be the final triumphant assault on the enemy. “Okay, you’ve made your point,” says Satan, “but are you willing to bet your life on it?” “If the Scriptures you like so well are true, jump. The heavenly rescue squad will surely save you from harm.”
We too fall victim to this subtle attack. Like a precisely guided smart bomb, this weapon is saved for the Christian. The Christian who is confident in his faith, trusts in God’s word. A Christian, like you and like me. The devil starts pulling from us those things in which we find the most comfort—health, security, loved ones. “After all,’” says Satan, “you are the one who says that all you need is Jesus.” And who among us, when challenged to prove a point he has made, does not feel compelled to comply? We, who have the power of God through faith, surely posses the power to overcome the challenges of the world and its ways. But so often it is a hollow confidence. We unnecessarily expose ourselves to danger and risk, saying “but I’m a Christian, I’m saved.” We pray for the well being of our children, but neglect put in their hands and hearts the Catechism and the Scriptures; we neglect to give them a model for Godly living. You pray to God to save your soul, but you absent yourself from the very means of grace provided for that purpose. Church attendance, study of the Word of God, and partaking of the Sacraments are neglected.
And Jesus says, ‘It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’.’
The Defense—The Word of our God and the power of the Spirit
“And when the Devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him, and awaited an opportune time.’
1. Our comfort—Christ
We often loose our battles with the devil. Our human nature is powerless before the lies, deceptions, and temptations of Satan. Sin spoiled the wonderful creation of God. Satan has taken hold of the world and exploits it. Satan has a hold on us. In his hands we become reluctant warriors against God.
Christ overcomes our foe on our behalf. At the brink of Lenten season, a time when we are brought face to face with the details of God’s plan of salvation, we look back, briefly, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John writes that ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the Devil.’ In every instance when Satan has confronted Jesus, he has lost. Jesus has the power. Jesus Christ is the Divine and Holy Son of God. And His plan of salvation is so designed that all he does, all his victories, are ours as well. Satan has not only lost the battle, he has lost the war. He stands judged and condemned. Jesus, our Lord and God, out of love humbled himself and took on the flesh of man. He lived as a man and died as a man. But he lived and died very differently then you or I or any man. Jesus would not sin, yet he would die on account of sin, he would die as the most sinful man ever to live. But the Sin he took to his death on the cross was your sin, and my sin. All the sins of the entire world were his at his death. And he paid the debt for sin—he paid our debt for sin. The victory over the Devil is complete. Everyone who believes that Jesus is Lord, the Son of the Living God receives this new inheritance. That which we could never obtain for ourselves becomes our crown of glory. We become victorious and heirs of the salvation Christ won for us.
2. Our defense—Scripture and the Power of the Spirit
Christ’s victory over the Devil was perfect and complete. But God loved us and deemed to do more. Just as the Devil will remain as a reality in the World to the Last Day, so God will also remain to give us power and strength. (Picking up the Bible) He gave us His Words, recorded in Scripture. The same powerful words used by Jesus against the Devil in the Wilderness are here. The powerful words of creation are here, as well as the words of love and history of the Chosen People of God are here. The most important words for us are here also. The Word of God’s love for you and me are here. The plan of God to effect our salvation and the promise of eternal life are here. Here, in the Word of God, we are shown the loving face of our Lord and Savior.
We have also been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that anointed Christ at His baptism, and empowered Christ to complete the work of salvation, was freely given to you and me at our Baptism. Through the power of the Spirit we were brought to faith. Through the power of the Spirit, the Word of God reveals to us the love of God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can face the devil and all his ways, and the victory of the desert is ours again.
The powers of God in the Spirit, and the reality of the love of God in the Scripture, are the gift of God to preserve us in this world until eternal life. These are your weapons against the attacks of the Devil. He is leading the assault against us. He is the one who mounts the war against us through his generals: The World, Our Flesh, and Death. Through study of the Word, the Spirit strengthens us. Through the sacraments the Spirit empowers us. The Word of God gives us great power; it gives us, as our own, the power of Christ over death and the Devil. It gives us the assurance of Eternal Life. It gives us the way, the only way, to win the war we fight every day