“When the devil finished every test, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.” Luke 4:13
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, the day that we traditionally hear the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Luke’s account mirrors that of Matthew: both stories feature the devil offering Jesus food, power, and protection, and both stories detail Jesus’ Scriptural refutation of the devil’s wiles. There is, however, a significant difference between the two accounts. While Matthew’s version concludes with angels waiting on Jesus, Luke’s version ends with an ominous prediction that the devil would return at an opportune time. At the end of Matthew’s account, we get the sense that the devil has been defeated and that Jesus is clearly going to come out on top at the end of the story. In Luke’s account, the devil is not a vanquished foe limping from the field of battle; he is a cunning strategist engaged in a tactical retreat. This detail makes the story of Jesus’ temptation much more frightening; it leaves us wondering when the devil is going to make his next move. The opportune time finally presents itself in Luke 22:3, when “Satan enters into Judas called Iscariot.”
People tend to reject the notion of Satan. I think this is partially due to popular imagery. Thanks to Dante and others, “Satan” connotes images of a horned figure with a goatee, cloven feet, and a tail who is the master of numerous demonic minions. But “Satan” is actually a more generic title for one who is the “adversary,” the one who opposes, tempts, and challenges us in our journey through life. In this sense, Satan can represent a whole variety of forces in our lives, including our pride, our hypocrisy, and our failure to care for those less fortunate than ourselves. We are not called to deal with a particular satanic being, we are called to deal with all of those things in our lives that draw us away from God. In many ways, this can be even more intimidating than the devilish character popular in books and movies. Instead of looking for a specific foe, we are faced with the uncertain reality of destructive forces that constantly seek opportunities to draw us away from a relationship with God and other people. Just as Satan is ominously lurking in the shadows in Luke’s gospel, these forces are constantly tempting us away from a life of grace.
The good news is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has dealt with the power of evil in this world. Not only that, God equips us to deal with Satan and with those things that draw us away from the love of God on a daily basis. Just as Jesus confronted Satan with the aid of prayer, Scripture, and discipline, we can deal with these adversarial forces through perseverance in prayer, the study of Scripture, and intentionality in our spiritual routines. As our deacon pointed out in her sermon this morning, Lent is our opportune time to deal with the power of Satan. Lent is the time that we remind ourselves that God has equipped each one of us to embrace God’s love and share it with others. We are called to use Lent as an opportunity to examine those places in our lives that are susceptible to the forces of sin and death, deny their power, and renew our trust in God’s grace and love.