- Lent 1.19 “Devilish” Luke 4:1-13
I hate the devil. I know that’s nothing profound or anything, I mean heck, we all do, right? But for me, I think sometimes it goes much more beyond this. For instance (and this may be unfair of me) I can’t for the life of me figure out why a “Christian” university (or, uh, er Methodist) would ever choose devils for their mascot. How are Blue Devils really any better than red or any other color devils? What’s the message here? Something. Something worrisome. I would say “mothers; don’t let your kids grow up to be devils—any color; or Demons disguised as Deacons. Go Tar Heels. Shoot, running with a Wolfpack would be far better option too.” Probably I’m just not smart enough to understand how those high falutin’ Dukies solve this problem…
Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah! The devil and how hateful he is. Isn’t he just horrible? Look how sneaky he is in the Gospel today! He just won’t play by the rules(!). He’s got a worse tripping problem than Grayson Allen! He won’t come at you head on, Marquise of Queensberry rules. No! He’s such a cheat and a lout. He’ll trip you up when you least expect it, out of nowhere. You think the play is done, you’ve just dunked over his head and been a gentleman about it, no trash-talking, fair and square, all above board. But trotting back on defense, all of a sudden, the devil’s foot shoots out behind him and trips you and you go down hard, sprawling flat on your face! You sprain your knee! You might never play basketball ever, again—well, not against a really good team like Carolina, ‘cause then, we might find out you’re not as good as you think you are. And the courage you show dealing with the mildest of knee sprains says so much about your character. So impressive! Oh, wait, what were we talking about? I drifted again!
Oh yeah—the devil and his tripping problem and how hateful he is! Look at our Gospel this morning and see that lousy rotten trip-fiend! Luke tells us Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, right off His monster dunk in the Jordan is led into the wilderness and agrees to go forty rounds with the devil. Straight fight. And during those 40 days (24 hour rounds! 40 of ‘em! That’s a real heavyweight bout!) Jesus ate nothing, giving the devil every advantage. But the devil got nowhere. Did not win a single round. Jesus: 40. Devil: zero, zip, nada, nothing! And when the fight is over, Luke tells us that Jesus was hungry. And you can see why. Now, the devil is all:
“Hey, wow, good fight. Good fight!You are the best. It’s like You’re some Omnipotent Guy or something! Impressive! You beat me fair and square, and I have enormous respect for You. But can I say, something, as a friend, a fan? You look hungry, Man (or should I say Lord?). A little bit pale. Hypoglycemic or something, I forget the word for it, but You look bad. And hey! You’re the Son of God, right? I keep forgetting that supposedly You are. Well, easy solution! Before you fall flat on Your face and possibly suffer one of those mild knee sprains that have ended so many pro careers before they even get started, why not just wave Your fingers (it’s all in the wrist, right?) or whatever You do, say the Word or something and make this stone become bread? Before you end up flat on Your face, strain a muscle or worse…”
You see what the devil is doing here? When the agreed upon fight is over—when they’re supposed to have dropped their guard and retreated to neutral corners, the devil sneaks up, shoots his foot out behind him, hooks Jesus by the ankle and tried to send Him sprawling. Tripping, if I ever saw it. Five minute major, at least. A very, very low blow. Devilish. Sneaky. Horrible. I just hate the devil, don’t you?
But Jesus keeps His feet, despite the trip out of nowhere—when the fight was supposed to be over. He answers, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word of God’.” Now, I don’t know about you, but honestly, I would have gone down hard, laid out, flat on my face, with an actual career-ending injury. Because I don’t always live by the Word alone, as I would like to or imagine I do. No, sometimes—I rely on my own wits and smart mouth and balance…
So, now the fight is over, right? Oh, no. The devil takes Jesus up on a high mountain: “Hey, let me show You something! Since the fight is over and You’ve won, humor me… You won that round but I still hold the ultimate prize. The world that has fallen to me for my win over Your precious Eve and Adam in the Garden—I know You want it back. I know that’s why You’ve come here like this. I’m not stupid. Now, I could never beat You. But I could hurt You, real bad. See, my superstar player isn’t really hurt. And next time, I’m putting my best on the court and then the outcome will be different. Safety not guaranteed. Don’t bring a knife again to a gunfight!
“So here’s what I propose: why make this ugly, with more tripping and low blows and things of that sort? Why beat each other senseless and loose all those brain cells? Here’s all the kingdoms of the world. I can give them away to whomever I wish. And I want You to have them, I really do. So, if You just fall down and worship Me, then all will be Yours—I’ve just got this one, little praise song for our order of worship; 7 words, repeated 11 times, and voila!—the world is Your oyster.” And Jesus says “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’.”
But the devil still won’t stop. He takes one more shot—remember, this is the third punch he throws after the ref has stopped the 40 round fight! It’s the blows you’re not braced for that sting! Devil brings Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, 100 feet high, says: “If I can’t convert You, why don’t You convert me? You’re mission-minded right? If You really are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. Because I read the Bible too, and somewhere it says: “He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you, and in their hands they shall bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone…” And Jesus says: “It’s also written: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God!” And the devil quit. For the time being. But he’ll be back…
It’s that last temptation the Luke records that’s most devilish! Oh, Satan has an inkling of some business with a Cross, Death; and he’s trying to trip Jesus up with His own Word—that throwing Your life away recklessly isn’t cricket. Surely God can’t let His own Son die, right? And that’s the temptation that trips us up all the time! That surely Jesus doesn’t mean it when He says to follow Him we take up the cross and lose our life, lose everything, for Christ’s sake? That can’t be the only Way to Heaven, can it?
I hate the devil! Because his way really is tempting! How can dying be the way to live? What victory comes from defeat? What good can possibly come from sharing the suffering and dying and humiliation of Jesus on the cross? Where are the angels to catch us when we’re falling? Where they were on Good Friday—watching with awe the Magnificent Defeat of the Crucified King. Where we are, now. Where Peace surpassing understanding guards heart and mind in Jesus our Savior. Amen.