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Sunday Lenten Conversations: One

Blake, William, 1757-1827. The First Temptation—" Command that these stones be made bread.", from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

The Collect:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 4:1-11 (The Voice)

The Spirit then led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. After this fast, He was, as you can imagine, hungry. But He was also curiously stronger, when the tempter came to Jesus.

Devil: If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.

Jesus (quoting Deuteronomy): It is written, “Man does not live by bread alone. Rather, he lives on every word that comes from the mouth of the Eternal One.”

Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city, Jerusalem, and he had Jesus stand at the very highest point in the holy temple.

Devil: If You are the Son of God, jump! And then we will see if You fulfill the Scripture that says,

He will command His heavenly messengers concerning You, and the messengers will buoy You in their hands So that You will not crash, or fall, or even graze Your foot on a stone.

Jesus: That is not the only thing Scripture says. It also says, “Do not put the Eternal One, your God, to the test.”

And still the devil subjected Jesus to a third test. He took Jesus to the top of a very high mountain, and he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in all their splendor and glory, their power and pomp.

Devil: If You bow down and worship me, I will give You all these kingdoms.

Jesus: Get away from Me, Satan. I will not serve you. I will instead follow Scripture, which tells us to “worship the Eternal One, your God, and serve only Him.”

Then the devil left Jesus. And heavenly messengers came and ministered to Him.

Excerpts from The Temptation in the Wilderness, Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald.

(with Questions for Conversation added)

For how could the Son of God be tempted with evil -- with that which must to him appear in its true colours of discord, its true shapes of deformity? Or how could he then be the Son of his Father who cannot be tempted with evil?

In the answer to this lies the centre, the essential germ of the whole interpretation: He was not tempted with Evil but with Good; with inferior forms of good, that is, pressing in upon him, while the higher forms of good held themselves aloof, biding their time, that is, God's time.

Questions: What are the good things that your heart most desires?

How might you be tempted to reach for these good things in a way that is not God’s way?

First, He was hungry, and the devil said, Make bread of this stone.

The Father did not give him a stone when he asked for bread. It was Satan that brought the stone and told him to provide for himself. The Father said, That is a stone. The Son would not say, That is a loaf. No one creative fiat shall contradict another. The Father and the Son are of one mind.

Without the bread he will die, as men say; but he will not find that he dies. He will only find that the tent which hid the stars from him is gone, and that he can see the heavens; or rather, the earthly house will melt away from around him, and he will find that he has a palace-home about him, another and loftier word of God clothing upon him. So the man lives by the word of God even in refusing the bread which God does not give him, for, instead of dying because he does not eat, he rises into a higher life even of the same kind.

Questions: How have you seen God’s provision in hindsight, or even “high-sight?”

How might you practice seeing with “high-sight” in your current life?

We now come to the second attempt of the Enemy.

If the Father told him to cast himself down, that moment the pinnacle pointed naked to the sky. If the devil threw him down, let God send his angels; or, if better, allow him to be dashed to pieces in the valley below. But never will he forestall the divine will. The Father shall order what comes next. The Son will obey. In the path of his work he will turn aside for no stone. There let the angels bear him in their hands if need be. But he will not choose the path because there is a stone in it. He will not choose at all. He will go where the Spirit leads him.

To tempt a parent after the flesh in such a manner would be impertinence: to tempt God so is the same vice in its highest form -- a natural result of that condition of mind which is worse than all the so-called cardinal sins, namely, spiritual pride, which attributes the tenderness and love of God not to man's being and man's need, but to some distinguishing excellence in the individual himself, which causes the Father to love him better than his fellows, and so pass by his faults with a smile.

Question: How how you been reminded that your Heavenly Father's love for you is without condition?

We shall now look at the third temptation.

The first was to help himself in his need; the second, perhaps, to assert the Father; the third to deliver his brethren. To deliver them, that is, after the fashion of men -- from the outside still. Indeed, the whole Temptation may be regarded as the contest of the seen and the unseen, of the outer and inner, of the likely and the true, of the show and the reality. And as in the others, the evil in this last lay in that it was a temptation to save his brethren, instead of doing the Will of his Father.

The earth should be free because Love was stronger than Death. Therefore should fierceness and wrong and hypocrisy and God-service play out their weary play. He would not pluck the spreading branches of the tree; he would lay the axe to its root. It would take time; but the tree would be dead at last -- dead, and cast into the lake of fire. It would take time; but his Father had time enough and to spare. It would take courage and strength and self-denial and endurance; but his Father could give him all. It would cost pain of body and mind, yea, agony and torture; but those he was ready to take on himself. It would cost him the vision of many sad and, to all but him, hopeless sights; he must see tears without wiping them, hear sighs without changing them into laughter, see the dead lie, and let them lie; see Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted; he must look on his brothers and sisters crying as children over their broken toys, and must not mend them; he must go on to the grave, and they not know that thus he was setting all things right for them.

Questions: How is it difficult to see the longsuffering love of God in your life right now?

What honest feelings do we have, that need be expressed in prayer, for God’s timing?

Then Satan ventured once more. When?

Was it then, when at the last moment, in the agony of the last faint, the Lord cried out, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" when, having done the great work, having laid it aside clean and pure as the linen cloth that was ready now to enfold him, another cloud than that on the mount overshadowed his soul, and out of it came a voiceless persuasion that, after all was done, God did not care for his work or for him?

Even in those words the adversary was foiled -- and for ever. For when he seemed to be forsaken, his cry was still, "My God! my God!"

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