There are some who believe the devil exists, but are uncertain whether or not God exists. People are pretty convinced that there is evil in the world, but are not sure about God. And yet there are others who think the devil is a mythical character with horns and a pitchfork. It is difficult to find language to talk about the devil and the reality of evil and temptation we experience in life.
1st Sunday in
Lent, Year C
Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Psalm
91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10.8a-13; Luke 4.1-13
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from
God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
About eight years ago I read
a book called, The Screwtape Letters,
by C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis is one of the
most profound Christian writers in the 20th Century, writing books
like the popular children’s series, The
Chronicles of Narnia, which are now
being made into movies, to the theological works of The Four Loves and Mere
Christianity, to The Wounded Healer,
which he works through his crisis of faith after the death of his wife
The Screwtape Letters is like no other book I have read. It is a book of fiction depicting Lewis’
Scriptural grounding and creativity when it comes to thinking about the devil
and evil in the world. The book is
formatted in a series of letters written by the main character, Screwtape, to
his understudy and nephew, Wormwood.
Screwtape is a sort of devil, or tempter, and Wormwood is also a little
devil of sorts in training to be a successful tempter and promoter of evil in
the world. It is Screwtape’s job to
guide and evaluate Wormwood, who has a certain human being he is assigned
to. It is Wormwood’s job, then, to draw
the human away from God to focus on selfish desires, adding to the evil and
chaos that happens in the world.
In our reading today, the
devil comes to Jesus in the wilderness to draw him away from God and tempts him
to focus on himself with three things: turning stones into bread in his
incredible hunger, bowing down and worshiping the devil in exchange for the
kingdoms of the world, and throwing himself from a great height, trusting that
God’s angels will save him.
With each instance of temptation,
Jesus responds with Scripture:
does not live by bread alone.”
the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
not put the Lord your God to the test.”
I don’t know about you, but I
have never fasted for 40 days. I don’t
believe I’ve even fasted for one. Can
you imagine the temptation of bread after not eating for 40 days? The devil knows that if Jesus will turn the
stones into bread to curb his hunger, he will certainly come down from the
cross when the pain is unbearable (reference: text study 2/12/13).”
What Jesus knows is that
human beings do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the
mouth of God. Jesus is fed by the
presence of God through the Holy Spirit that has filled him in his baptism
right before being led into the wilderness.
Jesus knows what it is like to feel his stomach cramp up from hunger,
yet he also knows what it is to fully rely on God through suffering and
In each instance of
temptation, Jesus is never forced to carry out anything the devil is trying to
get him to do. He is merely tempted, and
yes, the temptation is great. This is an
important lesson for us. It’s not: “The
Devil made me do it!” but rather owning up to the ways we participate in
turning away from God by feeding our own wants and desires.
Let’s use the difficult
example of drugs and alcohol. If you are
staring at a drug you are addicted to or a bottle of alcohol, you have the
temptation to satisfy the desire to put that drug or alcohol into your body. You have admitted in treatment that you are
powerless over these things that control your life, and yet the drugs don’t
make you take them. The alcohol bottle
doesn’t force itself down your throat. You
yourself pick it up and put it into your body.
What the devil does is try to
convince you that what you want is what you need. “Your body needs this drug. You need to drink this alcohol to fit in or
to feel better about yourself. You need
these drugs to numb yourself to whatever happened in your past that is painful. Betray your family and friends who love you
to get your fix because you need it.”
When it all boils down to it,
the devil (or the drugs and alcohol) can’t make you do it. Neither can food, gambling, material things,
judging others, sex, cheating, lying.
You can put whatever temptation you want in that spot. No matter what it is in our lives that causes
us to focus on self instead of God and others, gives you and me a very
difficult and painful lesson to learn.
Like Adam and Eve we want to blame someone else, even the devil, for
choices we make that don’t end well for us.
You know, I grew up thinking
for a time being that the devil was God’s equal. That the devil had just as much power as God
did. But do you know how scary this is?! This means that there is this epic battle between
God and the devil and no one knows who is going to win.
There are some who believe
the devil exists, but are uncertain whether or not God exists. People are pretty convinced that there is
evil in the world, but are not sure about God.
And yet there are others who think the devil is a mythical character
with horns and a pitchfork. It is
difficult to find language to talk about the devil and the reality of evil and
temptation we experience in life.
One of the most interesting
concepts in C.S. Lewis’ book, The
Screwtape Letters that made me think the most is the idea that one of the
devil’s greatest achievements is to convince human beings that he doesn’t
exist. It creates a kind of apathy and
unwillingness to discern where temptation is coming from within and outside of one’s
I personally think one of the
devil’s greatest achievements on this earth is to convince human beings that
God doesn’t love them. When everything
seems to fall apart in your life the temptation is to think that God doesn’t
care and has abandoned you. Jesus says
at the end of Matthew: “Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”
A solid, Biblically founded point
C.S. Lewis makes in the preface of his book is that God has no equal. The devil might be equal to the archangel
Michael, but not God. Through the story
of the temptation of Jesus and the rest of the witness in the Scriptures, we are
told and know that God, the creator of all that is, is the most powerful and
With the help of the Spirit
of God, Jesus overcomes great temptation.
With the help of God, Jesus is able to abandon himself into God’s care
when he is on the cross as he takes his last breath and dies. With the death of Jesus the devil thinks he
There is a belief in our
Christian tradition that for the three days Jesus descends into hell before he
is raised from the dead, he does two things:
One, he creates a prison break from hell and frees those who have died,
and the other is basically looking at the devil and saying “Haha. Look who’s laughing now, punk.”
Hebrews 2.14 says: “Since,
therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise
shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has
the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were
held in slavery by the fear of death.”
All of us face temptation
every day. One of the blessings of the
season of Lent is to really pay attention to the ways we are tempted to turn
away from God and turn inward toward ourselves.
When you feel the voice in
your head that is tempting you to do or say something you know will turn you
away from God and the needs of others, tell the devil to take a hike.
When you hear self-loathing
thoughts, think of Psalm 139: “God knit me together in my mothers womb…I am
The devil does not have
charge over your life. You do, and God
Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber writes this about Lent:
We journey with Jesus through the desert of Lent but it’s almost as
though we have to clear through a whole lot of brush to even get to desert…The
wilderness of the truth deep within us…Lent is about hacking through
self-delusion and false promises. Lent is about looking at our lives in
as bright a light as possible, the light of Christ…It is during this time of
self-reflection and sacrificial giving and prayer that we make our way through
the over grown and tangled mess of our lives. We trudge through the lies of our
death-denying culture to seek the simple weighty truth of who we really are.
I would also add, whose we
really are. God is with you through
temptation. And in the words of St. Paul
in Romans: “The God of peace will
shortly crush Satan under your feet. The
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Romans – 16.20