God said to Noah and to his sons with him: "See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you: all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals that were with you and came out of the ark. I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the Earth."
God added: "This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. When I bring clouds over the Earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings."(P) The word of the Lord.
Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me in your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior. (R)
Remember that your compassion, O Lord, and your love are from of old. In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O Lord. (R)
Good and upright is the Lord; thus He shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice and teaches the lowly His way. (R)
Beloved: Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the day of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.(P) The word of the Lord.
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
We started the forty-day period of Lent on Wednesday with ashes on our foreheads as a sign of sorrow and repentance for our sins. Ashes also remind us of our own mortality and impermanence. That is, everything in our life on earth, including suffering, is temporary and only our life in Christ is permanent and eternal. Lent has two primary purposes:
It is a time for spiritual preparation for Holy Week, which culminates in the celebration of Easter or the Lord's Passover. Just as the Lord Jesus passed (crossed) over our sins committed in the past and from death to eternal life at His resurrection, we are called upon during lent to pass over from all sinful, selfish, ungodly and worldly ways to a new and holy life on Easter day, Romans (3:25); John (5:24).
It is a time for renewal of our baptismal commitment through three traditional Christian practices - almsgiving, prayer and fasting. At baptism, which was our first Easter, we have been washed clean of the stain of original sin: yet, as the Prophet Isaiah laments, "All of us have become like the unclean; all our good deeds are like polluted garments; we have all withered like leaves, blown away by our iniquities", and do not truly "believe in the gospel", Prophet Isaiah (64:5); Mark (1:15). Not "believing in the gospel" means not living or following the way of life laid down for us in the gospel of Christ. So, Lent is a period set apart for us to turn away from sins and come back to the Lord and to His gospel.
When we try to do the right thing, or when we seriously start to change our bad behaviour and attitude, we can all get distracted. Appropriately today, our Church recommends Mark's account of Jesus' temptation in the desert for reading and reflection. In his gospel, Mark only briefly mentions the temptation; he does not include the details, such as the kinds of temptations, how Jesus overcame them and so on, Mark (1:12-13).
Matthew and Luke, however, narrate the temptation in greater detail. The most striking thing in these two verses is the Greek word ekballo which means "to drive out", "to cast out". Mark writes, "The Spirit, i.e. God's spirit, drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan", Mark (1:12). The other two writers employ the word Greek word anachtha which means "to lead". They write, "The Spirit led Jesus into the desert", Luke (4:1); Matthew (4:1).
At first glance, these words might not seem to differ significantly, but "to drive out" is a much stronger and forceful word than "to lead". In other words, Matthew and Luke say that Jesus was essentially guided by the Spirit into the desert but Mark mentions that the Spirit literally "drove" or "cast" Jesus out into the desert. That is, Jesus did not go deliberately and of His own accord into the desert. "Desert" here means an area which was desolate and uninhabited by people. It was the plan of God that Jesus would go into the desert so that he could be tempted by Satan. One might ask, "Why should Jesus be tempted by the devil? Was God Himself tempted? Did God tempt Jesus?" and so on.
The Greek word for temptation is peirazo. In the Bible, the word is used in two senses - positive and negative. When it is used positively it means to "test", "try", or "prove". For instance, God tested Abraham's willingness and his faith in God's promise. In the Garden of Eden, God tested Adam and Eve, just to see whether they would obey Him. When the same word is used negatively it means to "entice", "seduce", "solicit", or "provoke to sin", that is, "to tempt", someone to do evil, to mistrust God and trust in oneself instead.
As far as the temptation of Jesus is concerned and foremost, God the Father was not tempted nor was the Holy Spirit. Only Jesus, the Son of God, who came to live like any other human being, except in sin, was tempted. Jesus was indeed tempted as a human being, not as God. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews states that Jesus is the "one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are", Hebrews (4:15).
Secondly, neither God nor the Sprit tempted Jesus. God is never tempted, and He never tempts anyone, but allowed Satan to tempt Jesus to "prove" His total submission to the will of God, James (1:14).
Matthew and Luke record in detail how Satan tried to get Jesus into committing sin. Satan tried to trick Jesus just as he had deceived Adam and Eve. He tempted Jesus with food, power and glory. He wanted Jesus to disobey God and ruin God's plan of salvation. But Jesus did not give in to any of the temptations. He showed that nothing evil could deceive Him. He prevailed where Adam failed and drove Satan away. He proved that He was Holy and sent by God. If He could have yielded to Satan's demands, then He would not be a Saviour and God would not be sovereign.
What is the message for us?
Socrates, the father of ancient philosophy, once stated, "the unexamined life is not worth living". That is to say, every human being ought to lead an examined life. We need to examine our own hearts daily, especially during Lent. Let us, therefore, by all means, use sometime to be alone, to "search and examine our ways; examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith, wherein we have sinned and return to the Lord", Lamentations (3:40); 2 Corinthians (13:5).
Temptations are part of everyone's life. As long as we are in this world, temptations and trials will come our way. God allows testing so that we can rise up. However, let us not blame God for them. He does not tempt or entice us to sin: Saint James reminds us that God cannot be tempted nor does He tempt anyone, James (1:13). Our lives are in God's hands to direct and to oversee, so that we fulfil His purpose for us. Hence, sometimes He allows trials in our lives; He tests us. But, it does not mean God is to blame for the temptations that we experience.
James says that each of us is lured, and enticed, by our own evil desires, James (1:14). Jesus' temptation came from an external source, Satan, whereas our temptations come right from within our hearts due to our own sinful thoughts. We are indeed born with a fallen nature that came directly from Adam. However, our temptations are no different from Jesus' temptations. Just as Jesus was tempted, we are all tempted with hunger, pride plus a lust for power and glory and to turn away from God even though His temptations were far beyond and much greater than anything that we will ever experience.
Let us be aware that the closer we come to God, the more we will be tempted. Satan does not like our getting close to God and will do anything to derail our attempts to be good and to do good, especially during our wilderness times. It is when we are down, discouraged, afraid, disappointed, lonely and ill that we are tempted to listen to the voices that lead us away from God.
The biggest temptation most of us are faced with in the wilderness is to just give up; temptation to stop trying to live good lives; temptation to be impatient, unkind, envious, arrogant, selfish, untruthful, greedy, self-centred, unfaithful and evil. The only way to keep from giving up when we find ourselves in the wilderness is to persevere. We must rise to meet the challenges head on and persevere in doing what's right, in being faithful to God, in trusting God, in listening to God, and in loving others as God loves us.
There is a promise of blessing both on earth and in heaven for those who overcome and endure till the end. God is pleased with the people who patiently endure difficulties, trials and temptations and gives them the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him, James (1:12). And at the end of trials and temptations, the faithfulness of God will be revealed as He would bless those who overcome like Job, for "the Lord is very merciful and shows compassion", James (5:11).
Let us, therefore, stand strong and courageous against all the enemies, trials, and temptations that confront us and look to the gracious reward God has promised.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!