Temptation to Triumph

First Sunday in Lent

Take the very hardest thing in your life—the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom. Lilias Trotter, Parables of the Cross.

Gorse is a yellow-flowered dark green bush that grows in Europe and North Africa, the leaves of which form sharp thorns.  Lilias Trotter, artist missionary of the early 1900’s in North Africa, painted the gorse in her delicate water colors. In her book Parables of the Cross, she brings understanding of God’s truth in nature to our lives:

See this bit of gorse-bush.  The whole year round the thorn has been hardening and sharpening.  Spring comes: the thorn does not drop off, and it does not soften; there it is, as uncompromising as ever; but half-way up appear two brown furry balls, mere specks at first, that break at last—straight out of last year’s thorn—into a blaze of fragrant golden glory.

Never mind if the trouble shows no sign of giving way: it is just when it seems most hopelessly unyielding, holding on through the spring days, alive and strong, it is then that the tiny buds appear that soon will clothe it with glory.  Take the very hardest thing in your life—the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom.

The Gospel Reading for the First Sunday in Lent

Matthew 1-3 Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

5-6 For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.” The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.”

Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”

8-9 For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, “They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.”

10 Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”

11 The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.

Matthew 4:1-11 (MSG)

We see triumph after temptation in this cosmic battle between Satan and Jesus. Jesus had just received the affirmation of the Father God and the Holy Spirit at his baptism, and Satan attempts to beat him before Jesus even gets started. The Holy Spirit directs Jesus into the desert to prepare for his ministry with fasting and prayer. We also have entered into a desert journey of solitude, prayer, fasting, and giving in which we will encounter our inner battle with self and Satan.

Many have postulated on the meaning of the three tests: “turn these stones into bread,” “throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple,” and “all these kingdoms I will give you if you fall down and worship me.” It is a battle of identity: “If you are the Son of God…” Luke presents Jesus as the”Son of God” coming uniquely from God as the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus is the result of God’s creative power of incarnation. Defeating Satan with the authority of his identity and the power of the Spirit, Jesus now begins his ministry as the Servant of God to all people (Isaiah 9:1-2 quoted in Matthew 4:12-16).

Like the sharpening and hardening thorns of the Gorse bush, Jesus experienced great temptation and pain. Imagine the crown of thorns beaten down on his head as he faced the cross. Yet out of those thorns, his sacrifice, the yellow flowers of beauty and salvation grew, and God triumphed gloriously.

REFLECT. Look again at Lilias Trotter’s painting. What are the thorns, the place of difficulty and pain you are currently experiencing? Allow the Spirit of God to show you how to battle your own demons, and triumph over temptation:

  • Pray with Authority: “Get away from me, Satan! I serve the Lord God!” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7
  • Affirm your identity as a beloved Child of God: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…Beloved, we are God’s children. 1 John 3:1
  • Listen for direction from God’s Spirit in solitude and prayer. After his prayer and temptation in the desert, Jesus was guided by the Spirit to his purpose and ministry. Luke 4:14

This first full week of Lent is a good opportunity to center, to listen, to look and see. We have been reminded of our humanity, starting out as dust. And today we remember that Jesus sat in the dust of the desert in his temptation, centering himself and preparing for the work ahead. May you meet Jesus there, fed by the bread of the Word of God, and energized to worship the Lord God.

Temptation is defeated and triumph comes with ministering angels. “And the Devil left him, and behold angels came and were ministering to him.” Matthew 4:11

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