Sunday, March 1, 2009

Prayer, Meditation, Temptation

First Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2009
Mark 1:9-15

Before you reject me as a heretic, hear me out. Or rather, I should say, hear the Word of God out.

Satan is your teacher. You grow in your faith because this is so. You are able to carry out your call to discipleship because you are taught by Satan.

Luther had a knack for saying things that seem over the top, and this is an example. But if you examine the way the Scriptures speak, you will see that his “over-the-top” statements often are nothing else than driving home what those very Scriptures teach.

I invite you, then, to hear the Word of the Lord. It wasn’t Satan who hoodwinked Jesus into that desert to be tempted by him. It was the Holy Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. This is so important for us but we probably don’t realize how much. God wanted Jesus to enter into the struggle of temptation by Satan.

What exactly did God have in mind? Jesus is Baptized, something He didn’t need for Himself. He does this for us. It is God’s anointing Him for His Ministry and as the Savior. What this Ministry is we find out immediately upon His coming out of the water. He is driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit to enter into spiritual warfare with Satan.

Notice He doesn’t “fight back,” so to speak. He uses a weapon, the Word of God. But His battle with Satan is not one in which He is interested in fighting fire with fire. Jesus knows that He will defeat Satan. But more importantly He knows He will do it at the cross. He knows He will defeat Satan by suffering, not by beating Satan down.

While Matthew and Luke tell us exactly those portions of the Word of God Jesus used to respond to Satan’s temptation, Mark doesn’t mention them. But he does tell us what the Word of God was that was spoken to Him right before His temptation in the wilderness. The Father said to Him: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” This is the Word of God that carried Jesus through the temptation in the wilderness.

Because what this is all about is humility. It’s all about receiving. It’s not about glory or power. Satan tempts with those things. God provides for us what we need. Satan places doubt in our minds that God is holding out on us. But this is why Satan is in the mix in your spiritual life. Why he, in fact, is your teacher.

Luther knew a little something about spiritual struggle. Having had been a monk, he had experienced a tradition of spiritual formation which was designed to capture the experience of ecstasy and illumination through union with the glorified Lord Jesus. To reach this goal, a monk ascended in stages, from earth to heaven, from the humanity of Jesus to His divinity. He would read aloud to himself a passage from the Scriptures to stir up emotions, move to heartfelt prayer, and culminate in mental meditation on heavenly things, in the hopes of gaining spiritual illumination.

John Kleinig, a Lutheran professor says this about Luther:
In contrast to this rather manipulative method, Luther proposed an evangelical pattern of spirituality as reception rather than self-promotion. This involved three things: prayer, meditation, and temptation. All three revolved around ongoing, faithful attention to God’s word. The order of the list is significant, for unlike the traditional pattern of devotion, the study of theology begins and ends here on earth. These three terms describe the life of faith as a cycle that begins with prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit, concentrates on the reception of the Holy Spirit through meditation on God’s word, and results in spiritual attack. This in turn leads a person back to further prayer and intensified meditation. Luther, therefore, did not envisage the spiritual life in active terms as a process of self-development but in passive terms as a process of reception from the Triune God. In it self-sufficient individuals became beggars before God.

Satan obviously seeks our destruction. It is not in his enticement or condemnation of us that he is our teacher. Rather, it is his attack upon us. It is actually more, it is an attack on God and His Word. This is what he did to Jesus in the wilderness. It is in temptation that we actually experience the love of God. Otherwise it’s just theoretical knowledge. Or an emotional possession. As long as we are operating by our thoughts or feelings the devil contently sits by. But as soon as we dig into the Word of God the devil mounts severe opposition, stirring up misunderstanding, contradiction, and persecution. This is, as they say, where the rubber hits the road. It’s why Jesus was driven out into the wilderness to be attacked by Satan. It’s why we struggle in our Christian lives.

What does this mean? It means that when God Baptizes you He then drives you out into the wilderness of struggle and temptation, of being attacked by Satan. He does this because when He gives you new life He then sustains you in it and forms you into one who is in union with Christ.

It means that your only hope in temptation is not in coming to terms with it or understanding it or avoiding it but rather prayer and meditation. This will produce more temptation, but it will strengthen you. Dig into the Word of God. Pray the Holy Spirit to guide you. Pray the Holy Spirit to guard you in temptation and drive you further into God’s Word when the struggle is intense. Jesus is God, and yet He didn’t go it alone in the wilderness. Yes, He was alone, but He held on to the Word. He stuck it right back in Satan’s face. He humbly received the serving action of the angels to help Him in His time of trial.

Never think that God has left you in the lurch. As much as Satan will come after you—and he will—God will all the more give you the strength you need. Never underestimate how He does it—through His Word, in your Baptism, in His Holy Supper. The more you seek refuge in these the more you will be attacked, and the more God will strengthen you. Each time you are deterred, tempted—the weakness of the Word of God, the confusion of the Word of God, the unreliability of the Word of God—remind Satan that you are Baptized. You are the beloved son or daughter of God. Rush here to receive the Sacrament, you need the Body and Blood of Christ. Flee to the Word of God.

You will sin. Satan will make you wonder if you are worthy of God’s love. You will experience troubles. The devil will get you to question God’s power and His care for you. But the very weakness of God’s Word is its strength. In it the Holy Spirit will descend upon you and anoint you with His mercy and love. He will drive you back into the wilderness of temptation where He will send His angels to guard you and you will be strengthened. You will see more and more that your life is bound up with Christ; that there is no true joy and solace apart from Him and His Word, Him and your Baptism, Him and His Body and Blood He feeds you with. You will see, and rejoice, that you will be beaten down but always remain in His eternal care. Amen.


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