This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent. The Bible passage is the account in Mark’s Gospel of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. In our world, we generally regard temptation as a bad thing. Temptation is viewed as something that Satan uses to make us stumble and fall before we become wracked with a sense of guilt and inadequacy. However, it is pertinent to note, according to Mark’s Gospel that it was the Holy Spirit that sent Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted. Why? One simple answer is that for God, temptations are not sent to make us fall but rather to strengthen us. Temptations are not meant for our ruin but for our good. In some translations of the Bible, the word temptation is replaced by the word testing. While we do not like the pressure of tests, we do acknowledge that by being tested we emerge a better person. In a physical test, we emerge a better athlete and in mental tests, we emerge a more knowledgeable scholar. It is the same when God allows Satan to tempt us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to emerge a more spiritual person and a better warrior for God. Remember, God does not want us to lead easy contented lives as much as purposeful lives in which we continually grow in character. As we journey through Lent, let us rejoice in all the temptations that face us and see them as a way of deepening our relationship with God. In addition, if we do stumble and fall, let us just pick ourselves up, seek forgiveness, resume the fight and continue the journey.
The Bible passage for today, Sunday, 14th February, is the account in Mark’s Gospel of the transfiguration. Jesus was at a pivotal point in his ministry. He was just about to set out to Jerusalem and to the cross. What does he do? He turns to his Heavenly Father to get his endorsement. Although fully God, Jesus was also fully human and needed to be sure that the searing pain he was about to endure was fully part of His Father’s plan. Moses represented the ‘law’ of God and Elijah represented the prophets of God. By receiving their validation, Jesus was positioning himself to be fully in tune with God’s plan of salvation wrought in history. If Jesus had God’s backing, then he would be able to cope with the unimaginable pain of the crucifixion, death and temporary separation from His Heavenly Father. What is the application for us? Two things, I suggest. Firstly, before we embark on any major journey in life, we should seek God’s approval first. Secondly, once we receive this approval, we should boldly go forward in the sure knowledge that whatever the devil throws at us, we have the full backing and power of God to overcome.
The Bible passage this week, the week beginning 7th February, is the account of Jesus healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law as well as many who were possessed with evil spirits. After driving out many demons, Jesus prevented the demons from speaking because they knew who he was. Why did Jesus do this? Why did Jesus not want his actions to be known? There are two inter-related reasons. Firstly, Jesus did not want to become a celebrity faith healer or celebrity exorcist. That was not his main aim but there was another, related reason. To understand this, we need to understand Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to this world. Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God. This was his over-riding concern and he talked more about the Kingdom than anything else. For this, he needed to spend time with his disciples. He needed time to teach them and train them because, when he was gone, they would have to take over the work of building the Kingdom. Now, if Jesus was known as someone more powerful than even Caesar, he risked immediate imprisonment by the Romans. If that happened, he would be unable to teach his disciples and his ability to establish the Kingdom of God would be hampered. We too should have an over-riding concern for the Kingdom of God. For this, we too should be wise as the best way to promote it.
The Bible passage this week, the week beginning Sunday, 31st January, is the account of Jesus driving out an evil spirit. Many Christians today do not seem to believe in Satan or, at least, do not believe he has any influence through his evil spirits. This is strange because Jesus certainly believed in the power of Satan. In addition, Satan seems to be more active in our lives when we start to promote the kingdom of God and this is why, in the Bible passage, Jesus had come to his attention. What about us? Have we ever come under attack for what we have done to promote God’s kingdom? There is a challenge for us all here. If we have lived our entire Christian life and never had our finances, career or family ‘attacked’, perhaps we need to ask ourselves, is Satan interested in us? This is precisely what the apostles meant when they urged us to rejoice in our sufferings. Rejoice because Satan has taken notice of you and therefore you must be doing something right! At the same time, we must be fearless towards Satan. Jesus, by His death and resurrection has defeated Satan. As a result, in Christ, we have nothing to fear. Yes, there may be skirmishes still going on, but the war is won and, with the authority of Jesus, we will prevail. In one of the earliest books in the New Testament, the author tells us to resist Satan in the sure knowledge that he will ‘run away’ from us and leave us alone. Once this happens we can continue to promote the kingdom of God and to annoy Satan in just the same way that Jesus did by casting out his evil spirits.
The Bible passage this week, the week beginning 24th January is the story of the call of James and John to become disciples of Jesus. The Bible records the fact that these two men ‘left their father and their boat and followed him’. On the surface, this seems a straightforward event until we reflect on the circumstances. James and John were fishermen. That was their life, what they knew and what they did well. It was also their source of economic stability, status and reputation. Moreover, in the ancient world, the father in the family was revered. Often, boys would aspire to be like their father and eventually take over the family business before handing it on, in turn, to their children. Further, because their father’s name is explicitly mentioned, it is likely that he was both well-known and a highly successful businessperson. Therefore, in giving up all of this to follow Jesus there would have been an enormous sacrifice for the two brothers James and John. They were choosing to give up all that they had, were, owned, did and aspired to become. However, that is what they did! God is less interested in our own status, profession and income than He is in our faith. God wants to build, not our wealth and fame but our character and faith. This is what is of eternal consequence. What about us? Will we give up everything to follow Jesus? Although salvation costs us nothing, discipleship costs us everything. We know, for example, James was one of the first to be martyred. Will we, like James and John sacrifice everything to follow Jesus? If we are prepared to do this, let us start today.