The Devil in the Desert

"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

When Jesus taught us to pray this, he knew what he was talking about.

His ministry began with a direct encounter with the tempter in the wilderness. His ministry ended with a gut-wrenching prayer in the Garden.

In each case, he was tempted to step outside the Father’s loving care and direction, and to take his future into his own hands.

In many ways, this is at the root of all temptation. Whatever the specific temptation, the thing beneath the thing is the continual battle to live in humble trust and obedience to the Father.

Will we surrender our appetites, our aspirations, and our identity to him? Or will allow these good things to become our master rather than our servant?

Jesus faced all these temptations in the desert and the garden.

After forty days of prayer and fasting at the beginning of his ministry, the enemy attacked him in all three of these vulnerable areas: appetites, aspiration, and identity.

Would he surrender his physical hunger to the Father, or satisfy his fleshly appetite on his own terms?

Would he take the devil’s shortcut to his rightful place as ruler of the kingdoms of the world, or would he submit his aspiration to the will and timing of the Father?

Would he seek to prove his relationship to the Father by jumping off a cliff, or would he patiently wait for the Father’s vindication of his sonship?

Yes, Jesus faced real temptation at the beginning of his ministry. But his biggest test was to come at the end of his ministry.

Sensing the trial before him, Jesus had to choose whether or not he would surrender his will to the Father's. He knew it would cost him his life. He didn’t want to do it. He was as eager to cling to life as we are. It took blood, sweat and tears, but in the end he was able to say, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

When Jesus met the devil in the desert, this meant living with hunger and obscurity; when Jesus met the devil in the garden, it meant drinking the cup of death. In both cases, discipline in the private moments of his life gave him the strength he needed to walk with integrity in the public moments of his life.

No wonder Jesus told us to pray that we would be kept out of the testing place! He knew perfectly well its alluring power. He had experienced the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil firsthand. He knew how subtle, sinister, and filled with half-truths the enemy could be.

He tried to warn the disciples on that fateful night: “Watch and pray that you do not enter temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” They ignored his advice, and they paid the price. When the time of temptation came, they ran for their lives.

As we walk with Jesus toward the cross during this Holy Week, let us be grateful that, unlike his disciples, he was prepared for his moment of trial. Having sweat his blood in the Garden, he was prepared to shed his blood on the Cross.

When you pray the Lord's Prayer today, pause for a few extra moments of worship and thanksgiving when you say, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." For Jesus died our death in order to offer us new life. Jesus was delivered to the Evil One so we could be delivered from the Evil One.

And if it is at all possible, take time this Friday afternoon, whether here with our church family, or in whatever setting you can find, to gather with your brothers and sisters to remember the death of our Elder Brother. It's the right thing to do ... for his death is our deliverance.