Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. – Luke 4:1-13
What do you think the devil looks like?
During Halloween, when I was growing up, I’d see other kids dress up like the devil for Halloween with the red mask and plastic body suit and it would freak me out! I knew it wasn’t real, but you have to wonder what kind of kid picks the master of all evil as his icon of choice. Probably someone you want to avoid at all costs. Of course, if the devil showed up in person, I don’t think that’s what he would look like. Too obvious. I like the way Aaron described the devil in the film Broadcast News. He says it this way: “What do you think the devil’s going to look like if he’s around? Come on, no one is going to be taken in by a guy with a long, red pointy tail… He will be attractive. He’ll be nice and helpful. He’ll get a job where he’ll influence a great, God-fearing nation. He’ll never do an evil thing, he’ll never deliberately hurt a living thing. He’ll just bit by little bit lower our standards where they’re important. Just a tiny little bit. Just coax along. Flash over substance. Just a tiny little bit…and he’ll get all the great women.”
Would it surprise you to know the devil is never described in the Bible?
At least not in a physical sense. But I think that’s on purpose. Because the devil doesn’t have to take just one form. He could take MANY different forms. Like a chocolate chip cookie. Maybe that’s the devil in disguise, trying to torture me. But in all seriousness, who would be taken in by a guy with red skin, horns and a tail? Wouldn’t it make more sense if the devil took a form we would find appealing? Personally I like the Elizabeth Hurley version, but there’s Al Pacino, Robert DeNero, even Viggo Mortensen.
And does the devil even exist?
Some believe the devil is a physical being. Some believe the devil is a spiritual being. And some believe the devil is the personification of evil in the world. There are a ton of references in the Bible to evil but surprisingly very few specifically about Satan or the devil or any of the other names we’ve come to associate with him. And none of them actually tell us these different incarnations of evil are all the same. But again, maybe that doesn’t matter. No matter what you form you believe the devil takes, we can all agree evil exists and we must resist it whenever it pops up. When Jesus was tempted in the desert by the devil, he was challenged in many ways – and none of them by what we would probably think of as “evil.” The devil didn’t torture Jesus. He didn’t attack him. He simply tempted him with rational arguments and promises of an easier life. That is the real trick of the devil – not to come at us with attacks but to tempt us in our weakest areas.
Sometimes I think it’s better if we don’t believe in the devil.
At least not as some sort of physical being like we read about in this passage. Not that he does or doesn’t exist. Not that he might be a physical or spiritual being. But for us to fight evil in the world around us, we are better off not believing there is one being orchestrating all of it. Because when we believe in the devil as a being we can fight, it relieves us from any personal responsibility for the horrors we either allow to happen or don’t do anything to prevent. It is so easy for us to say “the devil made me do it” when (let’s face it) you did it. Or I did it. Or someone else did it. The devil didn’t make you do it. In fact the devil doesn’t hold any power over any of us. The only way the devil succeeds in his schemes is because we give him the power to do so – either by our actions or inactions. We can justify it any way we want, but it amounts to the same thing. We stood by and allowed to be used to advance the cause of evil.
Humanity loves to avoid responsibility.
Just turn on the news any day of the week and you can watch the circus of blame as people keep pointing fingers at one another. Whether the issue is healthcare, homelessness, or racism, everyone is blaming someone, but no one is getting anything done. It’s like that poem about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done (insert your favorite cause here) and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
Every time there’s a mass shooting, I think of this story.
“Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.” There were more mass shootings in America last year than ever before – 50% more than last year which was the highest on record until then. A study done in 2019 shows in general more Americans are in favor of stricter gun laws and that number has grown since 2017 from 52% to about 60%. There are some gun laws that almost everybody thinks should happen – banning gun sales to those with mental illness, banning gun sales to people on no-fly lists, and mandatory background checks at gun shows and private sales. These show a popularity of over 84%! There is even wide support for banning high capacity magazines and assault style weapons (67%). Yet we can’t even pass those laws most Americans, both conservative and progressives can agree on because one group of people – the NRA – is able to influence the vast majority of Congress with money and threaten them with losing power. And even though it’s exactly what the people want, the people they are supposed to represent, so many in Congress hide behind excuses to do the right thing because they are afraid of not being reelected. The words of Jesus echo loudly in my ears, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Matthew 16:26)”
Is that the devil’s fault?
Did the devil make them vote against their conscience? Or is evil as simple as good men doing nothing? John Stuart Mill said it in 1867, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” We have to be better. We have to do better. For evil to thrive in the world doesn’t have to be the machinations of some evil being manipulating the world from behind. For evil to thrive is simply good men looking on and doing nothing. We all get caught in situations where it would be easier, simpler, less problematic, less hassle, and less headache for us to do nothing. We’ve all been there when we would rather call in sick, skip church, relax and watch a football game. Challenge yourself the next time you are tempted to sit idly by when you could or should do something, to do it. When you think about the injustice in the world, just remember, we can do something about it. The devil only has power over us when we allow it. The devil’s greatest power is in the willfulness of humankind sitting idly by when we could be doing something to stop the evil in the world.