At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he is tempted in the wilderness by the devil. Jesus refused to give in to the devil’s three temptations, and then Luke 4:13 says: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Jesus until a more opportune time.”
When did that opportune time come? The devil is mentioned only few times during Christ’s ministry– in the stories of Jesus defeating the devil by casting out demons, and, Jesus mentions the devil in a few of his parables. But it is not until near the end of Jesus’ earthly live that we see the devil making his next move against Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke that ‘more opportune time’ comes in chapter 22 where it says: “Now the Passover was approaching and the chief priests and teachers of the Law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. And it was then that Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the twelve. And then Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. Judas consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.” The opportunity had come and the devil made his move.
Mel Gibson’s movie of a few years ago The Passion of Christ was a powerful film. There are some things I wish would have been done differently, but there are many scenes that are tremendous, making the passion story alive and real like no other movie ever has. One unforgettable aspect of the movie is its portrayal of the presence of the devil. This devil appears moving through the background of many scenes, never speaking, but with its pale skin and menacing face always looking on. It is a fearsome look and its presence is symbolizes devil’s influence on the characters in the scene– and it always means trouble.
And we need to remember that the frighteningly wicked creature in the background of so many scenes in the movie is also in the background of our lives and is alongside us. Peter would later write, “Be alert and of sober mind, for your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). ‘Prowling around,’ it says, and in the Bible we see what that might look like, and what the result of that can be. Judas, friend and disciple of Jesus, was tempted by the devil and gave in, betraying the man he followed every day for three years. Peter, swearing that he would never deny his Lord, caved in to a servant girl’s questioning just a few hours later. The religious leaders, whose responsibility it was to see to the spiritual needs of the people, were blinded from the truth of who Jesus was, and arranged for his arrest and execution. And rest of the disciples, who had seen Jesus raise the dead and had heard his promises of eternal life, abandoned Jesus and ran for their lives as soon as the trouble started.
The devil, having had no success when he tempted Jesus directly, had all kinds of success with everyone around Jesus. The devil was most successful with arranging for Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution, and for tempting all of his closest followers to either betray, deny, or abandon their Lord and master. And if the goal of the devil was to get Jesus killed and out of the way, he was, on one level, completely successful.
But God had something more in mind. The devil was successful on one level which is the only level we are able to see– so when the devil succeeded there, it did seem to all involved at the time that it was the end of the story. But God is always able to move the action in the story to another level. The devil’s success was short-lived, and on the third day Jesus rose from the dead never to die again. And in one of his last acts before he was taken into custody, Jesus acted to make sure that the other successes of the devil would also be short-lived. Even as the twelve men closest to him were on the verge of giving into the devil’s temptations and letting Jesus down in a variety of ways, Jesus was providing the way for their forgiveness and restoration. ’Take and eat,’ he would say in their last meal together, ’take and drink– this is my body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.’
Peter remembered his failure and he remembered how he was restored. When he wrote those words about the devil prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, Peter knew from experience what is was to be devoured by the devil. But he also knew what it was to be restored by Jesus– Jesus, who defeated the power of the devil for himself and for us. And so Peter completed his letter by following up that passage about the devil with these words:
I Peter 5:9-11 — Resist the devil and stand firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers in the faith throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you, and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To Christ be the power and the glory forever and ever.
Blessed Lord, who was tempted in all things just as we are, have mercy on our frailty. Out of weakness, give us strength. Support us in time of temptation. Make us bold in time of danger. Help us to do your work with courage, and to continue as your faithful soldiers and servants to our life’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. –B. F. Westcott