The Devil! What do you think of when you hear that – a dapper chappy with pointy beard and horns? A comic strip character dressed in red with a pitchfork and a pointy tail? It’s all a bit cartoony, a bit story-book, isn’t it? As grown-ups, surely we’ve got beyond such childish notions.
C.S. Lewis, in his wonderful book ‘The Screwtape Letters’, said this about ‘The Other Side’:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
People usually fall into one camp or another regarding our passage today. Some say it is a figurative account, meant only symbolically, or that Jesus was hallucinating due to low blood sugar. That’s the materialist view-point. “I can’t see it, so it does not exist”.
Others take it at literal face-value with a physical person as the Devil and mini-devils skulking at the root of every misfortune and tragedy. A third point of view is just to say ‘I don’t know, it’s all too weird for me.’
So which is right? In different ways, all of them.
Weird? You betcha! Anything that is beyond our concrete realm of everyday seems weird. We laugh at the cartoon character of the Devil because that is what we do with unknown things that frighten us. So is it just a silly caricature?
The news is full of seemingly ordinary people doing unspeakably awful things. What possesses them to act that way? Evil. Shakespeare described it thus: “Something wicked this way comes.” (Macbeth) “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Macbeth)
So, it’s weird and there are certainly lessons to be learned from the encounter, but that does not mean it is not real. Real in the sense of an actual person? With pointy beard and horns? Well, no. Not the latter. In 1 Cor 11:14-15 Paul says that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness.” Paul was talking about actual people when he wrote this, and he seems pretty convinced about which side they were working for.
So it’s real. But let us not get hung up about this, seeing a demon behind every illness and a lurking devil causing every stubbed toe. Sometimes we just get ill. Sometimes we just have accidents. It’s called life.
However, sometimes, as a friend of mine so eloquently puts it, “There’s more than a whiff of sulphur about this.” Have you ever noticed an increase of family arguments on the way to church? Or how difficult it can be to settle down to Bible study or prayer. There is always something I need / want / ought to do that pops into my mind, or a fascinating post on facebook or a child who wants something, or the phone or … or … or …
However let us not focus on the Devil here, whether you think of a literal person, spiritual beings or a symbolic personification of a truth. Instead let us focus on Jesus, and his words. “The Scripture says … the Scripture says … the Scripture says.”
Let us make sure we know what the scripture says.
What do you make of this account? Literal, figurative, hallucination? What influence do yo think the Devil has in our modern world?
To remind us of Jesus’ famous put down, we will make some bread with a cross on the top, for ‘not’.
- 450g / 1lb / 3 ½ cups plain white (all-purpose) flour
- 5 ml / 1 tsp salt
- 5 ml / 1 tsp sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
- 350ml / 12fl oz / 1 ½ cups buttermilk (or milk with 15ml / 1 tbsp lemon juice)
- Preheat the oven to 220⁰C / 425⁰F / Gas Mark 7.
- Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate together in a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
- Pour in the buttermilk, a little at a time, and mix with your hand. Do not overwork the dough. Once you have a soft, but not sticky dough, transfer to a floured baking tray.
- Shape into a round, about 5cm/2in thick.
- Score a deep cross in the top, as a reminder that we do not live by bread alone.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180⁰C / 350⁰F / Gas Mark 4 for a further 30 minutes or until the loaf is golden and sounds hollow when you tap the base.
- Enjoy straight from the oven with lashings of butter!
You give us each day our daily bread, and yet we do not live by bread alone.
Thank you that you know our needs and provide everything we need to live.
Thank you that you also give us your word, so that we may live eternally.
Luke 4:1-13 Good News Translation
Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. In all that time he ate nothing, so that he was hungry when it was over.
The Devil said to him, “If you are God’s Son, order this stone to turn into bread.” But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone.’”
Then the Devil took him up and showed him in a second all the kingdoms of the world. “I will give you all this power and all this wealth,” the Devil told him. “It has all been handed over to me, and I can give it to anyone I choose. All this will be yours, then, if you worship me.” Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’”
Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here. For the scripture says, ‘God will order his angels to take good care of you.’ It also says, ‘They will hold you up with their hands so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’” But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
When the Devil finished tempting Jesus in every way, he left him for a while.
Good News Translation (GNT)
Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society