Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

Tag: Satan

Lent 1 A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Matthew 4:1-11

1Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards He was famished. 3The tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread;’ 4but He answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

5Then the devil took Him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command His angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear You up,
so that You will not dash Your foot against a stone.” ’
7Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

8Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9and he said to Him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’
11Then the devil left Him, and suddenly angels came and waited on Him.

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

Oh dear! How many times have we heard a passage of scripture being quoted in support of some ideal, ignoring other passages which either contradict the ideal, or support an alternative to it? Leviticus 20:13 tells us that a man having a sexual relationship with another man should be put to death because his actions are detestable, but Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created male and female in His (i.e. God’s) image. Since we are all created in God’s image homosexual people can’t be detestable to God, however much the relationship might be considered undesirable for the continuation of the human species which God has created. The Epiphany 4 passage from Matthew spoke of “an eye for an eye”, which is still practised in some countries, but must be abhorrent to a loving God who is willing to forgive, and forgive, and forgive. Here we have the devil trying to coax Jesus into his errant ways and attacking the relationship Jesus had with God by quoting passages of scripture which were to his suiting, and ignoring others which weren’t. I note the beginning of the words attributed to the devil: “IF you are the Son of God”. Anyone for an insult?

Whenever I see images of the devil I am struck by how unrealistic they seem to be. If the devil really appeared to us with horns and carrying a pitch-fork would we ever be tempted? Of course not! We’re far more likely to willingly go down the track the devil wants us to take, and move away frm God, if we feel we can trust him; and that trust only comes with being happy to be with him, or one of his entourage. It might be the willing person who wants to help run the children’s group, or the person who invites you to play games at the casino, or many others. Keep watch! Be vigilant! How much our society has slid when we have to be constantly doubting the motives of people around us!

The devil was trying to get Jesus to take the easy way out of His hunger after days in the wilderness, but Jesus was wise to his motives, and appreciated the work which goes into producing food. It’s not magic! When the disciples came back to the Samaritan well (John 4:32) Jesus told them He had food which they didn’t know about – food from His relationship with God. He didn’t need to turn stones to bread. He didn’t need to break His relationship with His Father. Go run up a shutter, Satan: it didn’t work. Christ 1, Satan 0.

It might sound disrespectful to the scriptures, but when I think of the devil taking Jesus from a location in the wilderness to the pinnacle of the temple I have images of Superman or Dr Who travel. Of course it’s not. That’s just my 21st century mind picking up on aspects of the story which appear unrealistic, and it’s a distraction from the essence of these verses. These days Scripture is often discredited because we put a 21st century spin on, in this case, a 1st century text, and we let the distraction get in the way of our appreciation of, and understanding of, the message being portrayed. Here Satan quotes Psalm 91:12 as if it should be taken literally in such hypothetical situations. How often do we do the same, especially when it suits us? Again, Jesus is wise to the move and quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, which counters Satan’s reference. Can we respond in such a way? As a follower of Christ should I be able to respond that way? Christ 2, Satan 0!

Then Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows off all the world, offering to give Him all of it in exchange for worship. Hey, hang on a moment, Satan. You don’t own the world, though you seem to have a foothold in many places, so you can’t offer to give it to Him anyway. Do we offer things to others when we have no right to make such an offer? That’s one way in which we can get caught up with actions which are not in keeping with God’s will, or the benefits which following God will provide for all of us. How often do we succumb to offers, or temptations, which are in our personal best interest, but which are detrimental for others? Temptations aren’t just about being faced with a dilemma as to which of a number of options to take; temptations are about testing, in this case our faith and our relationship with God. There’s no doubt about who wins here. Christ 3, Satan 0. The Trinity wins, and Satan goes, but he is wily and uses his own followers to try to tempt us.

If you want a reflection on the Genesis passage set for Lent 1 then go to

8th January 2017

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Acts 10: 34-43

34Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation, anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him. 36You know the message He sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — He is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39We are witnesses to all that He did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree; 40but God raised Him on the third day and allowed Him to appear, 41not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.’

Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English Edition) alt, used with permission.

It horrifies me to think of all the times I’ve heard people say, or imply, that someone isn’t a Christian because that person doesn’t belong to a particular denomination.  Peter, talking to a Gentile group after being summoned by Cornelius, a Roman soldier, is very specific here in declaring that God shows no partiality. Unfortunately for native English speakers, “fear” now has the connotation of “dread” as if something nasty will happen. Though “fear” is derived from the Greek word used here, a better translation of phoboumenos would be “hold in awe” because that is the sense implied in the Greek. To his audience Peter would have been quite clear: just because you are of Roman origin, and have had no contact or relationship with the God whom the Jews have been worshipping for centuries, does not preclude you from God’s love and grace. Peter was, of course, speaking out of his experience with the risen Christ, and encouraging his audience to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Note the challenge, though. If we are to emulate God in this world then we must show no partiality at all. When I was asked how a priest should respond if an openly homosexual person should enquire about being part of the parish I responded: ‘we can consider the person to be sick, and we are called to minister; we can consider the person a sinner, and we are called to minister; or we can consider the person normal, and we are called to minister; so the only choice available is to minister, and not to judge.’ I wish I could claim I always respond in the same way when faced with other situations which might disturb my well-being, but that is the challenge. Our partiality, of course, isn’t limited to how we relate to other Christians; it is deeply ingrained in the way our society works, so it is hard to set it aside. Do we shudder when asked to help someone who has no food, no home and no money? Do we run the other way when an openly homosexual couple walks into church? Do we expunge from our lives all the good memories of people whose encounter with Satan has led them astray, or do we celebrate the good and pray for forgiveness for the bad? We should ask ourselves how God would respond, and do the same.

Peter’s summary of Christ’s ministry is very succinct. Though physical and time restrictions meant that Jesus spent His entire ministry in a small area there is no indication in what Peter says that the message is limited only to that geographic area. Indeed, his comments to the people gathered by Cornelius show that there is no limit. Jesus went about doing good. He also went about “healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” Are we following in Christ’s footsteps, healing those who have been oppressed by the devil? At least one priest I knew was told to stop casting demons out of the lives of those who sought him, even though we are all commissioned to do so by Christ himself.

One question I have asked myself many times is did Christ rise from the dead or was He raised from the dead. “What’s the difference?” do I hear you ask? It all boils down to who did the raising, was it Christ (as second person in the Trinity), or was it God (as first person)?

Christ may not have appeared to a large number of people, after his resurrection, but to those who had lived with Him through His ministry He was as bodily intact as they were. Peter tells us that He ate and drank with them. This was no figment of someone’s imagination: there were too many who had the experience, and all of them were transformed into people who had the confidence to preach the Good News, irrespective of the consequences. Is that how our churches work today? Are our priests expected to be the only ones jumping up and down with joy at the Good News, or are we going to share in that ministry? How often do priests not do what they feel called by God to do because of some perceived possible consequence? When a priest’s licence can be withdrawn at any time and without explanation because someone else shows partiality, God’s work can be threatened by humans.

The last verse of this reading is a first century Christian slant on how the prophets, well known to the Jewish people but not to the Gentiles, tried to bring people back to worshipping God, and having their sins forgiven as a result of the new righteousness. That message rings loud and clear for us today, too. If we, like sheep, have gone astray, but return to the flock then, just like any doting parent of a child who has wandered off, God will forgive our sins – forgive, not forget. God doesn’t keep a count of our sins, but might just remind us if we are about to stray down the same path again. Whether we are listening or not is another matter.