Many Christians around the world are celebrating Lent, a period of 40 days of fasting to reflect upon Jesus’ 40 days he spent in the wilderness. This always happens leading up to Easter Sunday. Whether we celebrate Lent or not, it’s important for Christians to understand, reflect upon, and practice denying self. Denying self was one of the core practices Jesus gave for people to be followers of him. He said that anyone would would be his disciple must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Jesus.
Paul understood what it meant to deny himself for the sake of Christ. The letter to the Philippians was possibly the last words penned by Paul before he died. Many believe that Paul knew his end was near when he wrote the letter. Paul said that, prior to becoming a Christian, his righteousness under the law was blameless. But he considered it all a loss for the sake of Christ.
Paul went on: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order than I may gain Christ and be found in him. . . ” (Philippians 3:7, 8 ESV). The word for rubbish was a harsh slang term in Greek that literally would translate to “crap” (or really, a slang word harsher than that). The word is intentionally offensive, and it’s only used here in the entire Bible. Paul uses it to drive his point home that everything we think we value is actually all crap. Our righteousness doesn’t come from the law or flesh, but fully depends on our faith. Everything else does not matter!
Lent began with Ash Wednesday last week. Lent is a forty day period where Christians around the world “fast” from things that they typically enjoy. It is a reminder of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness when the devil tempted him. There are many fascinating things about the wilderness story. First, the fact that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil may seem perplexing at first glance.
Jesus was left alone with the devil for forty days, minus friends and food. Twice Matthew says that the devil “took” him–once to the pinnacle of the temple and once to a very high mountain. It’s noteworthy that this word in the original language means to take with aggression. It doesn’t necessarily mean by coercion, but it definitely means with aggression. It’s an important choice of words for Matthew. The devil takes. It’s what he does. He’s aggressive. It’s who he is.
At the end of the forty days, Matthew said Jesus was hungry (Matthew 4:2). Then an amazing thing happened: “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (Matthew 4:11 ESV). The fact that the Savior needed angels to minister to him shows how exhausting it is when the devil has his way with people. Jesus needed revival at the end of forty days. He was exhausted and had just overcome temptation by the devil. God sent his angels to minister to Jesus, and this is important for us who feel weak and tired. It’s okay to cry out in desperation to God when we’re weary.
Just as importantly, we see this pattern laid out in Matthew’s account: the Spirit leads, while the devil takes, and the angels minister. These distinctions are not accidental. Matthew is very careful in how he tells this story. If Christ needed revival, perhaps it’s quite alright if we do too!
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