Victory (#29)

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
Comes the powers of hell to vanquish
As the darkness clears away.

Byzantine chant

“And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13, ESV)

Righteousness lasts forever, but temptation has a limit. Through God’s eyes, all history is divided by this era of trial of the sons of Adam. Temptation and sin may appear but a skirmish on the border of an endless kingdom of kindness and kingliness when we awaken in the likeness of Christ.

Jesus was truly tempted and truly won. It was not a rigged fight. Blood was drawn in his struggle against sin.

The end of temptation for Jesus foreshadows an end of temptation for us. The period of trial cannot last forever, and the devil cannot try us forever. He is an imitator, not a creator, and his trick-box has a bottom. When he had tried all that he could do, he left Jesus alone “until an opportune time.”

In a few days, we will commemorate Holy Week, and we will talk about the devil’s opportune time and the temptations Jesus faced during the Passion. The word here for “opportune time” is the same word used in Revelation 12:12:

“Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

When Jesus was baptized, the devil let loose the full range of his weaponry. He knew that Jesus’ mission had started with the Father’s approval, and he would try anything to prevent it. When he failed, his only ploy left was to exploit opportune moments, to try to make Jesus stumble if he could not make him fall.

When Jesus is Lord of our lives, the devil is not in every broken dish or flat tire. In fact, we shouldn’t be afraid of him, or any temptation that he brings against us. But it does seem like he looks for moments on which our whole mission depends—moments like the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, or his entry to Jerusalem—and he tries to exploit our weakness at those times.

In spite of this, “his time is short.” He does not tempt us forever. He is not omnipotent, to tempt us at every moment; he is not omnipresent, to tempt us in every place; he is not omniscient, to know our every thought and longing. The devil is not the “yin” to God’s “yang.” In God’s view of things, he is not a rival, or even a worthy threat. He will be cast into the lake of fire, and stay there for the rest of eternity. And I wonder if—ages hence, robed in white, in the foursquare city with no night—I wonder if we will even remember that a usurper had reached for the scepter to the universe, or aimed for the throne of our hearts.

Jesus, thank you that you had final victory over sin when you died as a sacrifice for us and rose again. Thank you that a time is coming when you will make end of all your enemies, and your people will live in eternal peace.

Amen.

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