“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
Thus begins the spiritual drama of Lent, the forty days before Easter that commemorates Jesus’ wilderness experience. No human, not even Jesus, can escape the temptation of the devil.
Just before Jesus was led into the wilderness, he was baptized in the Jordan River by John. As the Gospel of Matthew reports, when Jesus emerged from the water “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
Jesus’ identity as God’s Son had always been true, but he received confirmation of his relationship with God at his baptism.
What’s true for the human Jesus is true for us, too. The Kingdom of God that Jesus preached was fundamentally about God’s love for all people. As Henri Nouwen stated in his book Life of the Beloved, “the words, ‘You are my Beloved’ revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings.”
But, like Jesus in the wilderness, the devil and the demons tempt us into believing that we are not God’s beloved children. For example, in the first two temptations the devil challenged Jesus to the core of his identity by saying, “If you are the Son of God … .” The devil tempted Jesus into believing that he was not who God said he was.
The devil took it up a notch for the last temptation:
The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Worship is primarily about our relationship with the transcendent. And so the final temptation was for Jesus to break his relationship with God by receiving his identity from the devil. Here, the drama of Lent is at its highest point. Who will Jesus worship? Will he choose to receive his identity from the God of love, or from the devil, who was a violent murderer from the beginning?
Fortunately, we know how the Lenten story ends. Jesus remained faithful to his identity as the Beloved Son of God, faithful even unto the cross. But the devil and his demons continue to tempt us into believing that we are not God’s beloved children. So we enter into Lent, following Jesus into our wilderness experiences of being tempted by the devil.
The music video “Demons” by Imagine Dragons provides an excellent reflection for the Lenten season. The references to saints, sinners, beasts, demons, greed, hell, and “my kingdom come” all point to its heavy spirituality. The video in particular points to the relational aspect of our identity. Just as the devil tried to break the relationship between God and Jesus, the video shows how we all struggle with the demons that try to sever our relationships.
The video takes us into the lives of five individuals to show us their demons. One young woman struggles with the demon of brokenness and despair that comes with the tragic and unexpected death of her parents. Another demon is shown as a young man struggles with anorexia, which threatens to sever his relationship with his body and his with family. A teenage boy’s demon is revealed as his broken relationship with his drunk and abusive father. Then we see a soldier’s demon as he attempts to carry his dying companion to safety. Appropriately, the video ends by taking us into the life of the lead singer, whose demon originates with a friend who died from cancer at age 18.
In showing us the demon that hides inside these people, Imagine Dragons holds a mirror up to our lives, asking, ‘Where are your demons hiding?’
Our demons hide in the space between our broken relationships with God and our fellow human beings. As the song states, many of those demons tempt us to assert our greed over the needs of others by emphasizing, “This is my kingdom come!”
But we know that way of life leads to the darkness of hell and broken relationships. Emphasizing that “my Kingdom come!” is the demon’s way of tempting us into the sin of individualism that severs every relationship we have. We want healing, but we don’t know how to escape the hell of that brokenness. And so we say withImagine Dragons, “I can’t escape this now, unless you show me how.”
During Lent, we journey with Jesus, who shows us how to escape the demons that tempt us to break our relationship with God and others. We journey with Jesus who shows us how to find healing, not by demonically asserting our individualism, but by acknowledging that we were created for loving relationships. Jesus didn’t pray for his kingdom to come, but for God’s kingdom to come. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” My kingdom is about greed that pits me in relationships of rivalry against others. God’s kingdom is not about rivalry at all. Rather, God’s kingdom is about a way of life that provides daily bread for all in need, forgiveness of debts and trespasses made against us, and deliverance from the demons of violence, sin, and evil that lead to broken relationships.
The healing of our human relationships ultimately comes from the healing of our relationship with God, who heals our identity by saying to each and everyone one of us: “This is my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” May those words reverberate in your soul this Lenten season.
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Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.