Jan. 19: On the necessity of the test

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Matthew 4.1

For the majority of the time, when we study this passage (and the rest that follows), we focus on the fact that Jesus resisted temptation and triumphed. And rightly so. What we sometimes miss however is that in Greek, “tempted” can also mean “tested.”What happens if we change that sentence then to read tested instead of tempted? Does it change meaning for us? Let’s take a look….. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil.” ….. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Yes, in fact, the meaning does change ever so slightly.

As speakers of Modern English, we have a different sense of what “test” and “tempt” mean. According to the Oxford Dictionary, “test” in verb form can mean to “take measures to check the … reliability of (something).” The definition of “tempt” however is to “entice or try to entice (someone) to do something that they find attractive but know to be wrong or unwise.” Which of these aligns most with the passage of Matthew – clearly it is test (at least according to Modern English – we will not dive into the etymology of ancient Greek and Hebrew today). The devil is not enticing Jesus with prosperity or earthly pleasures, except as a last resort (remember that Jesus had fasted for 40 days and was famished- if the devil was tempting or enticing Jesus, you think he would have offered food right?). He is testing Jesus’ faith and free-will to follow God.

As beings with free-will, we are given the choice to be faithful to God, or not. As such, we are tested on that free-will. We are asked if we believe, if we understand, if we follow. And we need that test – our lives are filled with obligations, appointments, meetings, social events; in these moments, we are called to recenter ourselves on our faith, being tested as it were, and our faith becomes stronger.

Jan. 12 : On Baptism

“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ ”

Matthew 3:16,17

This excerpt from tomorrow’s reading is a pivotal moment for Christians – the moment Jesus is baptized. In this moment, Jesus is claimed by God in the presence of others; similarly when one is baptized, they are being claimed by God in the presence of others. For us Lutherans, we follow Martin Luther’s teachings in his Small Catechism, which covers baptism as an important aspect of the Christian faith. Some points include: -We baptize because Jesus commanded us to baptize. – Baptism promises eternal life after death and the forgiveness of sins. – Baptism unites us with Jesus and his baptism, and the Holy Spirit is promised and granted to all who are baptized.

All this with water and God’s Word.

What does it mean then to be baptized? Is it a one time event when you’re a baby, and you can’t even remember if you cried or slept the entire service, never to be relived? It can be relived however, although a handful of water is not necessary, often or daily. Martin E. Marty writes in his book Baptism: A User’s Guide that when making the sign of the cross on your body, you are “making use of your baptism in a brief sacramental ceremony.” In combining the sign with a small prayer, you are thanking God for the day, reconnecting in your faith to Jesus, and calling on the Holy Spirit to be with you in your day. The same can be done at night before going to bed (do you remember being taught your evening prayer as a child?).

Marty is quick to point out that this sign and prayer can quickly become a mechanical habit. Devoid of real meaning as you go through the patterns, much like brushing your teeth, what is the point of remembering your baptism through the sign of the Cross and a prayer if you do not do the actions with purpose?

To be baptized means to be claimed by God, as Jesus was. To be accepted as a beloved child of God, who makes mistakes but is forgiven. In actively remembering our baptism by making the sign of the Cross and saying a prayer, we are thanking God, repenting for the mistakes we inevitably make, confess to these mistakes, striving to be better, and living as a child of God. Is that not something to celebrate? Every day?