Matthew 4:1-11: The Beasts Within

Lent calls us to face our unrevealed and underlying selves, to stare at the creatures we dread lurking inside us. The shadows of the season cloak us again in their solemn embrace. In our Lenten pilgrimage, we seek to expose our souls, perceiving the wild places within, sometimes unveiled only in those junctures when we drop our guard.

After Jesus’ baptism, the heavens opened, and the Spirit swooped upon Jesus with a mighty hand, thrusting Him into the desert wastelands. An arid and desolate terrain awaited, burning with a fiery challenge. The Deceiver waits, the wiliest of adversaries, biding his time to strike. Every taunt and accusation He poses tests Jesus’ resolve in a litany of enticements. Will he pry Jesus away from His divine mission?

Mark’s Gospel tells us more, revealing Jesus braved wild and feral animals. Hungry carnivores hid, often unseen, waiting to pounce when weak and faltering. Our Lord recognized the wilderness’ cry and still sallied forth, refusing to retreat from danger.

Of course, we can pretend Christ never risked peril in those barren stretches and brush aside His trials. Let us not forget, lest we evade the darkest truth. The beast skulking in the ferocious wilds, likewise, stirs inside us. A savage, primal nature burns in us, fueled by our descent from grace. Dormant, at its best, though chaotic when unleashed and unchecked.

Recount the mythic tales of the brave knight off on a quest to slay the dragon. Those heroes faced their foe and fought, overcoming the evil serpent. Is this not a metaphor for confronting our internal beasts? Lent allows us to discern and confront the monsters within us.

Too often, we’re malformations of longing and discontent, disregarding our blessings and the kindness God pours out on us. Unbridled and unrestrained by nature, we make our mischief yearning for something more. Our cravings covet the unobtainable, assuming we can cobble together a better Eden.

Here’s the scariest part. In our heart of hearts, we are the wild brute. Our innermost being yearns for those reckless things. Drawn we are to the untouchable and uninhibited, beyond the boundaries. This feral call plucks our deepest strings, drawing us in and captivating us.

Satan’s deceptive din, “Did God say?” strands its insidious whisperings, tricking us since Adam’s day. God didn’t intend our lives to coil downward into wickedness and trample on His grace. Never did He create you and me for gloom, disaster, or mutiny to become our destiny.

The cracks of sin run deep, shattering us into too many shards. Fragmented and broken, we can’t repair or restore ourselves. No striving or effort will breathe life back into the pervading lifelessness lingering in our souls. No, only a power beyond us shall burst the chains of darkness binding us.

So Christ comes from eternal glories through Christmas, Epiphany, and His baptism, casting His healing rays upon our brokenness. The heavenly Father’s words of love resound over Jordan’s water, calling Jesus His beloved Son. In the sacred moment, the empowering Spirit descends, preparing Jesus for His coming days to bear the cross. Washed by those waters and dripping with divine grace, Jesus goes to atone for sins, once, for everyone.

Through baptism, God cleanses and sets us apart as His own. In absolution, our Lord’s words descend from heaven and do what they say, bespeaking His almighty acquittal. At the Altar, Jesus is present. Akin to His incarnation, He embraces us in bread and wine for our deliverance. Everything He is as Son, Savior, Messiah, and King becomes ours. Earned on the wood and in His body and blood, He grants us entrance into everlasting life. Infinite mercy from His throne of glory comes to us—a gracious gift from Him to you and me.

Both you and I are the beast, traversing the wild spaces within us, dancing with the Devil inside us. Well-worn are these habits, so we may not sense their pull in our bones. Too often, we prefer to arise as our little world’s leader in our primal desires, not bask in forgiveness, follow Christ, and serve others. Confess this tendency when you want to lord over your life, thinking you’re God.

In the depths of our being, when we revel in our untamed landscape, an unbridled and fearsome peril faces us—us, ourselves. The Tempter slithers his alluring “Are you sure God said?” from his razor tongue, doubling the threat. Will we listen to the Holy Spirit’s whisper of truth, welcome His benevolence, or persist in our path toward destruction?

The winds of Lent descend, stripping bare our beastliness. Ignore not the ugliness inside us. Heed not the lies saying you’re perfect enough on your own. Don’t our fires of evil, sin-festering plight, and binding shackles still need breaking? Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh never surrender unless Jesus enters our badlands to disentangle our knots and combat our demons.

Each year, we don our metaphorical sackcloth. Cross-shaped ashes etch our skin as we unearth often-unspoken truths and dare to voice such honesty, “We are dust, and to dust, we shall return.” This finger-wagging law reminds us we are fleeting and fragile, forcing us to confront our reality as fallen beings.

Do we not need this? Yes! From Ash Wednesday to Easter, we pilgrim to our promised land. In our little exodus, the Spirit leads us away from shadowed sin and death toward Christ’s forgiving light and resurrection.

Shall we journey again this year? Of course! The Father gives us His only Son, and Christ meets us in our time of need. To redeem, heal, and sanctify us, He desires to grant us everything He is as He unveils His gifts.

Ah, so Lent isn’t only law, 40 days in the hellish desert. In our worst outlands, laid bare before God, Jesus comes with His peace to restore us. In our Savior, we discover a refuge. A grace-filled relief for our wearied souls, He graces us, so we forget what frightens and find our future security in Him.

Last Wednesday, we wore a smearing of ash on our foreheads. Those darkened smudges adorned the place where once the Triune God became yours in your washing of rebirth. In those waters, the Spirit descended. Why? To join you to Christ, so the Father delights in you as His beloved child. No more are you only a sinful, hideous monstrosity. No, you’re His heir, inheriting His salvation for you. Remember, you aren’t only dust. So rest and rejoice in the name of Jesus.

God’s call to joy echoes through Lent, from Wednesday’s ashes to Easter’s triumph. Count the days. Lent is a 40-day season, yet its dark, ashen Wednesday to our Lord’s rising from the tomb adds up to 46. Why? Six Sundays linger as feasts of the resurrection. Free from Lent’s grasp, today is the first Sunday in, not of, Lent. Here, God applies His risen reality to you and me, so we might revel in redemption’s delight.

To us, grace is no struggle, though severe and hard-earned for Jesus. After His baptism to fulfill our needed righteousness, His path became fraught with tests of tribulation. In the hinterlands with Satan, Jesus suffered for our sake. Abandoning the allurements of glory, prestige, and control, Jesus refused life as a pampered and devilish king. The road of crucifixion awaits Him. True to the Spirit’s sending, Jesus stays steadfast to His task since we don’t live by bread alone, fame, or power. No, by words proceeding from God’s holy mouth.

Oh, Jesus can walk away from impending tragedy and skip the cross. Ponder the fallout: no gracious God and no redemption. The universe collapses into itself, and everything careens downward in its never-ending spiral. Thank God Christ didn’t flinch, shrink, or cower. Nothing else will avail, so He bears our sin so we may be reborn from heaven within this broken world.

Our Lord enters the fray straight from the Jordan, enduring immense temptation and suffering. Should we expect otherwise as His disciples? Did His baptismal waters pour upon you, plunging you into His life, anguish, and death? So, being saved doesn’t spare us from the deserts of our compulsions, yet we can still take courage in our Lord’s consolation. No matter what strikes, Jesus will always journey with us, keeping us forever in His care. So, we heed His call, for He is our assurance as we brave the wilderness of this world.

In our most honest moments, we sense our savage side, concealed though stirring in the core of our being. Often unsaid—we’re immoral creatures, not immortal conquerors. The fleeting affairs of our existence pass us by, and we must behold our mortality. Left to our devices, we will wither and vanish, die in a perpetual death, undone evermore.

Such a grim reality hangs in the air, a burden we bear without respite. Our only saving hope washes over us in Christ’s overflowing words of promise, streaming over our parched landscapes of doubt and despair. Each consonant spills forth in a deluge of grace. Every vowel sings its hymn in cascading melodies of mercy, banishing our oppressive night and freeing us from eternal fear. His glorious resurrection arises from the ground, bringing life to our barren desolation, once destined for perpetual death.

The Supper awaits, where Christ is present to bring you His riches from His cross and empty tomb. Trust in Him. Hold on to His promises. Joined to you in His holy waters, He now unites Himself to you, assuring you He is with you always, to the end of this age, into eternity. Amen.