Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil…
Today’s gospel reading in the Anglican lectionary is from Matthew 4, when Jesus heads out into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. Interestingly, 40 days is also the length of Lent, a time that many Christians spend tuning their focus away from physical things and towards the suffering and death of Jesus. They “go into the wilderness,” so to speak.
Tonight I noticed several new things about the temptation of Jesus (not that they weren’t there before, of course, just that I never put two and two together!). Satan tempts the Lord with three things, and those three things speak to the very nature of our worries and fears. They are the three “great temptation” categories we all face. Let me commentate as we go along:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. Then the tempter approached Him and said, “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
But He answered, “It is written:
Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Temptation #1 — Are you sure that you have enough?
This is the question that drives us to collect stuff in our lives. Food, clothing, material possessions, friends… We start to doubt that God has given us, or will give us, all that we need, so we take initiative and start collecting things. We eat more than we should during the day and buy three pairs of shoes every time we see a sale. We hoard things in cabinets “for a rainy day” and refuse to downsize. After all, are you sure that you have enough?
Satan can see that Jesus is in a barren wilderness. There isn’t much food out there, so… “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” I’m kind of offended that the devil asks, “If You are.” He knows that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son! But the great accuser loves to place a shred of doubt in our minds that God is who He says He is and that he will do what he promises to do. Satan always will attack the very nature of God and His relationship with us humans.
Temptation #2 — Are you sure that God will protect you?
Then the Devil took Him to the holy city, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
“He will give His angels orders concerning you,
and they will support you with their hands
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Jesus told him, “It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God.”
Security is a major temptation for us. I think that of our top two fears in this life, personal safety has to be one of them. We lock our doors and hide the keys. We suspect every swerving driver might kill us. We fear being mugged, raped or bullied. We fear for our lives in a world gone scary. And, yet, God has promised to not only provide our daily bread but also to protect us from evil. As Psalm 46 says, “The Lord is our refuge. A fortress. We will never be shaken.” Are the sheltering wings of the Lord so porous that evil can get through to destroy us? They are secure!
Satan tempts Jesus to test God’s physical deliverance from peril. Again, he declares, “If You are the Son of God…” Then the devil changed tactic from his first temptation. He decided to quote scripture. Psalm 91:11-12, to be exact. But like most lies, the words are taken out of context. God will save you if you jump, won’t He? Here is the Lord’s reply, “Do not test God.” The Lord will protect you and — in Him — you will find true security. But don’t go cliff jumping to test a misquoted verse!
The secure believer trusts in God for his or her safety. The lie that God is somehow unable to protect you is just that — a lie.
Temptation #3 — Are you sure that God will exalt the humble?
Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to Him, “I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me.”
Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.’”
Then the Devil left Him, and immediately angels came and began to serve Him.
The issue of authority and honor and exaltation has risen in the lives of every working soul at least once. Who wants to work hard, keep quiet, and still get passed over for promotion? Who wants to get trampled on by the proud? Does God really see our circumstances and is He really interested in exalting the humble and humbling the proud?
The issue of authority plays a major role in the third temptation of Jesus. Satan takes the Lord to the top of a mountain and, in some way, shows Him the kingdoms of the world — and their splendor! Golden doors, massive pyramids, opulent riches, fierce armies. The deceiver offers the kingdoms to Jesus if… Satan gets all of His glory. Of course, Jesus knew full well that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it! Satan was offering Jesus what was already His. You see, all authority on heaven and earth belongs to God. It is up to God to issue honor. In our business lives and our ministry lives and in our homes we need to remember this truth.
I guess that caution in this blog is that when these three questions rise in your mind, respond with biblical truth and not fear. God will provide for you, He is mighty to save you, and He will remember you in your lowliness. On these three truths, a believer can stand firm!