Temptation itself is not a sign that we are unfaithful. As one writer has put it, “According to Scripture, it is precisely those who are called by God that are tempted because they are torn between their God, who will not set them free, and the world, whose suffering they share.” We experience the tension of temptation because we want to be loyal to God and at the same time not forget who we are as human beings.
Just after Jesus receives God’s confirming Spirit at baptism, he is led into the wilderness. We don’t know why, but just as the Spirit of God led Israel through the wilderness, the Spirit now leads Jesus into the wilderness where, as Luke writes, “for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Jesus begins his active ministry with a period of fasting and prayer and he faces head-on challenges that might have prevented him from completing his mission.
As we look into these temptations, notice how Jesus responds to each temptation with words drawn from Scripture, teachings he would have received in his youth. He uses what he has learned in his faith community to meet the challenges. Even though this is a totally new situation, he responds with what he knows from his faith. There were not brochures available entitled, “What to do when the devil tempts you in the wilderness.” He draws on what he know from Scripture and finds strength and guidance from God’s Spirit to meet the challenge of each temptation.
Also notice the humanness of Jesus in these temptations. He is hot and hungry, dazed and confused and yet, he doesn’t give in. We would do well to follow in this way. To meet the temptations of the wilderness, whatever our wilderness or temptation might be, with the strength of Scripture and the leading of God’s Spirit. Being tempted is part of being human. Giving into temptation is natural, but not necessary.
As Jesus lies hungry in the wilderness, Satan comes along and says to him, “Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” It seems like a simple task for the Son of God. And what harm could it bring? I like how one writer translates the name for Satan as “The Confuser.” This is how temptation strikes Jesus, not in some fire-breathing honed creature, but through what seems like a simple request.
Why couldn’t Jesus turn the stone into bread? His answer, “One does not live by bread alone.” We’re not just talking about bread here. “The Confuser” wants Jesus to use his authority for personal advantage. Jesus resists. “The Confuser” wants Jesus to depend on his own powers rather than remain dependent on God. Jesus recognizes that his life stems from God, not from bread, and maintains that source of life by resisting temptation.
This temptation, “to turn a stone into bread” is evident in our world today as we search for “a quick fix” to the problems we face. Many people hunger for spiritual food, for “communion with God” and the world demands that we provide “a quick fix,” “instant gratification.” The church, even if it could turn stones to bread, would be denying our faith to do so. We, too, are hungry for God and I believe for us to pray for God’s Spirit to satisfy our hunger and the hunger of our world that try to fix it ourselves.
“The Confuser” wants us to use our special standing as God’s children to get what we want, to provide for our own needs. We learn from Jesus that if we seek God first, we won’t go hungry. More than that, we will be nourished in ways bread alone couldn’t provide.
When Satan sees that he can’t tempt Jesus through his stomach, he tries his eyes. “Look around. Anything you see is yours, if you’ll just worship me.” More than instant food, Satan offers instant power if Jesus will only place him first. Just make a small compromise and all this is yours.
Once again, Jesus resists. Some have said Satan is here making a promise he couldn’t keep, that the earth is God’s domain and the authority is God’s to give. In some ways this is true and yet we can see in this temptation hints that the world is influenced and impacted by ways other than God’s. We know this to be true in our own lives. People get ahead who have no interest or concern for God. Successful people may not necessarily be faithful people. The ways of the world are impacted by hands other than God’s and we are often faced with choices to make compromises for our own advantage. Jesus resists. So can we.
For the third temptation, the Confuser reaches up and pulls an ace out of his sleeve. He leads Jesus to a high place and tells him to jump, quoting the Scripture which reads, “God will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.” If I can’t get him through his stomach, or his eyes, I’ll open up his heart and use God’s word against him.
Jesus doesn’t fall for it. “It is also written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Don’t force the hand of God by betting your life on some display of power or greatness. I also read this to mean “don’t take silly risks just to see if God is paying attention.”
Jesus resists each temptation and in doing so, shows us that though being human is being tempted. Giving into temptation is natural, but not necessary.
We make a lot of decisions in life. Sometimes it’s not easy knowing what is the best decision. Know that the Spirit of God gives us strength to face the challenges of all that seeds to confuse us. With each temptation we face, no matter how big or small, there is room to resist and as we step into this room we find ourselves open to the Spirit of God on whom we can depend.