Luke 4: 1 – 13 Jesus is tested in the wilderness
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’
Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone.”’
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’
Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”’
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’
Jesus answered, ‘It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
* * *
Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. There are no human distractions in the wilderness; Jesus was alone with God, and he was there at God’s bidding. God meant him to be tempted.
Before trying to answer that question, let’s look at what the temptations were.
The first is quite simple. Jesus was fasting. This doesn’t necessarily mean total abstinence from food, although it could do; it might mean a restricted diet eaten between sunset and sunrise. After forty days of this, Jesus was hungry. The temptation was to miraculously transform desert stones into bread and satisfy his hunger.
Jesus rebuts the temptation with ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone.”’
In other words, our human appetites must not blind us to our spiritual needs.
The second temptation is more subtle. Jesus sees the kingdoms of the earth with their wealth, and power. He feels the potential within himself to take control. What good he could do! It would be a golden age! All he had to do was to turn away from God’s plan.
‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”’
There really is no other way, because God created the universe. He’s the one who knows how it works, and what needs to be done. When we try to do it our way rather than God’s way, we’re doing it wrong.
The third temptation is the most subtle – and the most deadly. It strikes right at the heart of Jesus’ mission.
“Throw yourself down from here. God’s angels won’t let you be harmed.”
What is really at stake here?
Look at John 10: 37 – 38. Jesus said to the Jewish leaders ‘Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.’ St John’s gospel is full of statements like this. It is central to Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God that he speaks only what he hears the Father say, and does only what the Father tells him to do.
To sustain that claim, he has to trust absolutely that God the Father will give him the right words and the right actions at exactly the right moment.
And here is a passage of scripture that suggests that angels will keep him from harm. “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’
What a temptation it must have been to seek confirmation of his ministry by such a dramatic sign!
The world holds its breath.
If Jesus’ faith wavers, that’s it: game over.
‘It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
Phew! Breathe again, world!
And now we can attempt to answer the question as to why God subjected him to temptation. There are (at least) two reasons.
Firstly, it gives us a record of Jesus being tempted, and this bears witness to Jesus’ humanity. All human beings are tempted, and if there was no record of Jesus experiencing temptation we would not believe he was fully human.
Secondly, although Jesus is the Son of God, he did not have all God the Father’s foreknowledge of his divine plan. He had to practise being entirely open to his Father, even under the most stressful circumstances. It was essential that the right things were done at the right moment. For example, in the first temptation Jesus refuses to use miraculous power to satisfy hunger, and yet at the feeding of the five thousand he does exactly that.
You could almost view the temptation in the wilderness as Jesus’ graduation. Note, though, that as so often where somebody has a specific task to accomplish for God, it is to teach them something about themselves and their relationship with God.
Jesus emerges from this period of fasting and temptation with complete confidence in his ability to hear and do the Father’s will. He’s ready to start his ministry!
Thank you that Jesus lived among us in fully human form. Please help me to follow his example of obedience to you even when tempted to turn away.
In Jesus name, Amen