Jesus in Temptation
“And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.” (Luke 4:1-2)
The Spirit led him into the wilderness. Right after the “opening ceremony” of his ministry. Sure, I’m thinking. Away from distractions, to plan his campaigns, consider where to start, what strategies to use, what His priorities are. Planning is important. But then I read after the comma, “Being forty days tempted of the devil.” Lord, surely this is important, and Jesus is “full of the Holy Ghost”—couldn’t He get a pretty quick victory and drive the devil off, so He can get to the important work? But no, in another gospel we read that He was driven into the wilderness “to be tempted of the devil.” (Matthew 4:1) This is something to ponder. Jesus’ first task, as it were, is to be being tempted! And no, it wasn’t because he was making a mistake, and not being just where the Father wanted Him. He was “led by the Spirit.” Lord, what is this? Why is it necessary? Why is it needful right now?
Having these questions in mind, I look further, and see that He fasted during this time, taking very seriously the need to draw near to His Father and get help in these temptations. We aren’t told just what all the temptations during these forty days were, but we do get in on the climax. After the forty days, he was hungry. What about day 2? And day 7? And day 39? Whether the fasting was assisted in this way by the Spirit (not feeling any hunger pains), or whether we are simply being introduced more forcibly to the first of the Three Temptations, I don’t know. I have experienced some times of fasting and not feeling hungry until the appointed time was done, and I was “ready to eat” again. In any case, it is clear that his appointed time of fasting was at an end when he was hungry. But the devil came.
“And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” (Luke 4:3-4)
The temptation wasn’t really about hunger, although that was the avenue the devil approached him in. The devil didn’t challenge him to eat, since he was hungry. The temptation was really of convenience, and of looking for a miracle for reassurance. I’m hungry. I get hungry lots of times. It takes a lot of time and effort to take care of our need for food. Why not use the Lord’s power to make this easy. Easy for me, easy for all His children. God can make stones into bread. He could make it into real good, nourishing, tasty bread, too. More time to pray and do the Lord’s work. The devil said, “If.” I better prove I’m His child. I better demonstrate His power this way. But no. Jesus replies, “It is written.” What is written? “That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” We need bread, but we need God’s words more. We are both flesh and soul. Both have their needs, but the need of the soul is greater. God has appointed us a body with physical needs and weakness. We are subject all our days down here to the vanity of providing for this body that will perish, and with that constraint, we must establish that priority, “by every word of God.” Sometimes I fast, but I must live much of my time seeking first the kingdom of God in the midst of taking care of our physical needs. This is my lot. This is the framework in which I must be content, and live victoriously. But, Lord, just for these last few years, so I can really focus on the work You’ve given me? No. Amen, Lord. I consider my own life. Lord, couldn’t you give me cars that hardly ever need maintenance and repair? Lord, couldn’t you make it easy for me to make a living in just a little bit of time each day? Lord, couldn’t you stop these endless interruptions? No. Amen, Lord. Not “by bread alone, but by every word of God.” Yes, in the midst of my humanity, I must keep the spiritual on top.
“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Luke 4:5-8)
Right, the devil says. On to Your work, then. You have a big job to undertake (the salvation of the world!). You know the difficulties. Attracting men’s attention off this earth, and toward heaven. Opposition of temporal authorities. Misunderstanding. Prejudices. Competing philosophies and religions. Men’s pride in themselves. Distractions just when that person was getting serious about his soul. In a word, my opposition, in all its shades and varieties. You came to destroy my works? You know how fierce opposition I can give? You’ve been encountering just a taste of it just now. But look. We can skip all this trouble. I’ll just hand it all over. You can be king of the earth, and arrange things just as you’d like, to get your work done, with no more opposition from me. “If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.” I’m thinking, “Wait a minute. I’m not falling for that. What good is it to not have the devil’s opposition, if the condition is to be his servant?” Easy enough to say that when I’m soberly reflecting in a quiet moment, or writing articles to encourage others. But am I not naturally drawn to ways to do things easier? Haven’t I found many reasonings come to my mind. Such as: “If I could just come across as wise and reasonable”; or “If I could just get some important, respected people to speak out for the Lord”; or “If I just bring out the more appealing parts of the gospel, at least at first”; or “I don’t want to needlessly stir up the devil.” Where does this head? Stop fighting the devil, and he’ll stop fighting you, right? No, I’m not saying to deliberately be offensive, just to prove I’m not “of this earth.” What was Jesus’ answer? “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” I’m God’s servant, and I’m God’s servant. Not the easy way (and sometimes, but less often, not the hard way, either), but God’s way. No negotiating with the devil. No other service than God’s service.
“And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” (Luke 4:9-12)
Okay, Jesus. No deals with the devil. Better show yourself more impressive, dramatic, awe-inspiring. Jump down from this pinnacle of the temple—the focus of all the people whom God has been preparing for over a thousand years, where they think most about God, where many are right now—and use this promise of God to be miraculously saved and prove yourself. They’ll be putty in your hands. Why, even the devil will have a tough time distracting them from that! Those inclined to oppose you will be pretty intimidated by that sign of God’s favor and protection!
I consider again my own life. A dramatic miracle would be pretty good right here, Lord. How about some signs and wonders right now? This would be a great time, Lord. Jesus’ answer again brings us back to focus, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” God’s in charge, not me. I’m the servant. Yes, Lord, You have promised to help and deliver me out of all my afflictions, but in Your time and Your way. Amen.
“And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.” (Luke 4:13-15)
Good news. “The devil… departed from him for a season.” But just for a season. The better news is captured by these starting and ending words: “And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan” (Luke 4:1) and “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee.” (Luke 4:14) Jesus triumphed over the temptations. Jesus continued “in the Spirit.” We are appointed times of temptation. We, too, can continue “in the Spirit.”