And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”
And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13 ESV)
Do you remember your first day at work? Whatever it was, I’m guessing you were excited and somewhat apprehensive. Depending on how familiar you were with the working environment, you were also very attentive to learn and get things right and make a good impression. You expected things to be rougher at the start – just fitting in and learning and getting the job right – and later things will get easier. I once worked as a storeman which involved working with heavy bales of wool and on Day #1 I could barely move each bale and I went home stiff and sore but within a week or so I was moving them around with much greater ease and was going home much less stiff and sore! Going to work is a beginning from which you hope things keep getting better.
With that idea in our heads I’d like us to consider Jesus’ first day on the job, so to speak, when he goes from the River Jordan and his baptism out into the wilderness having been led by the Holy Spirit. Your first day is about orientation – this is your desk, here is where you get a cup of coffee, here is the code or pass for this or that, etc – and Jesus is at it from Day #1 so to speak. What is his job? We discover it later to be rescuing this planet from the powers of sin, death, and the demonic. Jesus is a worker in a hostile environment – a soldier in enemy territory – a cure molecule placed in a cancer – where his very presence and his work is resisted. We wouldn’t want to work in such a place generally but we know living is done in hostile places – perhaps we’ve had such experiences ourselves – and Jesus faces this reality from the beginning. Instead of the work getting easier, Jesus will find that the rescue will get harder and harder, the resistance and hostility will increase and he is faced with the issue of going on, of whether and how to complete his task, of what sort of Son of God he will be. That’s the temptation Jesus always faced!
The Devil doesn’t doubt Jesus’ divinity. The demonic world was the only group that understood who Jesus truly was on Earth. The “If you are the Son of God …” is a mocking opening statement said by someone who knows the truth. The Devil is saying to Jesus “Since you are the Son of God …” which the Greek word allows – since you are the Son of God turn the stones into bread – you’re hungry – who’s going to know? Since you are the Son of God – here to fight me – I’ll give in and hand everything over to you only worship me just once. Since you are the Son of God, use your powers and be a Superman and the crowds will follow you.
All Jesus has is himself and God’s Word that he has learnt through all the years of his growing up. This is what he uses as both shield and sword against the temptations and challenges – “It is written …” he says and cites Scripture against the Devil.
But the Devil sees what Jesus is doing and when he challenges and tempts Jesus to be a spectacular Messiah and a Superman-Son-of-God, he uses Scripture to ‘back up’ his temptation! The Devil uses Scripture for his purposes against Jesus! “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
And now this is really hard because Jesus has to assess the Scripture cited and decide whether and how it applies to him. He faces a fork in the road, so to speak, with signs above both roads on which is written Scripture. This is not a matter of choice between options that are not sinful as such. This is much more about when Scripture is being used to lead us away from God – when Scripture is being misused.
The Bible, we believe, is God’s Word. That is true but at every moment we need to decide whether it is God’s Word for me and how and when it is God’s Word for me. Wolves in sheep’s clothing and cults use Scripture for their own ends and people are then prey, victims, tasty morsels to be used and abused. That is trouble enough but the real trouble comes when we ourselves, our sinful flesh, our selfish desires rationalise, minimise, or relativise God’s Word so we can do what we really want to do.
Temptations are personal to us. They shift and morph as we grow or as our circumstances change. Temptations remind us that there are boundaries over which we shouldn’t cross. And followers of Jesus wrestle with temptations because discipleship is always one of choosing our behaviour in this or that moment – whether we follow Jesus and how we follow Jesus – and it is clearer when the Bible speaks and less so when the Bible is more muted. Last Sunday at Jesus’ transfiguration, his disciples were told by the voice in the cloud to ‘listen to Jesus’ and that is the key to living. Listening to Jesus, the Word made flesh, who now comes to us in words, water, bread and wine.
Today in Lent we focus on these words – what they are and where they are placed – the Old Testament points forward to Jesus, the New Testament letters and history points back to Jesus, and the Gospel accounts present Jesus – and that is where we keep going to hear what God says to us. We hear a consistent message – our sin and God’s grace – we watch Jesus’ obedience unto death even death on a cross – and we find this love motivates us how we live in service and sacrifice and love. We hear Jesus both absolve ‘I do not condemn you’ and challenge ‘go and sin no more’ (John 8:11) and we apply this to ourselves. We know our weakness, fears, and doubts and Jesus knows them too and he helps us by drawing us to himself in words and meal and promising to be with us always.
And that is how we live – under God’s Word – so that Jesus speaks to us and helps us live in his kingdom each and every day in ways that keep getting better.
- Luke 4:1 - 13