The Temptation of Jesus

March 6, 2022, First Sunday of Lent
Deuteronomy 26:4-10 Romans 10:8-13         Luke 4:1-13

As I read in Luke about Jesus being tempted by the devil I had a flashback to my life as a 16 year old teenager trying to fit into my new high school environment.  Since I was working almost every night at the local movie theater I had no after school social life and I had no close friends.  Financially our family was just surviving.

We had just moved from Kansas to Illinois and I found myself at loose ends.  We moved after my Mother’s bitter divorce, and I felt that my life was in shambles.  I was very tempted to just get out of town and leave my mother and brother as I considered leaving to find what I believed to be greener pastures.

Thank God for an understanding Pastor at church who gave me some solid advice and a way to look at what was happening.  I was able to recognize that my personal life was the temptation and what I perceived as freedom would only cause problems.

Jesus appears to be somewhat in the same position.  He had just been baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit.  Remember the words Jesus heard at his baptism when the voice from Heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased!”  As a result Jesus moved about Israel meeting those who needed his saving words and the important messages he proclaimed to his fellow Jews.  Only now the devil was standing at his shoulder badgering him to throw it all away.

Satan, the personification of evil, tries to divert Jesus from his mission—but Jesus is “full of the Holy Spirit” and so is empowered to resist.  Jesus was well aware of the devil’s attempt to persuade Him to test His Father.  The devil needed proof Jesus was the Messiah.  If Jesus had failed the tests he could be destroyed by the devil’s testing.

One Biblical authority believes that the author of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus bore these temptations for our sake.  Jesus is not an “ivory tower high priest” who was far removed from the experiences of ordinary people.  Jesus had been tempted like we are.  As a result, “he is able to help those who are also tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

The three temptations correspond to temptations that Israel experienced in the wilderness, and what I believe we also experience in our everyday lives:

  • The first temptation -to make bread from a stone- is really a decision not to trust God for sustenance. This temptation is analogous to Israel’s failure to trust God for sustenance in the wilderness. The Israelites complained to Moses and in response God gave them manna, but forbade them to gather no more than the day’s supply.  God told Moses that this was a test to see “whether they will follow His instruction or not” (Exodus 16:4).
  • The second temptation, for Jesus to gain the kingdoms of the world by worshiping the devil, is analogous to Israel’s temptation to worship other Gods. The Israelites first failed this test at the base of Mount Sinai when they made and worshiped a golden calf, but that was only the first of many such failures.
  • The third temptation is for Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, thus forcing God to protect him. This was really a test of God as well as the trust Jesus had in his Father.

The test was to see if Jesus would actually force his Father to protect him.  I wonder, did the devil REALLY THINK Jesus would question the fact that God, his Father, was really not the Lord God? (Exodus 17:7; see also Deuteronomy 6:16).

Each of these temptations has embedded in it a particular pitfall, but there is an overarching reason to avoid all of them.  If Jesus were to succumb to any of these temptations, he would be allowing the devil to set the agenda.  As a result, Jesus would be rejecting the Holy Spirit and only recognize the human side of his being.

The devil would then be in the driver’s seat, and Jesus would just be along for the ride.  His life on this earth would become a failure.

Note what Jesus’ treatment of the three temptations is.  He uses two tools to parry the devil’s thrusts:

  • The first tool is the Holy Spirit. Scripture tells us that Jesus is “full of the Holy Spirit,” and the Spirit helps him to survive temptation.
  • The second tool is Scripture. Jesus quotes Scripture in response to each of the three temptations. He knows Scripture; he has studied it from his boyhood.  His intimacy with Scripture is so complete that he can, without hesitation, find the exact verse with which to counter the particular danger at hand.

We have those same tools at our disposal.  Our first tool is the gift of the Holy Spirit which we received at our baptism.  The second tool is the Bible containing the words of the Lord.  These Scriptures are readily available to us through translations and Bible software.

What we may lack is Biblical literacy.  Given time, we may be fully able to use Scripture.  However, temptations seldom afford us the luxury of time.  Temptation comes; it snares us and destroys us before it moves on.  We need to be always ready through daily scripture reading and prayer.  Biblical knowledge readies us for the crisis.

We are continually tempted to do something that we know is not right.  Maybe it is cutting corners at work to get ahead, even though we know it may destroy some co-worker’s career.  Maybe we find a car that is something we always desired but cannot afford, but we purchase it anyway and discover that our families are in terrible financial condition.  We may somebody in dire need of comfort and we walk away because we don’t want to get involved.

The tempter is always beside us.  The devil is always ready for our “Yes” when we think we can get away with answering his call.  It is then we use the excuse, “the devil made me do it“, even though we know in our hearts the pain it will cause if we say “Yes”.

We, like Jesus, are called to be strong, focused on how we have been raised, knowing there is more to life than what we are tempted to do.  The devil is sneaky, swift, and wily.  He can paint a picture that is almost impossible to pass up, only to walk away with a “Gotch-ya” smile and a smirk if we fall for his lies.

It is only through Jesus that we will survive.  Eternal life with Him and our deceased loved ones is our reward in Heaven.  We need to be the example for others as we keep our eyes focused on the journey we are traveling, no matter the bumps in the road.

Jesus does not promise us a smooth path to walk.  We too will be picked on, abused, and even injured as we walk that road beside Jesus.  But the rewards and glory in the end will always outweigh the trials we face each day.  Paul proclaims in Romans 10:13, “for everyone, who calls on the Name of the Lord, will be saved“.

That is the promise of Jesus, He will be with us till the end of time.  We only need to continually hold Jesus close to our hearts while we follow Him.