The First Temptation of Christ – Luke 4:1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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 protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
There’s a traditional way to preach on the gospel account of Jesus’ wilderness temptations. A preacher recalls each of Jesus’ temptations and then draws the conclusion that just as Jesus was tempted by the devil, we also face temptation. And we should follow Jesus’ example by making the same good decisions he did. Which is all true, but…
…you don’t need someone to stand in front of you and tell you that you will face temptation. You don’t need me to tell you to make good decisions when you face temptation. We already know that, right?
What we often need reminded of, however, is that scripture’s primary purpose is to tell us who God is.
As we start to grasp who God is, only then we begin to know who we are and what we are supposed to do with our lives. The gospel writers chose to record the account of Jesus’ wilderness temptations because it is an incredible resource to help us learn who God is and wrestle with those truths.
The first thing we learn about God in today’s story about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness is that God is a God of abundance.
Jesus’ first temptation by Satan was to turn a rock into a loaf of bread. As far as temptations go, this one sounds pretty innocent! After all, Jesus had been fasting for 40 days. He’s hungry; Satan merely points out that he could provide for himself.
The reason why this request was evil, though, was because Satan sought to entice Jesus to take more than God had provided for him. Jesus’ reply was that whatever God provides is enough.
He quotes a verse from a story in Deuteronomy where Moses reminds the people of Israel that when they were wandering the desert for forty years God provided them with manna. Through their period of testing, God provided God’s people with what they needed. And Jesus insists that is enough for him as well.
God’s provisions are unlimited; and God expects us to live without dwelling on the things we lack.
This is an important message in our world so inundated with commercials and advertisements seeking to identify or create a void in your life and to convince you that the only way to fill that void is to buy their product. But we need to remember that God is a God of abundance and God wants nothing more than to be our sole provider. Jesus seems to be saying that faith is not necessarily reaching for the next rung on the ladder of success; but rather pausing where you are to look around and appreciate the view.
The second the wilderness temptations story teaches us about God is that God alone is worthy of our worship and praise.
The devil has no real power; but he claims that he has been given power over this world; and that he would share it (or even give it all) to Jesus if he simply worshiped him instead of God. To this temptation Jesus again quotes Deuteronomy, recalling Moses’ words to the people of Israel that they are to worship and serve God alone.
Jesus, as the Messiah, is not exempt from God’s most basic demand; the demand made on the people of Israel and the demand made on us today – the demand to worship God alone.
Our challenge is to not think of this as some sort of power trip on the part of God. God is merely trying to protect us. All the real power in the world belongs to God. Others claim to have power, and they might even claim that they will share it with us; but this is a lie.
The third thing we learn about God is that God is trustworthy.
God does not bend to our whims. Even Jesus could not make demands on God’s activity in this world. By throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus would be testing God; purposely going out of his way to cause God to act.
Jesus seems to pass the temptation without breaking a sweat; however, of all the temptations, the idea of testing God was one of the most difficult for Jesus to overcome.
Recall the account of his prayer in the garden prior to his betrayal by the hands of Judas. In deep anguish he prays for a different way. He prays, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup of suffering from me.” But again he does not yield to temptation, ultimately acknowledging, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Even when facing death on a cross, Jesus refuses to manipulate God. God had set Jesus on a path of suffering and Jesus had the power to change the course of his life, but ultimately he agreed to obey God.
Now here is an example of how important it is to understand that scripture is primarily concerned with who God is, as opposed to who we are. When we read this account we see that Jesus, who had the power of God at his disposal, voluntarily chose suffering for his life and refused to call upon God for protection. An incorrect and dangerous reading of this same account could very well lead someone to think that we too are to choose suffering and refuse to call upon God for protection. Suppose someone had this attitude toward scripture and was in an abusive relationship? The moral they might take away would be to stay in the relationship despite the abuse because it’s God’s plan.
Or we can look at socio-economic, religious, or racially-identified groups who face a greater degree of suffering than we do. Could we get by with a belief that their experience of oppression, injustice, and suffering is part of God’s plan?
No, this is absolutely not what this text is saying!
Instead, this text is telling us that we worship a God who has experienced the depths of human suffering. We worship a God who knows pain and rejection. We worship a God who understands what it is like to feel hopelessness and despair. In your moments of greatest need we have a God who has promised to be there with you. God could have turned his head; God could have ignored our pain and suffering; But he chose to be with us!
In summary, we learned from this text that God promises to provide, remain faithful, and walk with us in our suffering. What wonderful news to hear that no amount of temptation can keep God from showering us with unconditional love. My prayer for all of us is that we may live a life of thankfulness for this gift.