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Reflections on the very real temptation of Christ

The baptism of Jesus marked the end of his preparation, and he immediately began laying the foundation for his work. Matthew, Mark and John report that the Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.
All three gospels describe the time as 40 days, but Matthew and Luke emphasize that Jesus fasted all that time, setting himself up for the first temptation.
Many view the temptations as only symbolic, but I believe the temptations were real and fully demonstrated that Jesus was human. His divinity triumphs in his responses.
Fasting is seldom a serious spiritual discipline in our time, but historically many of the greatest spiritual teachers have reached their wisest insights after long periods of fasting. Jesus’ sense of his mission to redeem sinful mankind was clear to him as soon as “he saw,” in Mark’s words, “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved: and with you I am pleased.’”
And it is that same Spirit that sent him to the wilderness for a spiritual experience that prepared him for his ministry. It is my personal belief that the 40 days were spent in prayer and communion with God — the ideal preparation for the testing that would come from Satan.
The accounts of the temptation have become so familiar that we seldom think seriously about their meaning. We have been told repeatedly in sermons and classes that Jesus answered Satan with Scripture, offering us a model for how to deal with temptation. And we all learned when we were children that the temptations were to turn stones to bread, to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple and to fall down and worship the devil. Matthew and Luke differ on the order of the last two: Luke makes the pinnacle of the temple the last temptation.
Hunger is a powerful urge for all people. Consequently, that is the temptation that we usually focus on. But Jesus does not hesitate to reject the need for food, giving greater emphasis to the importance of God’s teachings in sustaining the life that is important.
The test to see if Jesus will act to meet his physical needs become symbolic of all those desires for food, clothing, sex, luxury and creature comforts. Bread alone is the only benefit that comes from this temptation. Strangely, this seems to be the easiest temptation for us to understand.
The sight of all kingdoms of the world must have been awesome for a young man who had spent his adult life in Nazareth with occasional visits to Jerusalem. How impressive it must have been to see the entire world that represented power, glory, wealth, control of the lives of all peoples. How easy it would have been to rationalize, “God sent me to win the world. Now I can have it all in one easy move.” All the kingdoms of the world in one easy step — just worship Satan. I think this temptation is hard to comprehend, but Jesus immediately rejects it.
In Luke’s account of the last temptation, Jesus and the devil are in Jerusalem on the pinnacle of the temple. The devil asks Jesus to prove he is the Son of God by throwing himself down from this high point.
The proof will be that the angels will save him.
The pinnacle of Herod’s temple rested on the most holy place, the sacred area where the presence of God dwelled. What a strange place for the devil to position Jesus. The test seems less appealing than the other two to a non-Jewish reader. But perhaps Jesus’ strong spirituality made this offer more of a temptation.
Perhaps remembering all of Jesus’ answers can provide us perspective for facing the tests of life.
• For the test of stones to bread: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:3).
• For the test of all the kingdoms of the world: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Luke 4:8). “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Matthew 4:10).
• For the test on the pinnacle: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12, Matthew 4:7).
While we often minimize the testing of Jesus, it was very important. It did not end with the desert encounter, but that victory prepared Jesus for his outreach to Israel.
Face to face with Satan, Jesus was strengthened by his testing.

  • Feedback
    The message is a good one. Knowing that Jesus succeeded and how he did is of value to us. That value comes to us in the form of two passages, 1 Cor. 10:13 and Heb. 4:15, perhaps in reverse. In the latter, we are reminded that our Leader has gone through what we might; in the former tells us how we will also be protected, as Jesus was.
    February, 7 2009

Filed under: Insight

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