The Church invites us into the season of Lent, which started this past Wednesday. It is a journey, so to speak, in imitation of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert before his public ministry. The Gospel passage today(Luke 4.1-13) highlights this event, a time of reflection, prayer, and temptation.
When you think of the desert you may at first think of it as a harsh place, dry and lacking vegetation, but it is because of this that it is an ideal place for reflection. Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert at this opportune, and crucial, moment in his life. It was, for him, a time of awakening and solidifying his mission. And it can be for us also!
Perhaps it comes at an opportune time for us also, in this present day when we are caught up with so many distractions and things that fight for our time and attention. Perhaps it is time for us also to reflect on our mission as Christians. Do you know what your mission, your call, is? What better place to start then, than in the loneliness of the desert, as we reflect on the three temptations of Christ as they light the path for our mission also.
The devil’s first temptation is for Jesus to turn stones into bread. After such a long fast from food I am sure that the thought of bread was a strong temptation. The devil urges Jesus to give in to his bodily desires.
We too have temptations to earthly desires, perhaps moreso today than in any other generation. Whether we struggle with instant gratification (we can get what we want NOW, with the click of a button, and we don’t need to delay), over-indulgence (with so much excess it is easy to WASTE our time and our money on things that don’t really matter or even draw us away from God), or over stimulation(robbing us of quiet and leading us to become desensitized and seeking to be constantly occupied). These may be extremes, but the truth for us in the matter is in Jesus’ response to the devil, “Man does not live by bread alone.” We have deeper hungers and greater needs. While our body may hunger for food and other worldly things, what do our hearts hunger for? As we hear in the reading from Romans today, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”(10.8-13) God’s Word, Scripture, is what truly nourishes us. He is the true need that we should not neglect!
The second temptation is that of popularity and power. The devil promises Jesus all the glory and authority of the kingdoms of the world.
In regards to popularity, we all like to be respected and fit in, and we don’t like to be laughed at or ridiculed. This temptation can cause us to make compromises to fit in, or to be silent when we should speak out for what is right.
Power, on the other hand, offers an easy substitute for the hard work love can call for. Our temptation is to replace love with power, when we might hold unforgiveness over someone, or spread little tidbits of deceit and gossip. Our sin is a way of bowing to the devil. Jesus’ response, to serve only the Lord, is our way to freedom. When He is the primary one we submit to and fear then we do not need to please anyone else because we can be assured of His love and acceptance for us.
The third temptation is for Jesus to test God in order to confirm his faith in Him. The devil assures Jesus that if he was to throw himself off of the highest wall of the temple God would surely save Him, and he would be the talk of Jerusalem. The devil even uses Scripture to affirm this: “On their hands [the angels] will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91) It is a temptation for us to think that no matter what we do God will save us. And it can be so easy for us to take the credit and the glory for ourselves. However His Spirit is within us when we trust that He has the best plan and that He deserves all glory and thanks.
So, all three temptations come down to the same thing for Jesus: faithfulness to the Father; to put material things and his own glory first, and put God and spiritual things second. In all of this though, Jesus never yielded. Why? The answer comes in the first line of the Gospel passage; He was full of the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with His Spirit there is no room for the devil’s words. We too will face these same temptations. But we only need to place ourselves in his mercy, and seek Him with faith. This gift of faith He gives freely to us if we but ask. We too need to enter this lonely place, this desert, to keep our eyes on the one who refused to turn stones into bread, to jump from great heights, and to rule with great power, to allow God’s Spirit to fill us in order that we might remain faithful.
Resisting temptation was not easy for Jesus, nor will it be for us. The temptations are never over, but in Jesus we have a brother who knows what we are up against. He can give us strength to be faithful and to experience the firmness and resolution in our own mission as Christian people; to put God and spiritual things first and to seek His will in our lives. Take heart and do not be afraid to enter the desert, with Jesus by your side, this Lent.