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. Luke 4:1-13
It is for Jesus a time of preparation and discernment before going out to teach, preach, heal, and lead. Part of that preparation, we learn, is a challenge. Can Jesus say NO to the devil’s temptations to follow an easier road? People are looking for a Messiah and a religion that works for them…. feeding their hungers, asserting their superiority over others, and putting God-given miracles at their daily disposal. Can Jesus say NO to the offer of being able to lift His finger and proclaim His number one-ness over everything and prove his equality with God? Can Jesus stay true to and focused on what He has come out of the wilderness having learned…. that God’s offer of one more grand, amazing and grace-filled YES to the world REQUIRED Jesus to be able to say NO?
In this story of the Temptation, Jesus is making it clear to us that when we say YES to following Him we are also clearly saying NO to three alternatives. The way before Jesus is clear and it’s NOT about using power to feed our own appetites or trying to make God respond on our terms and creating some protective, angel bubble around us, or achieving power over others through the use of our faith. It is about a power, Spirit-driven and Spirit-filled, unleashed to serve and feed others, to trust God in all times and in all circumstances, and finally to take our place humbly in His kingdom alongside all those whom God names as His own.
One of the great ironies (and sadnesses) of contemporary American Christianity is that the most rapidly growing segments of the Christian community believe that God exists to address our financial wants and needs through miraculous providence; that God provides a protective bubble around us through prayer and angel visitors; and that assertive use of our majority power to set the agendas for schools, textbooks, and legislation is pleasing to God. Ironically, it is precisely these temptations Jesus resists and the opposite of the life of faith he describes in the Sermon on the Mount. While we can attempt to justify or explain away this conflict by saying that we’re asking for such things from Jesus and not from Satan, I don’t buy it. And the more I see it portrayed by television evangelists and megachurch pastors extending their own kingdoms, the more I am aware of such desires and temptations within me. I do understand the tendency to set aside the essences of Gospel and discipleship because a message of prosperity, protection and superiority has greater appeal.
Jesus could easily have justified submitting to any one of the three temptations under the claim that He was only doing it for God’s sake. For God’s kingdom. To show God’s power and authority. But he did not. He chose instead to follow the way that the Apostle Paul called “the foolishness of God.” Power with and under people instead of over. Awareness and attention to the greater hungers and cries of humanity instead of the growling in my own belly or the bottom line in my checkbook ledger. Praying for God’s care and providence to assist me in serving others rather than carving out my own preferential treatment through Club Jesus. Laying down my life and loves for the loved one, neighbor and stranger as though laying it down for Him.
That is what Jesus taught and that is how Jesus lived. On His way to the Cross, it proved to be too much for the many who had claimed to be His followers and they deserted Him. Pray, people of God, that the Spirit that drew them back comes again. Pray for the Spirit who brings forgiveness and renewal to blow through our beloved Christian communities today and direct us on the paths of discipleship and a clear proclamation of grace for all. The temptation to follow a different way will surely come. Just say no.