First Sunday in Lent, March 6
(Over the next three days, I’d like us to look at the three temptations Satan put before Jesus.)
Reader: “Then the devil said to him . . .”
Response: “But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say . . .”
Scripture: Luke 4:1-4
Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.
Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”
Following Jesus’ baptism (See Jan.9, 2022 Epiphany season devotional), what may seem to us as rather odd, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days. In a similar way, the Spirit of God led the Israelites into the wilderness at the Exodus to test them. You’ll recall another forty day testing period when twelve spies went into Canaan as the Israelites remained in the desert. When the report came back, the people refused to put their trust in God with the result of their remaining in the desert one year for each of the days the spies were gone, an eleven day journey that took forty years! That unbelieving generation died in the desert, never reaching Canaan. In contrast, Jesus endured the forty days in the wilderness, never yielding to the devil’s ploys to short-circuit God’s plan of redemption. The result of his overcoming the devil’s temptation is that all who put their trust in him, unlike the unbelieving Israelites, do enter Canaan, heaven on earth.
What is interesting to me is the Israelites clammering for bread during the wanderings and God provided daily manna. Then they complained about the manna! In Satan’s challenge for Jesus to turn the stones into bread, he was tempting the humanity of Christ. Jesus, who was fasting through his ordeal and very hungry, responded to the devil with “man does not live by bread alone.” The “flesh,” the fully human Incarnate Son of God rejected the devil. This kind of temptation is common to all whereby the appeal is to please or gratify some aspect of the self forgetting our true relationship to God. Note the contrast between Jesus’ empty stomach and his being filled with the Spirit and the Israelites’ stomachs full of manna but empty in Spirit.
Jesus is a positive contrast at every point to the Israelites. Notice the root of the devil’s temptation. Of course there is the appeal of food to a man who has been fasting for forty days. But I want us to look at a more profound temptation that lies in the challenge to Jesus as the Son of God. It is this―Satan attacked Jesus’ identity. Did you recognize the not so subtle “if”? Another way to say it is, “Since you are truly God’s Son, prove it by doing what I’m challenging you to do. Use your divine power to satisfy your own needs. Exert your own will. Exert your independence from your Father. Be your own person!”
I immediately recall Jesus’ words, “I can do nothing on my own. . .I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.” (John 5:30) Jesus always knew who he was as evidenced from the time he was a child of twelve at the Temple. When asked by Mary why you “did this to us,” Jesus’ response was, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
The devil knew who Jesus was which made his strategy foolish. But as always, Satan continually attempted to destroy God’s mission of sending his Son to redeem the world. Jesus knew who he was before the foundation of the world. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way: “God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.” (Heb.1:2-3) You see how weak Satan’s appeal was to Jesus as to his identity. Jesus submitted himself to his Father and refused to exert his own will independent of his Father’s.
Why do I mention this? It is the same strategy of Satan today as we see the evidence all round us. Two things: he challenges people’s identity and appeals to their individuality in exercising their own power and will to satisfy their own desires. Here are some examples: note how much focus parts of our society have placed on race, skin color, ethnicity, gender confusion, sexual orientation as measures of personal identity and at the same rejecting or dismissing the truth that all persons are made in the image of God, the one true source of everyone’s identity. Jesus’ ministry underscored this truth as he challenged the Jews to think beyond race, skin color, and social station as male or female and realize our truest identity is in Christ.
While Satan’s strategy was dismissed by the Savior, it appears to be working very well in today’s world in leading people from the truth. This season of Lent is about repentance from the sin in our own lives but also about repenting as a people embracing the truth of God. May we be more aware of our own sin and let us pray for cultural repentance.
Music: “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” Fernando Ortega and Amy Grant
Prayer: O Lord, who has taught us that to gain the whole world and to lose our souls is great folly, grant us the grace so to lose ourselves [in Thee] that we may truly find ourselves anew in the life of grace, and so to forget ourselves that we may be remembered in your kingdom. ―Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971, from The Oxford Book of Prayers, p.119, adapted Daniel Sharp