1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where 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. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And 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. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 9Then 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, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Years ago at my previous congregation, I suggested that we consider giving up those things that distract us or take up our time away from our relationship with God. One mother said, “Can you break the news to our kids that we are giving them up for Lent? They are quite a distraction!”
I find it ironic that Lent always seems to coincide with the delivery of Girl Scout Cookies. Talk about temptation. Good luck fighting off that temptation! But is that what Lent is all about? I don’t think so!
Nonetheless we hear of Jesus being tempted by the one called the TEMPTER in today’s lesson. Immediately after Jesus is baptized, he is sent into the wilderness, fasts for forty days, and, we are told, he is hungry. It is then that the tempter arrives and questions Jesus. Jesus is put to the test. Each test begins with the simple word – IF.
IF you are the Son of God… Remember this is right after Jesus’ baptism, when Jesus hears God the Father speak – YOU ARE MY SON. The tempter plays on this very fact and challenges Jesus to carry out Satan’s mission instead of God’s mission.
The temptations that Jesus experienced in the wilderness were quite logical. He had been without food and or drink for 40 days. Turning stones to bread was the most natural thing to do. Who would be hurt by this? After all, it would be ridiculous for God's Son to starve when he could have food with a simple command. He had the power to do it, so why not?
Jesus is taken to the roof of the temple. Satan tempts Jesus to throw himself down onto the courtyard below. Things would be a lot easier if he dramatically landed in the courtyard below to the wonder of everyone crowded below. With such a spectacular display the crowd would flock to him. What better way to promote the kingdom of God? He could even avoid the whole Good Friday ordeal.
Then Jesus is shown all the kingdoms and countries of the world. He could have them all if he would bow down and worship Satan. Look at all the good he could do. There are so many who are sick and dying and with all wealth of the kingdoms set before him, this is his chance to do some good.
Think of the hospitals that could be built, the research that could be funded to find a cure for cancer; the starving that could be fed; and the wars that could be halted. Jesus was always compassionate and loving and Satan knew just how to use those good qualities to his advantage.
There is good logic behind each of these temptations. In themselves there is nothing sinister about them. There are some very good ideas here. They offer an easy way out for Jesus to calm his grumbling stomach, to win instant acclaim, and to do so much good and gain the whole world for his kingdom without any suffering and dying.
But that is not why Jesus came. He came to fulfill the mission begun at baptism and fulfilled on the cross and empty tomb. Jesus faces the Tempter head on, and wins. Jesus testing in the wilderness takes on sin and death, to begin the battle he has come to fight – the tempter and the path to sin and death.
What the good news for us today, I BELIEVE, is for us to see that the path Jesus follows will not be sidetracked by the Tempter. He will not be tempted to question his calling, follow the Tempter’s direction or take the easy road instead of the road that leads to the cross.
If you read this lesson and think you can relate to Jesus, you are thinking too highly of yourself. If we COULD win the battles of temptation, there would be no need for a savior. In other words, Jesus is the Son of God and you are not. But, because we are sinful, because we are children of Adam, and stumble and fall, because we are dust and to dust we shall return, we need a savior. We must come to the conclusion that by my own power and strength, I am unworthy. I cannot.
The Good news is this: God can! That is why he sent Jesus. Jesus faces the devil head on. We humans have tried and failed. We need one who will win. What I am saying is, as one person put it, Me versus the world, I am betting on the world. Jesus versus the world, I am betting on Jesus.
Let us pray: Almighty God, our strength, the struggle between good and evil rages within and around us, and the devil and all the forces that defy you tempt us with empty promises. Keep us steadfast in your word, and when we fall, raise us again and restore us through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen