Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But He answered, "It is written,
'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
'He shall give His angels charge over you,'and
'In their hands they shall bear you up,Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'"
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me." Than Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"
Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
- Matthew 4:1-11
Yesterday, we read about Jesus coming from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. What does it mean to be tempted? My study bible suggests to us that it means to be tested in fundamental areas of faith. Both here in Matthew and also in Mark, the language literally reads that the Spirit "throws" Jesus into the wilderness after His baptism to be tested by a struggle with the devil. When we're tempted in our faith (which can come in all kinds of ways both subtle and personal to each of us), we must remember that we have the Holy Spirit as our Helper as He did. The wilderness becomes a spiritual image of the world: a battle ground -- both the dwelling place of the demons and also a source of divine tranquility and victory.
And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Forty days and forty nights reflect the period in which Israel wandered, heading toward the Promised Land, a time of faith and great testing. Jesus' period in the wilderness is like a reversal of Israel's falling into temptation, disobedience, and disloyalty in the wilderness. Humility came as they went hungry, and then were fed with manna, learning a dependence upon God (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). Jesus' fasting means He's tested with hunger, but He doesn't sin. Significantly, all His answers to the devil are from Deuteronomy, and they all are about loyalty to God. They are therefore as much messages to Satan as they are replies from Christ! Fasting as Jesus practices here is an example of our power and limitations in the face of temptation; hunger needn't control us; Jesus controls His flesh. This wilderness fast for forty days is the foundation of the tradition of fasting during Lent.
And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." The challenge issued here is to Christ's relationship to the Father. "If You are the Son of God" is a challenge to the Father's declaration at Jesus' baptism (yesterday's reading, above). As Second Person of the Trinity, the Son "can do nothing of Himself" (John 5:30). But as human being, Christ has free will and at all times must choose to be obedient to the will of the Father.
But He answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" Jesus rejects this first temptation, and thereby rejecting worldly power -- using His power for purely worldly motives and "the food which perishes (John 6:27), over obedience to God. My study bible comments that Adam disobeyed God's word in order to pursue the passions of the body (Genesis 3), Christ as New Adam conquers temptation by the divine word. Human nature is given the power to conquer Satan.
Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "It is written again, ' You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" The holy city is Jerusalem. It's interesting that the devil imitates the places where there are encounters with God in the Gospels: here it's the pinnacle of the temple, next it will be an exceedingly high mountain. It teaches us not to be fooled by appearances! Christ defeated his previous temptation through use of the Scriptures, so here's another elusive attempt at deception by Satan quoting the Scriptures in order to put God's power of protection to the test. (My study bible also refers us to 2 Peter 1:19-21 for further consideration.) Jesus' reply is steadfast: temptations and trials enough will come on their own in this world in our lives, we don't intentionally expose ourselves to danger in order to test or prove God's protection. This is what it means to tempt the LORD.
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me." Than Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God , and Him only you shall serve.'" Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. Here's another direct test regarding the establishment of a worldly Kingdom. Jesus comes into the world as Liberator and Deliverer, as Savior for all of us, but His is a spiritual Kingdom. This will be the great crux of His mission, and become stumbling block and foolishness for many. The devil, reminds my study bible, is the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31), "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4), because the whole world is in his power (1 John 5:19). Jesus refuses this road of worldly glory, which would lead Him away from His Passion and death for the redemption of all the world. We note that temptation doesn't last forever, nor does testing: the angels come and minister to Jesus.
How do we go through temptations in our lives, and even times of testing? The Lenten period has traditionally been seen as a time of spiritual reflection and discipline, a time for prayer and also for fasting -- even if, in our modern world, fasting is not always taken seriously nor even understood well. What that means, in imitation of Christ in this period of forty days and forty nights He spent in the wilderness, is that we take time out to examine and fully focus on our relationship to God. That's the time when temptations and testing can really come to the fore, a testing time of our faith. What are our weaknesses and vulnerabilities? How does the world seem to tell us we're foolish, or deluded, or making a mistake by being faithful? These things can come in as many forms as human beings who face struggles and problems. The important thing is that we face them in faith, with prayer, and in an understanding of what spiritual struggle is. Our faith isn't really about a kind of battle with the glory of Hollywood behind it or any other great lauding of our attributes or our prowess. Honestly, the battle is really in humility. If we look at Christ in the reading today, His answers fully rely on God and on trusting in God. So we, too, must remember that our job in life isn't to convince every nay-sayer that our faith is just and true. It's not to tell the world what it needs to do. We can get lost in our need for control of everything, and our fears of what the world will throw at us. But the answer to everything is trust in God, a kind of faith that understands that it's not up to us to fix what's wrong with everything around us. Rather, it's up to us to find where God leads us, to trust in that leading, and in times of testing and temptation to just stay there with our prayer and our discipline and meet it with the humility that God asks of us -- not in the mistaken belief that it is somehow our own power alone that is inadequate or failing if it's not enough. Far from it, it's in our weakness that we may be saved, by recognizing and accepting that as human beings we need help, we need the Helper, the Spirit who is with us. When things don't go our way, when we seem to fail through our own efforts to fix the world, our problems, even ourselves, then we really need to remember and hold on to the paradoxical understanding that "in our weakness Gods' strength is made perfect" (see 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Jesus sticks to the basics: His mission is not one of defeating the devil on the devil's own terms. It is a great temptation to think we must appear "perfect" before the world, as if the world is our Judge. That is especially true in our media-driven modern lives. There are times we must retreat from it all to focus on how God calls us. Christ became stumbling block and scandal, and at times we may be called there by our faith as well. Let us especially consider this if we are vulnerable to any form of bullying, scapegoating, or social shaming. These can be great temptations. So we have our mission, too, and we rely on God to teach us what that is. Let's not be tempted to think that "fixing" everything is necessarily what God wants of us, but rather trust in our faith and His love, particularly for our own weakness.