It is interesting that immediately after such an important moment of Jesus’ life – God’s public announcement at Jesus’ baptism – this is my Son whom I love – that he then faced a major upheaval in his life. God’s Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days where he was tempted by the devil. There is an old saying that comes to mind in this – with friends like this, who needs enemies. It seems a strange path for God’s Holy Spirit to lead Jesus on just after God had publicly declared his love for Jesus.
So often I hear people struggle in their faith – if God loves me then why does he allow me to suffer. It might seem strange but blessings and temptation are not opposites but are often part of the same experience. We see it often in Jesus’ parables –: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24,25). Or the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. (Matthew 13:19) It’s hard to comprehend when going through those wilderness experiences wondering why God allows it to happen.
What Jesus’ experience shows is 2 things: Temptation is a part of the Christian life journey. But, it also shows, God provides strength and a way out of temptation. Let’s look at them in this light:
Turning rocks into bread
What is the temptation here? The temptation is that Satan targets our weaknesses. After 40 days of fasting Jesus weakness was his hunger. The temptation was easy to discern. Have Jesus’ provide for his own needs and he breaks his reliance on God. God was the one who sent Jesus into the wilderness by the leading of the Holy Spirit. And God will provide for Jesus sustenance as we hear at the end of the temptation – “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him”. (Matthew 4:11)
We all have our weaknesses where temptation comes knocking. Satan found it with Adam and Eve with the temptation to “be like God”. Satan thought he had found it with Jesus in his hunger. Even when he was writhing in pain Satan tempted Jesus to end his suffering – to come down from the cross without any concern at all for Jesus’ suffering. He knows your weakness. Maybe you’re not aware you have a weakness. Maybe you don’t notice your temptation. But Satan does as God described him in Genesis in the form of a serpent – more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made (Genesis 3:1). As Peter once described him: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
So we need to be aware where our weakness is. We should not make excuses or deny but go to God for help. God gives us confession – not so he can accuse us but so he can give us a way out. In this temptation, as Jesus said, the way out is trusting that God will always provide even when it seems that our resources are depleted. Our problem is that we want to solve our own problems and often turn to God in the very last instance. Jesus could have turned rocks into bread but then he would have placed himself above God and his provision – as did Adam and Eve. And so he replies – we do not live on bread alone but on the very word of God. Where do you run to when you’re in desperate need like Jesus? To yourself first or to God.
Testing God’s love:
The next command is about testing God’s love. If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you … you will not strike your foot against a stone. Do you ever wonder whether God loves you? It sounds like a strange question to ask but so often Satan can really tempt me especially when I am feeling guilty about something I have done or not done.
Sometimes Pastors feel guilty in their call. Am I visiting enough – am I caring enough – am I witnessing enough to get people to church – am I caring enough for our lapsed members and those who have had their children baptised. So to make themselves feel better they might start to do more to show God how much I love him. Stay later in the office. Work their day off. Run themselves ragged doing more and more in the name of work as Pastor to show God how much I love him and feel God is proud of me. That’s when Satan really has done his work.
I can never do enough to make myself feel better. But secondly a pastor’s ministry becomes about me and not you. I do things to make ME feel better rather than serving you. Maybe there are times when you’ve questioned your faith. Maybe you’ve questioned if God really does love you. How have you dealt with it? You don’t jump off a tall building to see if God will catch you.
If you want to know if God loves you and how much he loves you – just look again at the centre of the altar where you’ll find the body and blood of Christ. That’s how much God loves you that he was prepared to sacrifice his one and only Son. If you go anywhere else to confirm God’s love for you then Satan has led you astray. That’s why in the Lutheran Church we hold Baptism and Holy Communion as central to our faith and vital to our teaching because this is where God has shown his love for you, as John tells us: This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:10) and so we love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19) And if we want to show our love for God, how do we show that love? Not by jumping of a tall building but by loving one another as Jesus loves us.
The final temptation by Satan of Jesus is about our worship:
All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me. Satan may not be so subtle and offer you the kingdoms of the world but he seems to offer us less subtle but very tangible things to lead us away from worshiping God. You deserve to rest on Sunday. You’ve worked hard all week – this is your only chance for yourself. And doesn’t God want you to spend time with your family? Do you really have to go to church to show God that you believe in him? Others can become resentful. I’m on the roster again. They’re asking for more money. They’re all hypocrites in church.
Satan works hard to break down our worship by turning church into work. And sadly the church is often quite guilty of supporting that. We have taken the focus of church at times away from worshiping God and tiring people out. There are tasks that need to be done in the church but these are not our prime focus. Our prime focus must always be serving God and being served by God. Like Satan trying to take Jesus focus away from God we need to ensure that in all our activities and busyness that we are not taking our focus or the focus of others away from God and worship.
There are things we do and things that need to be done, that build up fellowship, but our sole reason for being here is to worship and the other things emanate from that. When the others take prominence over worship is when we are led astray – and we burn out, we lose our enthusiasm, we lose our purpose. As Jesus said; Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. Whether it’s Bible Study, Community Meal, Car Boot Sale, Head 2 Heart or any other fellowship – these are guided by our worship of God.
Temptation is Satan’s weapon against us and so we pray to God to not lead us into temptation. God doesn’t tempt us but when we take our eyes of God we are so easily led astray. As James reminds us: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; (James 1:13) So we ask God to not lead us into temptation but to lead us to his word and worship. And as Paul reassures us: God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
So when tempted we look for that way out which comes through prayer, through God’s Word and Sacraments and through our worship.