Welcome to the first part of a short series I'm writing during Lent. We’re on the first Sunday of Lent, and so I’m going to be looking at the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, and the temptations he endured. A new post will be up every Sunday, and you can view the series overview here: Lent 2018.
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
That’s all Mark has to say on that time Jesus spent there, and John doesn’t mention the forty days at all. That leaves only Luke and Matthew which mention the temptations or any details about what happened in the desert.
So let's look at the first temptation that Satan tried on Jesus.
Luke 4: 1-4
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.’” (cf. Matt 4:1-4)
The first thing that jumps out at me here, is that the devil didn’t come to tempt Jesus until after the forty days were up. He waited until Jesus was “famished” and then struck while he was weak. What can we learn from this? That the devil is tricksy and won’t hit you when you feel like you have it all together, but will rather wait until you are in a more susceptible and weakened state of mind.
Like James (1:14-15) says, we get tempted by our “own desire, being lured and enticed by it” to try and get us to fall into sin by acting upon those desires. So we need to guard our minds and keep our focus on God in those times to try and ensure that we are aware of the escape that God has given us, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 10:13
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
What about Jesus in the desert then? You might think that he was beyond these things and temptation couldn’t touch him. In some ways that’s true; he was fully in tune and in the will of his Father that he sets the example for us, and what we can achieve. But at the same time, he has “in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
This is why we can learn much from these few short temptations that Jesus faced in the desert. While on the face of it, we may think it’s unrelatable to be asked to miraculously turn stones into bread — there’s more to it than meets the eye.
It’s not necessarily about the bread, or the miracle, but the insinuation that “If you are the Son of God...”, trying to do to the Second Adam what that old snake did to the first: trip him up through pride.
“Thus, if the first Adam fell from God by pride, the second Adam has effectually taught us how to overcome the devil by humility.”
George Leo Haydock (1774–1849)
As the quote above points out, Jesus demonstrates to us how to overcome the temptation to think of ourselves too highly, or to flaunt our status (Romans 12:3), by doing the opposite and humbling himself and pointing back to Scripture. Whereas Jesus did have every right to say “I am the Son of God – there’s no ‘if’ about it!” and use his abilities to create a miracle for his own sake, that would also have been selfish and another path to the sin of pride and arrogance. Instead he sticks to the main thing that can thwart the enemy when trying to deceive us: Scripture.
Although “he was in the form of God” and had equality, it wasn’t “something to be exploited” as Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-8.
Let us learn from this, and keep ourselves ever humble, imitating our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we may push back against the attacks of the enemy and “work out our salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)!
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