I find Luke 4, in which the temptation of Christ occurs, to be one of the most humorous passages in the Bible. It’s not actually the temptation itself but the way the events leading up to the temptation that make me laugh. After Jesus has been baptized, the very next thing that happens is that He is tempted in the wilderness. “And in those days He ate nothing and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.”
Let’s see . . . . He had fasted for 40 and 40 nights, and guess what? Afterward, He was hungry!
O.K. Maybe you don’t have the same reaction I do, but this is an amazing passage in a number of ways. The first thing that strikes me is the timing of Jesus’ fasting and temptation. What has just happened before these things? Jesus had just been baptized by John and filled with the Holy Spirit. He had just been anointed by the Holy Spirit as Prophet, Priest, and King, and His public ministry can now begin. Well, almost.
Am I the only one who thinks it strange that no sooner had Jesus been baptized then He fasts and is tempted? I might expect Him to fast before His baptism, but afterwards I expect He would have a time of peace and joy and celebration.
Instead, He is led into the wilderness to fast and be tempted by Satan. I’ve always imagined that Jesus went out to the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days, and then to be tempted by Satan. But notice that St. Luke records that Jesus was tempted for forty days by the devil (verse 2). Maybe I’ve had it wrong. Maybe Jesus went out to the wilderness to pray, but He met Satan there, and when He met Satan, then His response was to fast and pray. In reality, Jesus wrestled with Satan for 40 days and where we get to come in and watch is only the climactic finale.
In any case, Jesus’ first action after He was baptized was to be tempted and to fast and pray. I don’t know why this surprises me because I’ve seen it so many times in my life and in the lives of others. Satan, as I like to say, isn’t very creative or strong, at least not compared to God. Being a wise general, he doesn’t want to waste his precious forces, so I believe he saves them for critical moments when they will have the most effect. For this reason, Satan chose to especially engage Jesus when He had just been baptized, and then when He appeared to be weak from fasting.
Isn’t that like our lives? Isn’t it true that when God begins a new work in someone’s life that Satan will come and try to destroy it? I believe that when someone gives his life to Jesus Christ for the first time or when he is baptized as an adult that Satan will soon launch a counteroffensive to try and win that soul back. I think that Satan waits for the moments when a Christian is enlightened and realizes he has been sinful and re-dedicates his life to Christ to attack and tempt that person away from God.
We should all be on the look out for such moments. They will undoubtedly come, although rarely when and how we expect them.
But Satan isn’t a very creative fellow. He sees what God has created and declared good, and he says, “I’ll have the opposite.” “Let me see,” he says. “God has said that His world is good, then I guess I’ll have to be evil. God has chosen that person to love and reclaim, so I guess I’ll have to go out and tempt them back.”
There is a second startling thing about this passage. Did you notice how Jesus got to the wilderness to be tempted? Luke records that He was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness,” but Matthew writes, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” One of the purposes of the Spirit, who has just come upon Jesus in His baptism, in leading Jesus to the wilderness was to be tempted by Satan, so that Jesus could begin to defeat Satan for us. This isn’t just about Jesus praying, fasting, and defeating Satan: it’s about Jesus doing these things for us.
After Jesus was baptized, being filled with the Spirit, He was now equipped to do holy battle with Satan. By His baptism, and through His praying and fasting, Jesus was equipped to face the inevitable attacks from Satan. What Satan didn’t realize is that for one who has completely given his heart to God, temptation will only strengthen him and lead him back to God. Satan attacks, which reminds Jesus to turn to God for strength and to remember His Word, and when God’s children do these things, Satan will be defeated.
One interesting way to look at the temptations is to look at 1 John 2:16, Genesis 3:6, and Luke 4 together.
The first temptation was “the lust of the flesh” (1 John 2:16), and Adam was tempted because “the tree was good for food” (Genesis 3:6). Jesus, however, did not sin when He was tempted to “command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3).
The second temptation was “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16), and Adam was tempted to see that the tree (and its fruit) “was pleasant to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6). Jesus, however, did not sin when the devil took Him up on a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4:5).
The third temptation was “the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), and Adam was tempted to eat because the tree was “a tree desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). But Jesus didn’t sin when the Satan tempted Him to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple (Luke 4:9).
So what was the difference between Adam and the Second Adam, Jesus Christ? No, it’s not just that Jesus was God. The human nature of Jesus Christ was fully human and could not only be tempted but could also sin. So what was the difference? The difference was that Jesus Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, chose to obey the will of the Father.
At your baptism, God also gave you gifts. You, too, have the gift of the Holy Spirit, and you have been given the power to obey the will of the Father. You, too, will be tempted in each of the ways Adam and Jesus were tempted. The question is, “Who will you follow in the hour of temptation?”
Jesus was given the ability to make food. He would change water into wine at His first miracle, and He transformed a few fish and loaves of bread into enough food to feed 5000 men. But He refused to use this ability as a means to gratify Himself when the Father had said “No.”
Jesus had power over nature. He could walk on water and command the wind and the waves to obey Him. But He refused to suspend the law of gravity or to command the wind to carry Him and save Him simply to show off for Satan’s sake.
Jesus Christ was the King of kings. He could have called armies of angels to come and establish His kingdom by force. But He chose to establish His Kingdom by obedience, service, humility, and His own blood given for us.
God has given you the things of this world. Each of you has at your fingertips wealth and power beyond the dreams of most people who have ever lived. God has given you His most extraordinary spiritual gifts and talents, for He has given You His Son through His Spirit. And Jesus Himself has given you His Kingdom because He has given you Himself.
How will you choose to use these things today: in the selfish way in which Adam used them, or in the selfless and loving way in which Jesus used them? With confidence in self and a belly full of food you’ve gotten for yourself, with prayer and fasting?
Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- Which of these 3 kinds of temptations are you undergoing right now? Spend some time praying and mediating (and even fasting) so that you will be brought closer to God and will find strength to overcome your temptations.
- Sing a good Lenten hymn, for example: “The Glory of These Forty Days” or “Forty Days and Forty Nights.”
Resolution: I resolve to pray more throughout the day today so that I may be strengthened by God to face the temptations of the day.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson