Lent commemorates Jesus’ forty days of temptation by Satan in the wilderness prior to the start of his public ministry. Apart from the Sundays during the Lenten season, Lent is in effect forty days. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. Many of us are familiar with the “Forty Days of Purpose” study by Rick Warren that addresses what he takes to be God’s five purposes for human life. The Lord Jesus didn’t have Pastor Warren’s study to hand when enduring temptation, though we would no doubt find it very helpful in our day. What Jesus did have to hand were the Scriptures on which he had meditated his whole life and a vital relationship with God his Father. Contrary to those who think all suffering and tribulation are without meaning and purpose, Jesus’ wilderness trials convey deep meaning and purpose for his public ministry and entire life. The same goes for Lent: Lent’s purpose does not begin and end with forty days, but bears significance for our entire lives.
In what follows, we will engage these three questions: Where do Jesus and we find our ultimate security in life? In what do Jesus and we find ultimate satisfaction and sustenance for life? How do Jesus and we endure temptation involving scarcity, especially as it gnaws at our sense of ultimate security and satisfaction? In order to answer these questions, let’s consider Matthew chapter 4:1-11, which provides one of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and 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 will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Satan attacks Jesus’ identity, sense of worth and values when Jesus is very tired, painfully hungry, and extremely vulnerable. Take note. The same may very well happen to us during Lent, and in seasons where we experience loss and deprivation.
Notice how Satan questions Jesus and challenges him to prove he is the Son of God. In the first two temptations, the Devil tries to trip Jesus up with “If you are the Son of God,…” He challenges Jesus to prove to him that he is God’s Son by taking matters into his own hands and look to himself rather than his Father for his daily sustenance by turning stones into bread to ease his hunger. The Devil also tries to push him to throw himself over a cliff to see if God’s angels will come to his aid and catch him as he falls. Lastly, the Devil tries to bargain with Jesus. Jesus will receive all the kingdoms of the world in their glory in exchange for worshiping Satan. In each case, Jesus thwarts Satan with Scripture. He depends on the very Word of God.
No doubt, in addition to the written Word of God, the Father’s declaration at Jesus’ baptism immediately prior to the wilderness temptations left an indelible impression on Jesus and helped to sustain him: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:16-17; ESV).
We don’t know much about Jesus’ earthly father Joseph other than he was a righteous man who cared for his family. After the age of twelve, though, we find no mention of him being involved in Jesus’ life. Perhaps he had passed away before Jesus’ baptism. What we do know is that as early as his twelfth year of life, Jesus experienced a vital relationship with God as his heavenly Father and that his ultimate purpose and allegiance was with God, not his earthly parents: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49; ESV).
Many of us struggle with father wounds that eat at our souls and sense of identity. We look for all kinds of things to fill the void in life, whether other relationships, belongings, performance and prowess, and various kinds of status. We can take comfort from Jesus’ life that one’s ultimate worth and satisfaction should be with God who longs to parent us and care for us during good times and bad.
If Jesus had not been grounded in his relationship with his heavenly Father, he would have gone off the rails, perhaps not during the temptation in the wilderness, but later. Perhaps he would have taken matters into his own hands and not gone to the cross in humble and free obedience to the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness over forty days helped him assess his spiritual state and locate where he found his ultimate value, worth, and satisfaction. How about us? Where do we find our ultimate security in life? In what do we find ultimate satisfaction and sustenance for life? How do we endure temptation involving scarcity, especially as it gnaws at our sense of ultimate security and satisfaction?
Of course, we are to work for our daily bread. Of course, we are to trust God for protection from all harm. Of course, we are not to have any other gods before us. But what will make us immune to taking matters into our own hands and testing rather than trusting God to meet our needs and give us a vital sense of ultimate security and satisfaction?
Whether we struggle with father wounds involving our earthly fathers, we need to come to terms with finding our ultimate significance and purpose in life in relation to our heavenly Father, just as Jesus did. Jesus was so secure in his heavenly Father’s embrace and found his ultimate satisfaction and sustenance in life in relation to God’s declaration of love and good pleasure and in God’s written Word. Jesus knew that the heavenly Father’s embrace is all-important, and that in due course, he would faithfully deliver him from temptation and have his angels minister to Jesus’ various needs. Jesus also clearly knew that Satan could not be trusted and that he only wanted to trip Jesus up. Jesus discerned all too well that people are fickle, and as we see following Palm Sunday, the cheers of the crowds turn to jeers.
How about us? As we deal with various insecurities and scarcity in life during Lent and beyond, where do we fix our gaze? How do we seek to fill the hole not simply in our stomachs, but in our souls? May the forty days of Lenten purpose help us answer these questions as we make our way forward with Jesus to Good Friday and onward to Easter Sunday.