While reading the story of Jesus’ temptation in preparation for this study, I was struck by a strange sense that I had never experienced before. Since we have been reading Matthew as a story, I discovered quickly the success of Jesus so far. He had just reached the peak of his call when a voice from heaven affirmed, “this is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17). I reflected on how it would feel like for me or others to achieve a dream! How would I have responded to such a reality? Is it possible that many voices of temptation would start emerging at that moment of great achievement?
The book of Hebrews says that Jesus was tempted in all ways, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). The questions above in addition to the Hebrew reference shed some light for me a fresh as I read this passage. Jesus had just been pronounced and enthroned as God’s Son and with that enthronement came all kinds of voices to usurp power and do as he pleased. Jesus faced these tempting voices and emerged victorious at least for the moment, a failure to prevail over these temptations would be a bad sign for his unfolding ministry; these temptations would catch up with him if he had not decisively defeated them.
My reflection here is very human, when we fail to address voices of temptations in our lives, we lay down a fertile ground for sin, failure and ultimately defeat of our mission and purpose as sin takes root and control us. Jesus confronted the devil and his enticement at the very beginning of his ministry when he was feeling successful, the very moment when temptations had the opportunity to lay a claim on him. Just imagine the voices that emerge when people attain positions of power and influence. What would happen if people in authority or positions of influence were to resist the voices of temptation that seeks to carry to influence them to use their positions for personal gain? I see in this story Jesus doing just that; facing the temptations head on and prevailing over them.
The first two temptations were aimed at Jesus’ identity directly aimed at contradicting what God had said about Jesus at his baptism (3:16-17). The tempter came to Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God…”. Jesus’ identity was challenged directly and an alternative offered to him. Jesus was indeed hungry after having not eaten for forty days and forty nights as the text says he was “famished.” He had all the reasons to display his power and make his identity known to all by turning stones into bread. Jesus’ body needed food and he was perfectly capable of producing that food and taking care of his anger immediately. Knowing that this was the wrong time to display the power which he actually had, he refused to obey the devil. His concern was not with the ability to prove himself by doing a miracle and wowing everyone, but instead with obeying and trusting his father’s words and providence in the face of hunger (Dt. 8:2-3).
Had Jesus obeyed the devil, he would have elevated the tempter above his heavenly father, which seemed to be the tempter’s aim. I say so because immediately Jesus debunked the trick, the tempter came right out and plainly told Jesus to worship him. Such worship would lead to Jesus receiving power and greatness unmatched by anyone, the tempter said. Seeing through all the lies presented, Jesus responded by quoting scriptures and by talking about his father. Jesus was committed to God’s word and sought to completely trust him and not second guess him. His commitment was to love and serve God alone. The context of the quoted text in Deuteronomy indicates that God tested (a situation that allows the true character to emerge) Israel in order to see what was in their hearts. Jesus as king was also tested in order to show his servant heart and commitment to the father.
As we have seen before in Matthew’s story, this story is a retelling of Israel’s story in the wilderness. According to the text, Jesus had just come out of the water of baptism when he was led to the wilderness in the same manner that Israel had come out of the Red Sea to the wilderness. Like Israel after the Red Sea event, Jesus was sent into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights (Israel’s forty years). But take a note that where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded; therefore, Jesus is a true Israelite who was finally going to fulfill what God intended to do through Israel; being the light of the world (.v. 16). In this story also is the retelling of the creation story. While Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation with devastating results, Jesus succeeded by trusting his father and in doing so, set to undo the effects of human rebellion and sin as Matthew will show us later in the book.
As we read the text further, the tempter will return to Jesus through his disciple one more time at his moment of vulnerability as he faces the cross (16:23). He will be faced with ridicule and mockery (27:39-43) with same words, “if you are the Son of God…..” By refusing to obey the devil and his lies, Jesus embraced God’s plan a plan that involved the cross. This was the story begun at the events of baptism when he chose to be baptized in order to identify with his people’s need for repentance and ultimately die their death; our death. The temptations were meant to stop all this.
The daily temptations we face in our lives are critical to the success of our calling as Christians. The daily temptations are meant to destruct us from God’s mission. Each of us has a glorious but costly calling and the enemy will do everything possible to distract us from that calling. It is likely that if we are capable of hearing God’s affirmation of our calling, we will most defiantly hear the whisper of the enemy trying to distract us from that affirming voice as well. We should therefore, learn from Jesus to use scripture but in order to do that, we must store the word in our hearts in the same way Jesus did. Let us stay focused on God’s calling and not listen to the distracting voice of the enemy. Our calling is to shine God’s light in the dark world. Stay focused and committed to him who called you in spite of the temptations, do not second guess God. Learn from Jesus.
Call….>………Temptation…..>… Mission fulfillment
• What do you make of the fact that Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil?
• How do you define “temptation”?
• What can we learn about transition into ministry from this story?