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February 24, 2015

On this Lenten Journey to the Cross we find Jesus in the wilderness facing three-fold temptation. Here is the account from Matthew.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do 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 splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Matthew 4:1-11

  • Did you notice that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted? Yes, by the Holy Spirit! Maybe that is why he taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
  • Did you notice that the devil used scripture to tempt Jesus? Hitler used scripture to justify his persecution of the Jews, too. While scripture is among the most cherished of God’s gifts to us, it can be twisted to make vicious assaults on the Kingdom of God.
  • Did you notice that Satan promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world? Those weren’t Satan’s to give. No wonder Jesus called Satan the father of lies.
  • Did you notice that having resisted all of the temptations thrown at him Jesus was still not immune to temptation? Luke’s Gospel tells us that Satan would return at a more opportune time, i.e. the Garden of Gethsemane. According to Matthew, the angels came and ministered to him.

Why should the Son of God be subjected to this can of testing? Maybe it is because part of his missions is to teach us how to live. We, too, will be tempted. My dad told me that God had to allow Christians to be tempted. Why? “It’s like taking a piece of iron and putting it in the fire,” Smelting over fire turns iron ore into a useable form, but if that were the end of the process we would still be stuck in the iron age. The iron has to be put through the fire to remove the impurities so that it becomes a much stronger metal. Dad explained. “Facing temptation and not yielding is like putting iron through fire. It is to temper it and make it into steel so it becomes a more reliable, more useful tools.”

But there is more. While God may allow us to be tempted, He is never far away. The Apostle Paul puts it this way.

No temptation 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 temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

(1 Corinthians 10:13)

So, the experience of Jesus facing temptation in the wilderness is to prepare him for his role as the suffering servant. It was a time when his identity was crystalized and his mission was clarified. But it also is to our benefit. The writer of the Book of Hebrews makes that connection for us.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

(Hebrews 4:14-16)

Jesus does not wait until Good Friday to initiate his plan of redemption. His entire life is redemptive – a part of God’s plan of salvation for each of us. Even his temptations are redemptive. So, too, is every encounter is with us, every teaching is focused on our growth as disciples, every healing is that we might be whole, every step along the way to the cross is to show us the way.

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