Summary: Following his baptism Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and is tempted by Satan. His temptation helps him to focus on who he is and what he has been called to do.
Matthew 4:1-17 “Focused”
It is interesting to see how Hollywood has interpreted the temptation of Jesus. The truth is that we don’t know exactly what happened. No one was present with Jesus, in the wilderness, to record what actually took place. There were no cell phone videos. All we have is the story that Jesus shared with his disciples, and even the words of Jesus have been slightly modified by each of the gospel writers.
What we do know is that Jesus’ wilderness experience was a defining moment in his life. Through his time in the wilderness, fasting and encountering the Tempter Jesus was able to establish his identity, determine his ministry—his life’s purpose—and understand the forces that were arrayed against him. We can learn more about the dynamics of these areas in our own lives by studying and understanding their significance in Jesus’ life.
The Tempter attacks Jesus at his identity as God’s Son. Shortly before Jesus’ encounter with the Tempter he had been baptized and a voice from heaven had said, “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well please.” The Tempter now comes to Jesus and says “If you are the Son of God …” That’s a big “If.”
The first temptation focuses on Jesus’ hunger. Jesus is tempted to not wait for God to provide for his need, but rather to use his god like abilities to provide for himself. This temptation could be called one of independence and self-sufficiency. It harms the relationship that God has for us.
There is an innate desire in all of us to be independent. We want to be our own boss and our own provider. Our independence distances from God and creates an emptiness at the core of our beings. We may attempt to fill this void with things that the world suggests will make our lives more meaningful and fulfilling. Nothing can do this, however, except our relationship with the God who created us. As Jesus was the son and God was the father, so we are God’s children and God is our parent. It is the relationship that is significant.
The second temptation that Jesus faced was to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple and see if God’s angels would catch him. The idea is if Jesus was really God’s son if God really loved him, than the angels would not allow any harm to come to him. The Tempter even quoted a passage of scripture to strengthen his temptation.
We all want people to prove their love for us. Wives appreciate it greatly when their husbands remember their wedding anniversary and birthday. Children feel loved when their parents attend their soccer games and dance recitals. Failure to attend these events or meet these expectations causes a person to doubt the love of another. We give little love tests.
We, at times, put God to the test. There are times when we do foolish things expecting God to take up our slack. A missionary pilot believed that God would take care of him when he flew in weather in which no other pilot would fly. He hit a mountain. Travelers sometimes travel on roads that are not fit for travel believing that God will keep them from an accident. At other times, we may say, “God if you really love me, then you will answer this prayer.
As Jesus reminds the Tempter, we are not to put God to the test. Again it is the idea of relationship. Are we ready to live by faith in the reality that we are God’s children and that God loves us? Are we willing to trust in God’s steadfast love even in the midst of trials and tribulations?
The last temptation involves short cuts. The Tempter tells Jesus that he will give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will simply worship him. Jesus will avoid the flogging and the cross. He won’t have to put up with the intellectual denseness of the disciples. He will have a short-cut to his ultimate goal of being King of kings and Lord of lords.
We know that temptation. We would always like to take a short cut—get an “A” on the test without studying, become financially free without the need of being financially disciplined or bringing into reality the vision God has given to us in record time. We may like short-cuts, but more often we feel like the Israelites wondering in the wilderness for forty years.
Once again the focus is on our relationship with God. Can we believe that God is working out God’s plan for us and for the world even if it take a long time—even if God’s time is not our time? Can we walk with God and follow God wherever God leads us?