Summary: Jesus was strengthened by his wilderness experience, and so are we. Jesus left the wilderness, called his disciples and started doing God’s work. We can also leave the wilderness and do God’s work, all the time being confident that we can face temptation.
Have you ever faced temptation in your life? Each and every one of us has faced life’s temptations at some point in time, and we are always faced with the issue of how we are going to face them. Even Jesus was tempted, as we have heard in today’s Gospel reading. We can be tempted at any stage in life. Do we fight temptation or give in to it? Today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel gives us instructions about how we as Christians are supposed to deal with temptation.
The Gospel reading takes place shortly after Jesus’ baptism-a baptism that included the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus from heaven. Now, the Holy Spirit has led Jesus to a barren place where the devil waited to tempt him. You might wonder why the Holy Spirit did this. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to face temptation so that he would know what it is like to be tempted and so that he could emerge sinless and perfect-and thereby become the perfect, sinless lamb that would be slain for our sins. Our own wilderness experiences are an important aspect of our spiritual walk because they are designed to test us and teach us. We can look temptation in the face because Jesus has entered our desert experience and come out triumphant.
This happened at a spiritually significant time in Jesus’ life, and like Jesus, many of us are tempted at a spiritually significant time in our lives. Temptation is an active force today. If God calls us, we will be tempted. We are often tempted to see evil as the product of social problems such as poverty, racism or ignorance; however, the church teaches that evil exists because the Gospel writers taught that the devil existed and that Jesus had to deal with such an existence. Evil is a personal and sociological issue that lives in both our neighbourhoods and our hearts.
Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy his physical hunger, just like some of you might be tempted by my mother’s cookies in a few minutes or by candy or other snack foods. They satisfy our physical hunger for a short period of time, but in the long run too much “junk” is not good for us. The same is true of our spiritual hunger. We need spiritual nourishment as well as physical nourishment. God will provide us with the spiritual nourishment that we need. As long as we stay close to him, we will overflow with blessings and joy.
God has much to give us to feed our spiritual hunger, but today we are distracted from receiving his word by things such as shopping malls, catalogs, faster computers, TV shopping channels, men’s and women’s’ magazines and much more. Only God can fulfill our longings. He is the hope we have when we look into the world and see so much evil. He is the hope we have when we look at ourselves and see our evil side.
If Jesus had given in to temptation, he would not have satisfied his spiritual hunger. He would have turned his back on God. He would have started his ministry by following the devil’s lead. Instead, he chose as his first duty the feeding of others on God’s word-a duty that must also be our first duty as Christians. In order to do this, we do not have to preach hellfire and brimstone. We can do this by serving others as Christ and the disciples served others.
Jesus was also tempted by Satan to jump from the roof of the temple. Satan even uses Scripture as a weapon! The three temptations are not incentives to do bad things. They are invitations to be someone else, to live some life other than that of the beloved son of God. While the devil and his disciples quote Scripture and thereby appeal to our lower nature, their strongest appeal is to our sense of right and wrong. They try to persuade us to do not what we know is wrong, but what we think is right. The devil hides his temptations. He will tempt us to do good deeds by using some sort of underhanded method. He offers us shortcuts that sound so good at the time, but work out so poorly for eternity. He will be like “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”, so we must stay alert at all times and always pray for guidance. We must not be fooled by the beautiful package that the temptation comes in, because the contents are ugly. Temptations are everywhere-just like the devil and his fallen angels.
Sometimes even our worship is directed to man when it should be directed to God. A good example of this is the extravagant lifestyle some TV evangelists lead-a lifestyle that is financed by the offerings received from their followers. Of particular concern are evangelists who proclaim that Jesus will bring prosperity to our businesses, families, dreams and lives, especially if you send them money! They are the devil in disguise. Jesus will bless these things only if they are in line with his will for our lives and if we worship him in true faith. In contrast, evangelists such as Billy Graham and Franklin Graham live modest lifestyles while they do God’s work in our world.