Summary: The season of Lent is supposed to remind us of the 40 days of Jesus temptation in the wilderness. How should we observe it?

The Temptation of Jesus: An Exposition of Luke 4:1-13

We now come to the first Sunday of Lent, a 40-day time, excluding Sundays, for reflection and repentance. These 40 days commemorate the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness where He would be tempted three times by Satan. It is a time where believers fast from some food or activity they enjoy and spend more time in prayer and reflection. But the spiritual disciplines we employ are a pale shadow of Jesus’s deprivation in the wilderness. Jesus didn’t even have lentil beans to eat for 40 days. And there were no off-days for Him. Lent, as it is observed gives Sundays off. Another problem with Lent is that people tend to indulge themselves prior to Lent. The day before Lent is known here as “Fat Tuesday” (Shrove Tuesday) in which fattening food is indulged. Mardi Gras, otherwise known as “Carnival” is a celebration where all sorts of fleshly appetites are indulged for several days. The word itself means “farewell to the flesh.” One should wonder whether we would be better off observing neither Mardi Gras nor Lent than to observe both. The Christian life is a marathon and not a sprint. Consistent service is to be prized.

The Christian Calendar also divides the previous passage in Luke, which is the baptism of Christ and the temptation of Christ. So when we look at this passage, we need to put the two events back together. The baptism of Jesus serves as the dividing line in Jesus’ life. It separated some thirty years of preparation and mostly private life from a life of public ministry. Pentecost serves a similar dividing line for the church. The wilderness temptation is the first event in Jesus’ ministry.

There are three accounts of the Temptation. Mark is the shortest, but provides two details which are not in Matthew and Luke. The first is that Mark uses the word “ekballo”(driven out) which gives the idea of a forceful thrusting of Jesus into the wilderness in comparison to Luke who uses a softer verb meaning “was led.” The other is that Mark mentions that Jesus was with the wild beasts. Some commentators think Mark wrote to Romans. The thought here is that Nero and later emperors during the time of persecution threw Christians to the wild beasts in the arena. This note would remind the Christians who faced this threat that Jesus knew the situation they faced. Although this is interesting, it seems to me that Mark was written before the Neronian persecution.

The accounts in Luke and Matthew are similar, although the order of the temptations are different. There has been a lot of speculation why and who changed the order. Luke admits to using and comparing other accounts. Did he know Matthew? Most scholars think Luke used Mark but most don’t see a direct use of Matthew by Luke. The trouble is that there is a lot of speculation which affects how one interprets the passage. However, I am just going to deal with the passage that is written in Luke in the order they are stated.

The Lukan text says that Jesus in His return into the land of Israel from His baptism was led into the Judean wilderness where He went without food for forty days. Israel had been in the wilderness outside the Land of Israel for 40 years, and some see the forty days reliving Israel’s stay in the wilderness. Israel had been tempted many times and failed. They constantly murmured and failed to believe God’s word. They accused the LORD of taking them out of Egypt to kill them with hunger and thirst in the wilderness, God became very angry as a result of their unbelief. He was especially aggravated when they believed the negative report of the ten who spied the Promised Land rather than the two, Joshua and Caleb, who believed. All the adults of that generation, save Joshua and Caleb, would die in the wilderness. Some theologians see Jesus as reliving the period of Israel’s temptation in the wilderness, this time choosing to believe and obey. This reliving of Israel’s history has been assigned the fancy theological title of “recapitulation.” There is probably some symbolic value in the number 40 here, but it could also be literally rendered as that 40 days without food is at the very extremity of what can be survived by the human body. At this point, if the person had not already died, would be at a time of extreme weakness and would be utterly craving food. Jesus would have been at the verge of starvation, and His human body and nature would be at the point of desperation.

The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way we are tempted. This is best understood that He suffered the absolute extreme of temptation, more than any one else has ever been tempted. His vulnerability was a true vulnerability. It is at this point the temptation begins.

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