Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13
When we last left off, we saw a spectacular scene at the baptism of Jesus. The Spirit came upon him like a dove and anointed him to do the work of the Christ. God, the Father, spoke from heaven and declared that Jesus was in fact the coming King who would be his beloved Son. Yet, one final question needed to be answered before Jesus could begin his ministry – what kind of Messiah would he be? We are told that the Spirit led him to wilderness for testing after forty days and nights of fasting. We cannot help but hear echos of the story of Israel in the wilderness as well as the Garden scene in Genesis. Will Jesus be faithful to God’s will or will he, like Adam and Israel, succumb to the temptation and join their failure?
Once Jesus’ fasting is complete, an act that is very impressive in itself, Satan comes to him to offer three temptations. First, he tempts Jesus to turn stones to bread. Second (following Matthew’s order), he tempts Jesus to put God to the test by jumping from the temple mount. Third, he tempts Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world if he will only bow down and worship Satan. All three temptations are quite similar to the many temptations that we all face. John gives us a very similar list in 1 John 2:16 – the lust of the flesh (stones), lust of the eyes (kingdoms), the pride of life (testing God). And in fact the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are (Heb 4:15). Yet, we will miss the depth and force of these temptations, if we fail to see what is at stake:
1. Will he be a Messiah who will embrace or reject his dependence upon the Father? Adam faced this temptation and sought to become himself like God. He rejected his dependence upon God. Israel too faced this temptation and directed their dependence towards the pagan gods and idols. But Jesus, facing the temptation to turn stones to bread, instead embraced his dependence upon God. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matt 4:4). He will be a Messiah who will embrace his dependence upon the Father.
2. Will he be a Messiah who will embrace or reject his humility? The issue at hand within this temptation is not whether or not Jesus has the allegiance of heaven’s hosts. Satan and Jesus both know that he does. The issue at hand is will Jesus exploit his equality with God or will he empty himself of these divine prerogatives. Jesus responds by saying that God is not one to be put to test. Paul’s words in the book of Philippians ring true in Jesus’ triumph over this temptation: “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” (Phil 2:6-7). He will be a Messiah who will embrace his humility.
3. Will he be a Messiah who will embrace or reject the cross? This last temptation is very subtle and is more than meets the eye. We look at this temptation and say, How is worshiping Satan a temptation? Why would that even tempt Jesus, who is himself God in the flesh? Why would God be tempted to worship Satan? The force of this temptation comes in what Satan is offering. He is offering Jesus all the peoples of the earth. But isn’t this what God is offering Jesus (Psalm 2:7-8; Phil 2:10-11)? Yes, but God offers the nations to Jesus only through the work of the cross. Satan is offering Jesus the world without suffering, without shame, and without the cross. Yet, no matter how painful or how difficult that suffering might be, Jesus for the joy set before him will not inherit the earth without the cross. He will love and obey only God. Even if that means a road to Calvary. He will be a Messiah who will embrace his cross.