#12: Temptation in the Wilderness

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is 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 splendour; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Living our busy lives, the best that many of us can manage are brief God gaps. A quick few minutes, perhaps between shower and breakfast, a thought and prayer whilst driving the car or a hurried reading and prayer before sleep. Jesus lived a different way, he made space for God or to put it better, he made space for himself to be with God.

He is coming out of the decisive launching experience of his baptism. He is about to begin his great world changing ministry. So much to do, so little time to do it. But before beginning, or rather, as a way of beginning, he goes off alone into the wilderness, ‘the empty lands’ and spends 40 days just himself and God.

He is on retreat, fasting, praying, pondering and planning. Suddenly his blessed times of contemplation are interrupted, the enemy seeks him out. The devil has been waiting for Jesus for a long time. He has prepared the ground, baited his traps. In the next two or three years Jesus and the devil will be locked in a salvation or damnation struggle, and it begins here. Jesus came out to find God; the devil came out to find Jesus.

It is difficult to say exactly who or what the devil is. In the Jesus story he seems to be the anti-light and anti-life candidate, the personification of all that is evil. Just as God wants to create and protect, the devil wants to destroy and condemn. In our times we have become used to evil people with their hungry lusts for greed, fame, influence and power. These same lusts here take the form of temptation. Jesus knows the sort of Messiah that his father called him to be, here the devil wants to take him down another road. Jesus could become the ultimate materialist who fills himself with food and drink, gold and treasure. Jesus could throw himself off the Temple and being seen by many, to be saved by angels, could become a massive religious celebrity, a sort of X-Factor winner amongst spiritual leaders. Finally, he is tempted to look out from the mountain top and imagine himself to be the ruler of the world.

Or he could stick on track and follow the way prepared for him by God.

‘I can resist everything apart from temptation’ said Oscar Wilde.

Fortunately for us, Jesus was a bit stronger than Oscar. He went into the desert, ‘the deserted place’, to meet with God. I’m sure he did meet with God and whether or not he expected it, he met with the dark enemy too. The devil spoke and wormed his way into his mind and heart. For 40 days he tempted him, offering him these three different ways of being Jesus. Every time, and every day he rejected the devil’s temptation and followed the divine template.

He went into the wilderness, led by the Spirit, having just offered himself for the publicly, decisive experience of baptism. He had begun. Now he was ready, stronger, feet set firmly on the ‘Father’s’ path to faithful Messiahship.

He has been 30 years in preparation, he is now ready to launch. We have just spent 11 days with him in his preparation, are we ready to follow him as he comes out of the wilderness?

Finally, we began this day thinking of our little ‘God Slots’, why not follow the path of Jesus and find some serious sort of ‘God Space’. Discover your own little wilderness, even if it’s only a walk with the dog, or 15 minutes in your favourite chair. He says no to the alluring, fabulous and compelling temptation of the devil. He must have been exhausted, hungry and empty at the end of it. Actually, not empty, but filled with a sense of knowing and doing what was right, filled with a sense of victory, of having passed the first great test. Now he is ready.

Time to find and be found; time to get yourself on his path.

Lord Jesus,
Where is my wilderness?
Whose is the tempting voice I hear?
What is the temptation that draws me?
Will you help me overcome it?