Lent is a season of preparation remembering Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and prayer. Just as Jesus prepared for his earthly ministry, Lent guides us as we prepare for the events of Holy Week and Easter. Three of the Gospels contain the story found in today’s text on the temptation of Jesus. Hebrews 4:15 also references Jesus’ temptations.
Today’s passage describes the final event before Jesus began his public ministry. Up to this point, Jesus was baptized and heard the blessing “you are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
In today’s text, we read about Jesus as he works through what ministry means for him. Jesus enters a time of trial and temptation. He fasts and prays with intent—focused on mission. He is filled with the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit. This is a key point. Like Jesus we are called to embrace an intentional way of life—a receptivity to the Holy Spirit. As we journey through life’s challenges and engage in Christ’s mission, we are called to be “full of the Holy Spirit” and to be “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1).
Next, Jesus is tempted with three seductions: turning stone into bread to relieve his hunger; receiving glory, authority, and power; and performing a spectacular feat under the protection of angels. To these Jesus unequivocally says no. What is so wrong about turning stone into bread? Think about all those who are starving! Aren’t we called to help people, to feed the hungry, and to wipe out poverty? Jesus was faced with these same questions. But, when he was asked to prove his power by changing stones into bread, he clung to his mission to proclaim by saying, “One does not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3). In other words, bread is good but not enough to sustain life as a disciple.
Most of the Mediterranean region was then under the control of the Roman Empire, including all administrative, economic, and military power. Surely, the reign of God’s Son could only be for the world’s good. Yet, again Jesus’ answer is no. The price was too high. Implicitly, even playing the world’s game of power and authority for a good purpose would risk serving something less than God. God’s power does not control but self-empties. Spirit-filled life as a disciple calls not for power and authority but for emptying oneself in humility as a servant. Worldly power is consistently abandoned in favor of love.
Next Jesus forgoes a demonstration of spectacular results. Why? Jesus refuses to become a stuntman. Jesus’ mission was not to prove his worth. Jesus’ mission was not about drawing attention to himself; not walking on coals, swallowing fire, or jumping from tall buildings without getting hurt. Instead, it was an all-out mission of gracious forgiveness and inviting outsiders to seats of honor at the messianic table. Jesus’ call was to a life of service to and for others.
Our text reminds us Christ’s temptations are ours, too. As disciples, we can engage in ministry for the wrong reasons: authority, power, prestige, self-aggrandizement, or pride. Like Jesus, we must become spiritually formed so we are Spirit-led and filled with the Holy Spirit. We must open ourselves to encounter the Divine with our whole being. If not, we gradually suppress the Spirit. We would begin to live in a very dark place that many would call “burnout.” Christ’s mission is not easy. The mission is fraught with many distractions. Genuine Spirit-led ministry requires us to walk with the Holy Spirit.