Our Gospel lesson comes from Matthew who shares the experience of Jesus’ journey into the wilderness following his amazing baptismal experience. Still dripping wet from his baptism, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It was a time for Jesus to open himself up rather than closing himself off. Yet, when he opened his life to God, he also became vulnerable to the temptations that face us in our humanity.
What were those temptations? It is important to help listeners go deeper in their understanding of the temptations and what Jesus’ experience has to say about our discipleship. First, the temptation came after a period of 40 days during which Jesus fasted, so Jesus is famished. The period of 40 days connects to stories in the Hebrew Scripture in which people fasted for 40 days (Moses and Elijah) or waited to be delivered from evil for 40 days (Noah).
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (v. 3). What was special about turning stones into bread? Stones would often have the shape of a loaf of bread. In this temptation we find an attempt to get Jesus to focus on his own need and away from his greater call and mission of salvation for humanity.
But Satan does something else in this temptation. “If you are the Son of God,” challenges Jesus about his own identity as a means to raise doubt in Jesus’ mind. It’s amazing what happens to our courage and strength when we begin to doubt.
“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’” (vv. 5–6).
So, why would Jesus resist this request to prove who he is? Jesus resists the temptation to test God because the attitude of testing God is not about trust; testing God comes in our lack of trust.
Too often in our human nature we place conditions on God to perform to our desired expectations before we claim our faith.
“The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; …‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’” (vv. 8–9).
False worship and power is the third temptation. Jesus was faced with the easy way of becoming who he was called to be by falling down and worshiping the devil versus his journey of sacrifice to bring God’s justice for all. We face the same struggle in our discipleship. Too often we fall into the pattern of misuse of power and seek the easy way to live our discipleship.
The temptations Jesus faced and the temptations we face of materialism, doubt, misdirection, false worship, prestige, and power press on us to ask deeper questions. For Matthew, the questions Jesus had to face and wrestle with were: Who will I be in God? And what is God’s desire for my life? In this text we are confronted with the question: Will we be someone different than who God calls us to be. (Worship Helps 3/9/2014)