The Temptations of Jesus
From this text we learn some very important truths about Jesus. Specifically, we learn some truths about the kind of Messiah he was going to be and the kind of Messiah he is. Notice first of all the presence of the Holy Spirit with Jesus. We saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him in his baptism (3:22). In the next passage we will be told that he was “filled with the power of the Spirit” as he began his teaching ministry (4:14). In the temptation narrative we are told that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (v. 1) and that it was the Spirit that led him into the wilderness where his temptation took place. I believe that Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness are meant to remind us of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness. One reason for that conclusion is the fact that all of Jesus’ Scripture quotations come from Deuteronomy which is set at the end of Israel’s wandering period. Luke is trying to tell us that this was a very formative period for Jesus and that it was a necessary period for him. The Spirit was with him to help him through.
Notice second that Jesus answered the temptations of Satan with the word of God. We should have no doubt that Jesus was very conversant with his Bible, which was our Old Testament. For every temptation Jesus was able to quote Scripture in response. We may rightly assume that as the living Word Jesus had a very dynamic relationship with the Scriptures. Please note that the devil was also able to quote Scripture (vv. 10-11). Even the true word can be used for wrong purposes. Jesus used one of the weapons that he had ready at hand: the Bible.
Notice third that Jesus was tempted in ways that, had he given in, would have completely and negatively altered his ministry. There is a sense in which all of the things that the devil tried to get Jesus to do would, had he done them, have worked. He could have turned the stones into bread and he could have done good things with that bread. He could have fed himself and he could have fed others. In the second temptation Satan was sort of telling the truth and sort of lying, as he often does. It is true that he has a certain amount of authority in the world. It is not true, though, that his authority is ultimate. But no doubt if Jesus had acknowledged the devil’s authority he could have thrown a lot of support Jesus’ way. It would have been an impressive feat for Jesus to be spared from death had he thrown himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. But Jesus would do none of those things even though to do so would have provided short cuts that would have won him much more acclaim in the short term than the hard way of obedience that led to a cross did. But he had to go that hard way. Jesus could not have been God’s Messiah otherwise. In so doing he defeated the devil who has remained defeated ever since.
From this text we also learn some very important things about ourselves if we accept the fact that our life and ministry should be modeled after that of Jesus.
First, we can trust the Holy Spirit. He may lead us into difficult places but they are places that we need to be. The times of stress and trial may be the greatest opportunities for growth that we ever have. Lean on his power and trust his guidance.
Second, immerse your life in the Scriptures. Read, study, learn, meditate. Listen to what God is saying to you through his word. Let your life be permeated with the teachings of God’s word and also with the spirit of that word. Be ready. Your Bible is your sword and the presence of the word in your heart is a great source of defense.
Third, watch for the subtleties of Satan. As Fred Craddock said, “It is important to keep in mind that a real temptation beckons us to do that about which much good can be said” (Luke, p. 56). Temptation for us may not so much be to do bad as it is to try to do good in the wrong way. The end never justifies the means if the means are not true to the character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
Fourth, rest assured that if you try to live in the ways that God has called you to live you will face temptation and the temptations will be very much to the point. Satan knows the points at which your faithfulness may make you vulnerable. When the illusionist David Blaine was well into his effort to go without food for 44 days while suspended in a box beside the Thames River in London, people taunted him by throwing food at him. Someone even used a remote control helicopter to dangle a hamburger in front of him! They tempted him at his very point of weakness: his hunger.
Satan tempted Jesus at the points where he thought Jesus might be vulnerable. We can count on it happening to us, too. Do things the ways that God wants them done, live as God wants you to live, be who God is calling you to be, and Satan will make the other ways look as appealing as possible. When it happens, rely on the Spirit and the Word. You’ll make it through.