The Devil’s Test — Mt 4:1-11// Lk 4:1-13 – Sunday February 14 2016
“Lead me not into temptation… I can find it myself” says one bumper sticker, pointing up temptation in the Lord’s prayer. Indeed, the three temptations of Jesus link closely with the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer we are called to pray and live by every day.
In the first temptation, (changing stones into bread) the Devil challenged the hungry Jesus to use his power and ability for Jesus’ own benefit. Jesus refused this and the other temptations with quotations from Deuteronomy. One implication is that where ancient Israel had failed, Jesus here succeeded. Jesus would only use his power and ability towards the goal that God had given to him – to devour God’s word, and benefit the people of God.
We face and fail such a test every day when we are tempted towards short term gains while ignoring the greater costs – to ourselves, or to others. In using fossil fuels, it benefits us immediately and yet it is driving our descendants and the whole creation to destruction.
As a positive example, this week we remember Frederick Douglass (d. 1895). He risked returning from sanctuary in England, risked being re-enslaved or being killed, to effectively urge Abraham Lincoln towards the emancipation of slaves. Frederick Douglass cared more about serving God and others, than about personal survival and well-being.
We follow Jesus when we pray wholeheartedly the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”. It is not a request for a free lunch; rather, it is a request to “Give us what we need to serve you, God, every day, and serve other people in your name.”
So the first temptation is about selfishness, about using our abilities solely for self interest.
In the second temptation, (that Jesus could have all the glory and power in the world if he worshiped the devil) Jesus is challenged to gain celebrity and influence through accepting authority or dominion from someone other than God.
Examples of this are the false prophets in ancient Israel, ready to sell themselves for material gain. This week (Feb 11, 2016) we had the trial of Reinhold Hanning, another Auschwitz death camp guard whose defense was that he was only following orders. To save his own skin, he delivered 170,000 people to perish in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany. For ourselves, in order to gain promotion, we may be tempted to find the way of least resistance, and agree to things we believe to be wrong.
We follow Jesus, however, when we pray wholeheartedly the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “May your kingdom come” – not someone else’s kingdom!
So the second temptation is about accepting authority or dominion from something or someone other than God.
In the third temptation (Jesus to throw himself down because he could make God’s angels save him):
(1) Jesus was perhaps challenged to (ignore what is right and what is wrong and) conform to what was popular or to popular ideas of the kind of leader that people wanted. The crowd would surely have loved it if Jesus forced angels to provide entertaining spectacles, such as surviving a fall from a high place!
As an illustration of this same principle, there is the phrase, that, “You are not your children’s friend; you are your children’s parent.” Surely a true friend will speak the truth to a friend. Doing what is right is not always popular. We want to avoid conflict. We want to avoid mentioning what is wrong in our context. Look at the global financial disaster that has come from one bank after the next lending money to people who can never repay. In a comparable way, for far too long, the church tolerated slavery or discrimination. We condone what is wrong for the sake of acceptance.
(2) Furthermore, in this third temptation, the insistence that God can be implored to give us every success and made to preserve us from any ill comes close to a religion of positive thinking or the erroneous thinking of Christian Science. When we follow God’s will, things may not always be to our taste. If our only intent is to follow God’s will, our path may be more like that of Jesus in Gethsemane (‘take this cup from me – yet thy will not my will be done’); or like the martyrs St Paul, St Peter, and St Stephen. There may be hard parts, and they may endure to the end of our earthly lives.
We follow Jesus when we pray wholeheartedly the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “May your name be sanctified” – God’s name above all others.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is tempted specifically as ‘the son of God’. In the Gospel of Luke (and Acts) generally, Luke describes the disciples as like Jesus, as like Mary, and as like us. Luke describes Jesus as an example to us, an example which we are quite seriously meant to emulate. So it is that Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to offer the petitions that God help us through the same temptations that Jesus faced: “May your name be hallowed; may your kingdom come; give us each day our bread for subsistence.”
In doing these things, we will surely have to deal with a devilish level of unbelief and hostility, just as Jesus did. But the Holy Spirit of God will be with us, to give us the words, to strengthen us and encourage us, until our job is done.
When we stumble or fail, as we all do, we seek God’s forgiveness in the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. We are required there to simultaneously forgive others also.