I'm sorry I didn't get to post yesterday. Today, we will begin exploring the temptation narrative found in Matthew's gospel. We have looked at the baptism of Jesus and have asked the question: "Why was Jesus baptized?" Today, we will ask the question: "Why was Jesus tempted?"
"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." (Matthew 4:1) It is interesting what the four gospels tell us and what they don't tell us. Only two give us a birth story of Jesus. All four present to us John the Baptist. They all have Jesus going to the Jordan River, although there is a slight omission in John's gospel that we will look at later. What about the temptation narrative? Well, John does not say a word about the temptation of Jesus. We'll look at why when we get to his Gospel. Mark, in his gospel, gives us the account, but says very little about it. Matthew and Luke give us detailed information.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke each agree that Jesus was either led or sent into the wilderness. He, himself, did not make the decision to go. We also have to notice that the temptation of Jesus took place immediately after he was baptized. Let me emphasize...The baptism of Jesus signaled the beginning of his earthly ministry. He healed no one (that we are told about), he taught no parable, performed no miracle, etc...until after he was baptized and tempted. Why? Well, to help us understand the whole picture, we must look at the whole picture. First of all, let's understand a little about the desert/wilderness.
The desert/wilderness in the Bible has a double meaning. If you recall the children of Israel wondered in the wilderness/desert for forty years. It was during this time that he Israelites discovered their identity. The desert/wilderness is, for one thing, the place where one encounters God. The story of the Exodus was about far more than God simply delivering the people from slavery. It was about the people coming to know Yahweh as their God. The desert/wilderness is also a place of testing. Jesus going into the desert is both an encounter with God as well as a test. Often in life our times of testing help us to discover God.
I would suggest to you that there was a lot at stake in the desert when Jesus went there. So, we will answer the question: "Why was Jesus tempted?" rather early. The stay in the desert would determine what kind of messiah Jesus would be. Would he be a messiah whose authority would be based on power? If so, then he would be just like the Roman authority. Or, would he be a messiah based on God's standards? Would his standards be like that of the Roman government or like God's and not of this world?
"After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God tell these stones to become bread." (Matthew 4:2-3) Before we continue let me say that it is not a sin to be tempted. If you are tempted you have done nothing wrong. The trick is, not to give in to temptation. Now, we are all tempted. Let me say that again, we are all tempted. Of course, we are tempted in different ways and by different things. But, notice, Jesus was not necessarily tempted by what was before him, but by the power that was within him. In other words, "If you are who you say you are, then...prove it!" Hmmm....is there any greater temptation than that. I have to share a humorous story. Years ago I was house sitting for my dear old friend Roy. Roy was an electrician and a plumber. (Most of my humorous stories involve Roy's work as an electrician/plumber. One night while I was housesitting the phone rang. 'Hello!" I answered. "Hello, yes, I understand you are a plumber." I answered, "No, sir. The guy who lives here is the plumber, but he is gone. I'm just housesitting for him." "Well," he answered back, "I hear you are very good at your job and I need you to come out and do some work for me." "Umm...sir, I'm not a plumber. The guy that I am housesitting for is the plumber, but he is gone for the month." 'Well, can you do it or not?" "Sir, I'm trying to tell you..." "If you are a plumber and are as good as they say you are, then are you going to take the job or not?" 'Sir I'm trying to explain..." "Well, you @$3&6...(I don't know how to write out curse words in code) you ain't no plumber in my book.. I don't care what they say." Guess what the temptation was for me...yes, to go ahead and take the job.
"If you are who you say..." wow, is there any greater of a temptation? Each temptation invited Jesus to embrace a superpower. Each temptation was an attempt to get Jesus to fight Satan on the divine level and not the human level. Oh, is Jesus facing temptation as God or a man? There is something we have not yet discussed, the divine/human nature of Jesus. Jesus, is faced with human needs and desires; hunger, trust, and power.
Jesus faces three temptations: Turn the stones into bread, test God (ultimately God's care), and worship Satan (and be handed the world). Jesus responds: "It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but in every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Mat. 4:4) The response here is a human response. Here, he relies on scripture. If Jesus had responded by using divine power in order to overcome Satan then his solidarity with human beings would have been obliterated and his mission would have been void. Had Jesus used power to overcome temptation then his kingdom would have been defined in the same manner as that of the Roman Empire.
We will look at the temptation again in my next post. But, keep in mind...Jesus refers to scripture when confronting the devil. In our nest post we will look at this in more detail. Join me again tomorrow. -Pastor Rick