Gospel Reading Matthew 4: 1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was very hungry. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’
But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘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.” ’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
The temptation of Jesus by the devil is very different mountain-top experience from the Transfiguration last week. Again we only get a brief and sketched account – I am sure we would want to ask further questions. Matthew wants us to see the challenge Jesus would face not just at this point but all through his ministry. It is a theological passage more than “history”.
In all three encounters, Jesus stands on Scripture, key verses that shape his life and values. When we are tempted or challenged what can we stand on, and is it strong enough?
The first temptation is very crafty – “Why don’t you just conjure up some food? No one will know and you are hungry and as the Creator you can easily do this.”
Jesus could have made his life easier for himself, avoided human limitations and difficulties, but he did not. He shared our life in its difficulties and limitations.
The second is a more public temptation I think. Jesus is not going to throw himself off the temple to see if the angels will hold him; the devil is – I think – suggesting that Jesus could increase his following by doing some “stunts”, and yes, God will not let him crash and die, and the devil is even crafty enough to quote some Scripture at Jesus. Jesus responds with a key text- Do not put God to the test. It is possible that the devil was poking at Jesus self-belief: “Are you sure you are the Son of God? Why not reassure yourself with the angels catching you.” And of course, on the cross Jesus does not get rescued by the angels or by Almighty God. God’s salvation plan is achieved through self-sacrifice and trust.
The third temptation, the final one in Matthew is the most insidious. The devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world; “all these can be yours IF you worship me”. In the first two the devil has tried to sow doubt – “If you are the Son of God” but in the third “if” works in a different way. The kingdoms of the world are on offer, now, if Jesus will but worship the devil. Jesus rebukes the devil – Jesus says “worship only the Lord God”. Augustus and Herod and Napoleon and Hitler and so many others all sought to gain power through force and violence and the sword. Putin tries today and the cost is awful. As individuals we can find ourselves seeking to get what we want or to get the answer we want through various forms of force or “persuasion” / pressure.
The first temptation was about taking an unethical shortcut (nobody will know); the second may well be about making a glitzy impression, or it pushes at our doubts and uncertainties – (if God does not answer, maybe God is not there or does not care). Both these sow doubt about what we know to be right, but the third offers us answers through force, selling our soul for what we want.
This passage can teach us much about ourselves, but more importantly we see Jesus, despite his hunger, renounce the devil, stand firm for what is true, and so live out his ministry which gives us freedom. If he had succumbed we would be entirely under the forces of power, violence, the amoral / immoral power that grasps and grabs.
Thanks be to God for the way of Jesus
Rev Peter Reiss