Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
I do not know if it's the same for you, but for some reason whenever I read about the temptations of Jesus, my mind instinctively goes to what have been called the “Temptations of Weakness. Temptations of weakness are those temptations to lie, to steal, commit adultery, or overindulge in some other vice.
I am not sure why that happens to me, maybe it's because I'm too familiar with the temptations of weakness, too aware of them. But the story of the temptations of Jesus are not about temptations of weakness. Have you noticed that? The temptations of Jesus are “Temptations of Strength.” If you look again at today's reading from Matthew's gospel you will notice something that the devil does not tempt Jesus to fail, to surrender to weakness. Just the opposite, the devil tempts Jesus to succeed!
The devil seems to say,
Do you want the common people to rally around your ministry? Just turn these stones into loaves of bread and you have more followers than you know what to do with.
You say you want to prove to people that you are the son of God? Then throw yourself from the top of the temple and God will rescue you.
You say you want to establish your Kingdom here on earth? You say you want to rule the nations? Well, it can all be yours if you just do one little thing for me. You say you want to be a success Jesus? It is easy as 1 2 3 just bow down to me.
The devil you see tempted Jesus to succeed, not to fail. The devil tempts him not where he is weak but in the strong places of his life.
The temptations of strength, these are the temptations that come to us when everything is going well, when we were succeeding in life, when we “have the world by the tail,” as we say, when the sun is shining and the wind is at your back. These temptations are almost more subtle, perhaps even more seductive, then temptations of weakness.
I often hear or read of people in business who say that the greatest temptations come not when they're performing poorly, but when they are succeeding, when they are a doing a fantastic job. I was reading something that William Willimon wrote on this very subject. Willimon says, "these temptations of strength come when the boss calls you in and says we want to give you a bigger sales territory. We think you're going places. You have got all the right stuff."
"But I do not want a bigger sales territory you reply. I am already away from home three nights a week as it is, what about my family?"
"What about your family?"says the boss. "It's because of your family that we want you to take this job, you need a lot of money to support a family these days. You want to keep them happy, don't you? So, take the job, take it for them."
Have you noticed what temptations come to you when things are going well in your life?
I believe in our gospel account today Jesus gives us a wilderness survival guide. Did you notice that for each temptation Jesus responded with God's word, the scriptures? “One does not live by bread alone,” he said. “Worship The Lord your God, and serve him only.” “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” Jesus says. The devil is defeated by Jesus strength, we read that he leaves, and “angels came and attended him.”
I believe the lesson here for us, our instruction for temptation survival is this: the importance up spiritual disciplines. The importance a prayer and fasting, meditation on the scriptures and the experience of solitude. Practices that we generally seek to take up during this season of Lent. God used all of these to pour strength into his son so he would be ready for the spiritual conflict. Now we all know that Jesus faced temptations at many points in his story, throughout his life. But through these 40 days in the wilderness we see the source of Jesus strength. In Luke 4:14 following the Temptation account it is said “ . . . then Jesus, filled with the power of the spirit, returned to Galilee.” Ready for ministry.
It is this power of the spirit that strengthens Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus does not force God’s hand, he does not exploit his relationship with the father. He does not do it in the wilderness. Then he will not do it in the Gethsemane, and he will not do it when he hangs on the cross and hears the tempter's voice again in the voices of ridicule “if you are the son of God come down from the cross.” He will not put God to the test.
This same power of the spirit that filled Jesus Christ is the same spirit power that is offered to each and everyone of us. The bottom line is when temptations come whether temptations of weakness or those more subtle temptations of strength, through the spirit's power and through our spiritual practices of prayer and Bible reading meditation in time alone with our creator will prepare us. Do you recall those words of promise in James 4? “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” Like our Lord and Savior we will have already settled the question who's voice we will listen to, so that when temptation comes, we will declare our intent to “worship the Lord our God and serve him only!!”