We’ve been here before… No not what you think. Or is it…? Temptations. To paraphrase Rick from the young ones… “Temptations, all around. Sometimes up sometimes down…but always around. Temptation: are you coming to my town? Or am I coming to yours?”
Sorry went a bit off piste there. No, what I mean is this time last year the same story was part of our Sunday morning service. That time we talked a little about Jesus sharing our humanity and knowing what is to be tempted. That he was tempted and knew what it was to be hungry, to need to be loved and to be afraid. For us these are three basic temptations: food, fame and faith.
Jesus also showed that in the midst of temptations we find our strength and comfort in God the father. Jesus quotes the word of God “it is written” to combat the tests and we too can rely on Him and God the father in our humanity and our struggles
Now has anything changed in 12 months? Well of course, physically, yes, what with lockdowns, but for ourselves have these needs stopped tempting us? Change, even dramatic change, does not alter our deepest needs and temptations. We are still human.
As we begin the weeks towards Easter, whether we do lent or not, we might need to look differently on these verses and in some ways stop looking at ourselves but in humility look at Jesus. The first is rather selfish and in truth does not bring change in us. The second however just might do?
These verses are a battle that Jesus has in respect to “who he is” His identity is challenged. “If you are the son of God?” The tempter attacks the very essence of who Jesus is. And not His humanity but His place alongside God the Father.
That is important because it is about the understanding Jesus has of His own deity and His relationship within the persons of the trinity. And relationship is an important part of God. In fact I’m more and more convinced that God requires relationship above anything else.
The bible charts God’s interaction, His intervention and His intimate contact with us, with and great love for humanity. From the very beginning, Genesis talks about God making Adam in His image and spending time in the garden with him. And then God saw that it isn’t good for Adam to be without someone like himself, a helper, so He created Eve. We are, both man and woman, created in the image of God. Created to be together, to thrive, to enjoy relationships and anything that makes that difficult, makes that fractious and causes us to doubt, that puts a limit on us.
In simple terms we only need to look at ourselves, especially at the moment, to know that without contact, without relationships and simply, not having someone in the same room as us, is not good for us. We, like God, are relational.
And the parallels of the story of Eden and Jesus’ time in the desert are striking. Within the Genesis account it doesn’t take long for man to what? Yes, fall, to disobey, to break the relationship, but what was the motivation to stray? The tempter says this “ you will be like God”. In essence “man wishing to be god” was what broke that relationship. Our knowledge of who we were became distorted. And so for Jesus, in the midst of longing for relationship, that has been denied Him for 40 days, the tempter attempts to make Jesus see himself as fully human, to give up His identity as God and give in to His base needs. An assault on who He really is. God made flesh. The garden of Eden was in plenty; we still denied who we were and wished to be god. In the stark, bare and barren desert the assault on Jesus was to give in to his humanity completely.
That assault on Jesus was physical, emotional and influential. Or PEI no not PIE but PEI, which stands for Prevention and Early Intervention. The process of identifying and responding early to reduce risks or improving the effect of less-than-optimal social and physical environments. PEI at the beginning of His worldly ministry, in the desert which I’m sure most people would say the desert is as “ less-than-optimal social and physical” environment as any.
Physically the tempter attacks Jesus with this question – “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus must have been hungry. I’m hungry and grouchy, I believe it’s called hangry, if I’ve gone without food for 4 hours let alone 40 days. The need to eat is primal for us and for Jesus’ humanity. However the divine in Him does not require the same sustenance so the tempter appeals to the humanity that Jesus shares with us.
It is a temptation we all suffer from at times. We all wish to save ourselves from the basic needs we have and feel we have every right to. We respond to our physical nature and the need, the requirement to eat and drink is just a small part of it. However the one we put our faith in has to be more than us and so Jesus answers this temptation with these words…
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
The basis of this answer hinges on Jesus mentioning himself twice. Can you see that? He uses the truth. He knows that He is “being in very nature God,” Philippians 2:6 Jesus says “as it is written” applying “The word of God” and of course “every word” both point to the description of truth that John outlines in the first chapter of His gospel “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”
The temptor fails at appealing to Jesus’ basic humanity and the primal needs and desires He shares with us. And the one we put our trust in begins by giving us hope that we can trust Him to supply all those needs and still more. He is the very word of God, so the answer to the question “if you are the son of God?” is “yes I am”
The Temptor asks their next question – “If you are the Son of God,”… “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.’”
And this emotional assault on Jesus’ very being hinges on His knowledge of what is possible. Where He places His trust. And the temptor again is adept at using scripture himself but once more Jesus rebuts the temptor with the word of God.
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Notice that Jesus does not say that what the temptor has said is untrue. That he is incorrect in what he suggests will happen if Jesus does what he asks. “ throw yourself down…” If you want to read the context of the temptors question I suggest reading Psalm 91 where it has been taken from.
It is a Psalm about fear, trust and God’s love towards those who acknowledge Him. And so for Jesus His answer was that although His human side would struggle with that trust and faith He was not going to allow that to determine how He acted.
Our faith also hinges on the same fears and levels of trust. We can acknowledge God and His saving grace through Jesus but when the emotional response to difficulties causes us to revert to needing proof of God’s love. It may not be that we throw ourselves off a cliff but we, like the psalmist, can swing from the trust of Psalm 91 to Psalm 22 “…why have you forsaken me?” and there are many more (sorrow (Psalm 137), anger (Psalm 140), fear (Psalm 69), longing (Psalm 85), confusion (Psalm 102), desolation (Psalm 22), repentance (Psalm 51), disappointment (Psalm 74), or depression (Psalm 88))
It’s not to say that we shouldn’t and cannot respond to our emotions but that we should not allow them to be the marker of who God is and what He promises. Jesus shows that if we remember this early intervention and Jesus’ response we can turn from ourselves and trust Him once more to be trustworthy and faithful.
And so the “I” of PEI. Influence – “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Never has our desire and opportunity to influence the world been so relevant and available to us. I’m not going into social media in detail, only to say that we are more able at any time to create a picture of our own personal world, family, relationships and influence, that is what we want or feel it should dbe or told we must be. That picture is inevitably false and mostly overstated.
We want to be in control and if we are not we struggle to accept the world. We have the need to project a version of ourselves that influences others, not just in how they perceive our lives to be but in a way that we want to be more than we are which then, others will admire us for it.
Colossians 2:8 describes influence like this
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world,
And Paul writing to Timothy says this 2 Timothy 4:3
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
We chase after it so that we might feel more than we are seen by others when God loves us and knows us as all we can be when we turn to look at Him and not the world.
Jesus’ answer to the temptor was this v10, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Looking towards God and worship shown in servanthood is what Jesus does in the midst of these temptations and continues through His earthly ministry. We often imagine that “well it’s easy for Him” but I think the temptations in the desert tell us that Jesus had as much of a problem than we do but encourages us with an answer to the temptor.
This was Jesus’ PEI moment. But a Prevention and Early Intervention into our lives. His process of identifying and responding early to reduce risks and improving the circumstances of us as we face the world and our own temptations.
He continues this process in Matthew 5,6 and 7 in what is known as the “sermon on the mount” A CFD process this time, a Continuing Faith Development, for all of us.
And to end I want to refer again to the verses about angels, which is noteworthy in that Jesus does not deny that God would do just that and once Jesus had come out of the other side, tempted but not defeated…
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.