One of the things that I really love about the Bible is that there is nothing there by accident. The authors place everything in certain places to help us to understand the big picture. We saw that the male-female pairs of prophets at the beginning of the Gospel were preparing us for a Gospel that is for everyone. We saw that God purposely prepared the way for Jesus by sending John the Baptist preaching a message of repentance.
Now we are ready to get into the story of Jesus himself. In our story, Jesus has just been baptized by John, has received the Holy Spirit and has been approved by his Father. The ministry is ready to begin. What will Jesus do as his first act of ministry?
Jesus could have come out firing miracles left, right and centre. However, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry does not come from a place of power but rather a place of weakness. God the Son has already been incarnated as a human being, sharing in our weakness. But Jesus takes it to the next level by fasting for forty days. This puts Jesus in the weakest possible position while still remaining alive.
It is in this state that Jesus has his encounter with Satan. There is some discussion as to how much of this was physical, in terms of going up a high mountain and travelling to Jerusalem, or if it was mostly just a vision. I would say that it does not matter. What Jesus experienced was really no matter what form it came in.
I need to also say that we are meant to see a parallel to Israel in the wilderness. Israel was tempted in the wilderness for forty years and they failed miserably. What we are seeing here is Jesus, almost as a new Israel, taking the same test to see if he can be more faithful than the people of Moses’ day.
We will look at each of the temptations but I want to say something first. God, being omniscient, knows everything. He knows all of the details about the physical and emotional responses to temptation. But through Jesus, that knowledge became deeper. No longer did God just understand the facts, now he understood the experience. That is something we need to hold onto during our own times of temptation.
If you had been fasting for forty days, what do you think would be on your mind? Food! You would really, really want food. Satan is no fool. When he begins his testing of Jesus, he goes to the immediate need. Satan suggests that Jesus turn the rocks into bread. Jesus could do that. Having received the Holy Spirit at his baptism, Jesus could have transformed the rocks into bread. And not just stale old bread. He could have made it so it was warm and soft as if it just came out the oven. Can you smell it? There must have been part of Jesus that wanted that. How could he not if he was that hungry?
Jesus responds not with an act to meet his immediate needs but by going to the Bible. “Man does not live on bread alone.” Jesus is not arguing that humans can survive without food. He is claiming that there is something deeper here. The quote from Deuteronomy 8 is about the Israelites in the wilderness. They too were hungry and wanted food. What God was trying to do was teach them trust. But all the Israelites could do in think about their empty bellies and trust in God would not come easily. Jesus does not give into temptation but puts his full trust in God in a way that those that came before him did not.
What is our bread? Of course there are times that we are physically hungry and desire food. But there is something else going on here. Bread is one aspect of our immediate needs and desires. There are many other things that could fall under this category. It could be getting that job that you applied for. It could be passing that course that you are taking in school. It could be getting the money to pay that bill. These are immediate needs.
The temptation is that there are sometimes shortcuts that are made available. We could lie on our resume to make it more likely to get that job. We could cheat on our tests to make that good grade more likely to be high. We can get impatient with God and try to make things happen.
It comes down to whether we really trust God. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work or shouldn’t study or shouldn’t try our best. But do we really trust that God will work through those means?
A number of years ago we were having trouble with our son Logan who has autism. Logan is a runner. He is smart, strong and fast. The backyard at the house we were living at had only a chicken wire fence and Logan kept escaping from us and our babysitters. We needed a tall fence going completely around our backyard. This was an immediate need. My father-in-law quoted us how much it would cost in wood and other materials. We did not have that money. We prayed and tried our best to trust God. A couple of days later I drove down to Hamilton for a documentary I was involved in. They never used any of that footage in the documentary but they did hand me a cheque. It was almost exactly how much we needed for the fence. By the end of the week we had a tall fence and our children were safe.
Kingdoms of the World
The second temptation is really about power. Satan allows Jesus to see all the kingdoms of the world and offers to pass on all the authority. Of course there is some question as to how much authority Satan has but that is something for a number of days. We might see this as not much of a temptation as Jesus is the Son of God and was the one who created the planet. But remember that Jesus is not coming from that perspective. He has spent the last thirty years in a working class family. And working class is not the middle class sort of lifestyle that we think of today. Jesus has had to rely on others, whether it was people who would pay for his work or something else. From this point, control over the entire world sounds good. All Jesus would have to do is worship Satan.
Again Jesus responds with a quote of Scripture. “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Again it comes down to trust. The temptation here is to take authority and power for ourselves. This is what the world teaches. Do whatever you have to do to gain power. Get as much money as you can. Get as much influence as you can. It doesn’t matter who you have to hurt to make it happen.
This makes me think of the American political scene. We are watching presidential candidates from each party ripping each other apart, digging up as much dirt as possible on the people within the party. When they are done and there is only one candidate left in each party, then they start it all over again with each other. They want power and authority and they will attack anyone who gets in their way.
What is worship? Worship is the acknowledging that someone is the source of all power and authority. We have to decide who that is. Is it us? Is it that person who promises to get us to the next level? Or is it God? We think we need the power and authority for ourselves but there is something very freeing about just letting God be God.
This should transform our worship. Instead of just singing song lyrics, we can express our gratitude that only God is worthy of the power and the glory. Not Satan. Not us. Only God.
The third temptation is somewhat different. This time Satan does some Bible quoting of his own. He twists an Old Testament passage into a challenge to jump off the pinnacle of the temple and have the angels catch him. This is also a trust issue. Satan is trying to get Jesus to question his own trust in the Father. Jesus, do you really trust God? If so, prove it by deliberately putting your life in danger and see if God comes through. It seems as if Jesus will not trust God if he refuses. But it is exactly the opposite.
Jesus quotes Scripture again and says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” The passage from Deuteronomy 6 is a command given to Israel as they end their 40 years in the wilderness and prepare to enter the promised land. The expectation is that they will trust God but that they will not test God.
What is wrong with testing God? It is the equivalent of a human relationship where one keeps saying if you really loved me you would give me…. If it is a good and healthy relationship, you would trust without testing.
We saw in the first temptation the need to trust in the immediate needs. This temptation is about trusting our lives to God. It is about the big picture. Some people have misunderstood this and followed Satan’s advice. They have deliberately put themselves at risk with the assumption that God will step in. I have seen God intervene in my life over and over again, often because of my own bad decisions. But it was never because I wanted to test God.
This is the kind of bad theology that fuels the prosperity gospel of some televangelists. Do you know who they get their money from? It is not from the rich, it is from the poor. A person is barely able to provide for their family and the televangelist tells them to give the little they have so he can buy a new private jet and encourages the poor person to test God and watch the financial blessings come.
I have lived in poverty and in those times I lived in trust not in testing. I believed that God would intervene in his own way and his own timing. I never thought to manufacture a way for God to come to my rescue.
The title of this message is Trusting Like Jesus. The truth is that we can’t trust like Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God, his connection with the Father is beyond anything we can imagine. But we can do our best to follow his example.
We have seen three types of temptations, all of which deal with trust issues. There is the temptation not to trust God with our immediate needs. We might be tempted to take shortcuts instead of trusting for our daily bread. Flee temptation. Trust that God will provide through the proper channels.
There is the temptation to seek power and authority for ourselves. We might feel that things will work smoother if we just push people out of the way and take control ourselves. Such desires lead to idolatry. Only God is worthy of the power and authority. God will use our leadership and our positions and roles, but we must always see God as having the authority.
Finally there is the temptation to not trust God with our life. Perhaps God seems too absent or we have come to ourselves as being able to manipulate God. Do not put God to the test. God will take care of us. He is there for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. The hardest part is that God works in his own time. But God will take care of us.
Trust God with every part of your life.