Read Luke 4:1-13
There is a difference in the English words “Tempted” and “Tested.” Both represent a sort of trial, but the expectations are different. In our understanding of tempted, it seems to convey the expectation that the subject might fail. A temptation is a test where the goal is to entice someone to sin. On the other hand, in our understanding of testing, it would seem that there is a hope that the subject would pass the test, be proved worthy in some way. There are these moments in our lives that come along and bring with them a time of testing, moments that in our weakness we either turn toward God and be led to victory, or moments that in our weakness turn away from God and stumble. How we see them, as either a temptation or a testing, comes largely from what these moments revealed about us… The Greek word here, peirezein, it is more about testing. I am not saying the devil doesn’t want Jesus to fail in the story, I am only pointing out that Luke does not see this as the temptation of Jesus, but the testing of Jesus. This is a test, the moment Jesus was at his weakest. The moment that would reveal who he really was underneath it all.
There are a couple ways to see Jesus’ testing in the wilderness theologically. For example Paul in 1st Corinthians points to the reality of Christ as a New Adam figure. In this way of seeing the story, the Desert contrasts the Garden of Eden, perhaps emphasizing the rebellion that forced Adam and Eve out of that garden. Christ was tempted in every way that we are, and yet was without sin. Others see the Spirit leading Christ into the desert more through the lens of an Israel figure, reminiscent of the people wandering through the wilderness on their path to the promised land. Whatever you make of that, it is clear that God is up to something here, that the Spirit had a clear purpose for drawing Christ into the desert. I think it pushed Jesus to the very edge of His humanity, to the point of His greatest weakness. I think it reveals that even at His weakest, Jesus is stronger than the devil. Unlike Adam who fell under temptation, or the Children of Israel who kept failing and being led around in circles, Jesus passed the test. Jesus did not resort to exercising His divine authority to cheat the tests either, He did it as we would, relying on God’s strength to make it.
The scholar William Barclay puts Jesus’ answer in the words of our time: He writes of Jesus meaning “the only true way to satisfaction, is the way that has learned complete dependence on God.” When we get our identity from other places we will never be satisfied. Popularity might make some aspects of our lives better, but popularity as an end to itself it can never complete us. If we live our lives seeking the approval of others, it can destroy us. We might get all the physical bread in the world, but physical food without spiritual nourishment falls very short of what God offers us through Jesus. I have been reading a book about prayer that references the Desert Fathers and Mothers a lot. If you are unfamiliar, these were fairly radical Christians in the early church who, when Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire, they fled off to the desert because they were afraid the church would be watered down. There are all manner of interesting hermits and groups of Christians from this time, and many interesting stories. These people chose a hard life on purpose… they wanted to go a place no one would go to willingly be tested on a daily basis.
In one story, a man seeks out one of these hermits and asks him how he might grow spiritually. The hermit gives him some unusual instructions, he says go to the nearby graveyard and spend the rest of the day cursing every grave. The man comes back the next day and says “I did what you asked.” The hermit sends him back to the graveyard. This time to bless every grave. The man comes back and the hermit tells him, “if you want to grow spiritually you must be like the dead men of the graveyard, unaffected by the praises and curses of people. Live your life only as affected by God” (my paraphrase) God calls us to be a people with a message beyond the moment. In order to respond to this temptation like Jesus did we must prune our lives of those voices that seek to draw us away from the bigger picture of eternal life with God.
Jesus is not a magician who has come to entertain the world. He does not redefine himself to chase the approval of the world. He does not follow the faulty reasoning of instant gratification that the devil offers us. But he does offer us a path through the desert of the moment. He invites us to have a relationship with Him that can put the world back into perspective. A trip through the desert can help us see that “the only true way to satisfaction is the way that has learned complete dependence on God.” Jesus points us beyond our own needs. He points us beyond the meaningless quest for relevance and the approval of others. He points us toward the God who is far above these things and can guide us around the traps they can represent for us. God calls us to a God-first life. A life where we are sustained by God, we seek God, where we search His word and we strip away what pulls us away from that. A life of justice is also a life of fidelity and obedience to the radical call of Christ. To pursue justice, no other voice besides that of Christ can be entertained.
Friday Fool’s Challenge Prayer:
John Woolman experienced a profound moment when he wrote in his journal about feeling the Lord tell him, “John Woolman is dead.” There comes a time in following Christ where we simply must choose to be “dead to rights”; choosing to lay down all reservations, making no claim on even a “bucket list” that could distract us from God’s purposes. For this challenge, lay down in the traditional position of a dead person. Place a coin over each eye and fold your arms across your chest. Pray silently, asking God to reveal the marionette strings that need to be severed to follow God even in the unforgiving places; the dry deserts of coming to the ends of ourselves.