Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.
That's something we need to remember. The wilderness – a landscape of disorientation,loneliness,and deprivation – is nonetheless the place where God's Spirit is present and active.
That may not be the way it felt to Jesus for those 40 days as he fasted and struggled...but though he was famished, empty – he was FULL of the Holy Spirit...the Spirit who never left him, even for a moment.
Standing, as we do, outside the gospel story we might assume that Jesus always knew what would happen, was always sure of himself – but surely as he emptied himself of his divinity to become fully human, Jesus also emptied himself of divine foreknowledge. His wilderness experience was REAL for him – not something manufactured as a teaching point for us.
But against all expectation, that place of deprivation and loneliness became a place of self-discovery and of blessing – for Jesus and for us too.
Each of the temptations offered him were temptations to be LESS than his true self.
“IF you are the Son of God – command this stone to become a loaf”
What harm could it do
He was famished, after all.
Jesus knew he COULD produce bread from practically nothing (think of the feeding of the 5000) – but to do so now would be to cheat...to step outside the limitations of his humanity, just for his own benefit.
That's the nub of it.
To value oneself above all else is the root and ground of all genuine temptation – and surely one of the strongest voices in society today...
We're encouraged to see ourselves as privileged consumers, to focus on our own rights, to delight in having free choice in most things.
It's disturbingly easy, as you look at 21st century western culture, to believe that it really IS all about ME -...so I am thankful that Jesus met this head on.
Not for him “Because I'm worth it...”
Rather in his steadfast insistence that
“We do not live by bread alone” Jesus reminds us that there are things of deeper importance than gratifying our own desires. We are creatures made to exist in relationship – above all in relationship to God, whose word shapes our lives.
So far, so good.
Jesus stays true to himself but next comes the temptation of power, an easy route to victory – all gain with no pain. To yield would mean Jesus ruling the world – but enthralled to Satan and thus so much less than himself.
Later Jesus would show all times and all people that God's power is made perfect in weakness, - for the greatest moment of his glory was when he was lifted on the cross, in powerless vulnerability. I don't think Satan understood that power – not then, not ever.
For now Jesus simply asserts that all worship belongs to God...worship offered elsewhere is meaningless and empty – for worship is all about putting things in their proper order..
Finally he's encouraged to make God PROVE that he cares.
“Go on.....jump....He'll save you if you're THAT special”
I know I fall into this one again and again....for despite all the evidence I find it hard to really believe that I am loved and worthy of salvation...I doubt the once and for all validity of the love-offering of the cross, continue to struggle with the outrageous grace of a God who cares enough to share our human life AND our human death...triumphantly demonstrating that there's nothing He won't do for us
“Because you're worth it”
Jesus is the proof of God's love – not a needy recipient of it....and in this 3rd exchange we hear him coming into his own identiy...as the Scripture he speaks becomes in itself a declaration
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”
Yes, Jesus is quoting...but as he rejects the idea of tempting God he is also sending the tempter packing...routing him from his work of tempting God made man in Christ.
So through these temptations Jesus discovers his true identity and the course he is to take.
The same is true for us.
Our temptations are important in helping us to recognise the flaws and weaknesses, the engrained distortions of reality that we barely notice any more...They may, like those we've heard about today, attract us at first because they seem to be routes to a greater good...but in fact they are byways, leading nowhere.
During Lent, we are each of us invited to spend time considering both who we are and who God calls us to be. That's the point of it all.
We go into our own wilderness to seek God in the silence.
We can be confident that even in that unfriendly landscape the Spirit is there, leading us, helping us to strip away the small props and luxuries that we've come to rely on, enabling us to increase our conscious dependence on Him.
The wilderness is the place where we recognise who we are, our own particular temptations, and face them head on, so that we might come to a deeper understanding of our own nature.
It's quiet out there – a good place to listen...so spend this time listening.
Listen to the voice of your ego, the one that insists “Go on.......because your worth it” and in listening come to a greater understanding of your own struggles and difficulties.
But having listened to yourself, listen even harder to the still small voice of God.
Expect to hear Him – and pay attention to his transforming words of love.