The Battle with Temptation


In the previous chapters Luke gave us a glimpse of some of the greatest milestones in the life of Jesus and today’s story is one of the greatest. When Jesus was twelve, and in the Temple, he came to the realization that God was his father in a unique way. When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, God had given his approval, and now Jesus is about to begin his campaign to save humanity from itself.  Before embarking on this great work, he must decide the methods he will use to accomplish his mission. The temptation story shows Jesus choosing the method that he will use.  This is the story of rejecting power and glory and accepting the way of suffering and the cross.

However, before we start to look deeper at this story there are two points;

  1. This is the most sacred of stories because no one else was there to witness the events so Jesus must have shared this story with his followers at some point during his time with them.
  2. Even at this time in his ministry, Jesus must be aware of the tremendous powers he has. The whole point of temptation is that they could only come to someone who could do astonishing things. It is no temptation to us, for example, to turn stones into bread or leap from a Temple pinnacle, for the simple reason that it is impossible for us to this. These temptations could only come to someone whose powers were unique and who had to decide how to use them.

Let us first set the stage for what is about to happen.  The story takes place in the wilderness of Judea.  The inhabited part of Judea stood on the central plateau which stood on the central plateau which was the backbone of Southern Palestine. Between here and the Dead Sea stretched a terrible wilderness, thirty-five by fifteen miles. It was called “the Devastation.” The hills were like dust heaps; the limestone looked blistered and peeling; the rocks were bare and jagged; the ground sounded hollow to horses’ hooves; it glowed with heat like a vast furnace and ran out to the precipices 1,200 feet high, which swooped down to the Dead Sea. It was in this awesome devastation that Jesus was tempted.

These temptations did not come to Jesus as scenes in a play, but rather Jesus deliberately retired to his lonely place for forty days and wrestled with the problem of how he was going to win humanity.  For him, this was a long battle that did not end until the Cross and this story conclude by saying that the tempter left Jesus for a season.

The first temptation was to turn stones into bread. This wilderness was not a wilderness of sand; it was covered with little bits of limestone exactly like loaves of bread. The tempter said to Jesus, “If you want people to follow you, use your wonderful powers to give them material things.” He was suggesting that Jesus bribe people into following him.  Not unlike what we heard from some preachers today who say that if we follow Jesus, we will have riches beyond measure, well they are the only ones getting rich on that deal.  Jesus answered his tempter by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “A man will never find life in material things.”

The task of Christianity is not to produce new conditions, however; the voice of the Church must be behind all efforts to make life better.  Christianity’s real job is to create new people and to give these new people a new direction to follow.

In the second temptation, Jesus was on the top of a mountain from where he could see everything in the world.  The tempter said to him, “Worship me, and all will be yours.” This is the temptation to compromise. The devil said, “I have people in my grip. Don’t make your standards so high. Strike a bargain with me. Just compromise a little with evil and people will follow you.”  Jesus answered back, “God is God, right is right, wrong is wrong. There can be no compromise in the spiritual life.”

There is a constant temptation to seek to win people to Christ by compromising with the standards of the world. Recent studies have shown that people want a genuine and authentic spirituality, not a false one that bends and sways with the wind.  They want something concrete and understand it is a struggle and are willing to struggle with others as long as this struggle is authentic.  There are enough hypocrites in the world, and in the church, we need people ready to struggle with their spiritual lives authentically.

The third temptation the tempter asked Jesus to imagine himself on the pinnacle of the Temple where Solomon’s Porch and the Royal Porch met. There was a sheer drop of 450 feet down from this point.  Just as a comparison, out Tower in about 125 feet high so this would be almost four times a high as our tower. This was the temptation to give people sensations. “No,” said Jesus, “you must not make senseless experiments with the power of God.” Jesus saw quite clearly that if he produced sensations, he would be a nine days wonder, and he would not last.

The Church does not need flashing lights and smoke to win people.  Sure we can fill the seats with entertainment style worship, but it will not last.  There is no depth to a faith that requires smoke and mirrors to entertain people; this is not a rock concert.  The work of being a follower of Christ is not easy it requires love of those we do not want to love, it requires forgiveness when we do not wish to forgive, and it requires following Jesus Christ in a genuine and authentic way that will not only change our lives but the lives of others by our example. Sensationalism might fill the pews with people, but we have to be concerned with not only filling the church but filling people with the love of Christ and on this there can be no compromise.

If we truly wish to follow Jesus, and I hope we do, then that way will be filled with suffering but also with Joy.  The way of Jesus is a long road that ends with the Cross, but we know that the story did not end there.  The story concludes with the resurrection and his ascension to glory.  If we wish to get the crown we have to be willing to suffer.

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