Read Luke 4:1-13.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. (Luke 4:1)
I have long found the particular temptations Jesus went through in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry to be puzzling and difficult to empathize with. After 39 days without food, Jesus was hungry. Had he not already fasted long enough? Would it be so wrong to make himself a loaf of bread for breakfast? And how could he possibly be tempted to worship the devil? And why would the idea of climbing up onto the roof of the temple and throwing himself off be the least bit appealing?
Part of my problem had to do with the fact that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Holy Trinity. How in the world can God be tempted? Didn’t he know what the devil was up to? Didn’t he have divine strength to call upon? Can Jesus’ temptations really be something I can relate to? But then I am reminded that Jesus emptied himself and became human. He was tempted in the same way that we are, and I presume that he did not draw on his divinity to ease his trials. In his human nature, he may not have known why the Spirit was leading him into the wilderness, how long he would be without food, or what the devil was up to. It was his food to do the will of the one who sent him, to follow the leading of the Spirit into the wilderness.
The Bible seems to me to name at least three types of Christians, or maybe stages of the Christian life. In John 15:14-15, Jesus says that he no longer calls his disciples servants, he calls them friends, if they do what he commands them to do. Perhaps those who follow him and obey only out of obligation or social pressure or hope for reward are servants and those who obey out of love are friends. Then there are those whom Paul calls “children of God” and “joint heirs with Christ” in Romans 8, who are “led by the Spirit of God.” These are they who suffer with him and are glorified with him. These are they for whom “creation waits in eager longing.” I suspect that this being led by the Spirit is key to understanding the temptations.
What does it mean to follow the Spirit? I think Jesus’ three temptations were temptations against that following. First, Jesus was tempted to turn a stone into bread. He had been led into the wilderness. He had been led to fast for a whole day, for two days, for 39 days. It would be easy, and only too tempting, to stop following the Spirit through the wilderness, to take another path, to decide for himself that it was time for the fast to be broken. But it was necessary, it was absolutely essential for his ministry that he should follow the Spirit in all things, putting away the temptations of the devil and of the flesh. If we are to be led by the Spirit, it is essential that we not follow the flesh. Ever. It is essential that we follow the Spirit completely, without thought for our own needs, and rely on God to provide our daily bread.
Second, Jesus was led up to view all the kingdoms of the world, with an offer of all of those kingdoms if he would just bend the knee to the devil. Presumably Jesus knew that his purpose was to save the world, to deliver all of those kingdoms to God, ultimately to bring about the kingdom of God. Here was the offer of a quick means of accomplishing that ultimate goal. He would be attaining the desired end, if through questionable means. He would be sacrificing himself for the salvation of the world, but by a diabolical route. It was essential for him, as it is for us, that we follow the path by which the Spirit leads us and not attempt any shortcuts of our own devising. There must be no alliance with Egypt. The ends do not justify the means.
In the third temptation, the devil suggested that since God had promised angels to watch over him, it might be fun to jump off the top of the temple. Without a bungee cord. This makes me think of the seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent out, two by two, to preach, heal the sick, and cast out demons. They returned filled with joy at the gift they had been given. It’s not hard to imagine some of them healing a sickness that the Spirit had /not/ led them to heal. It would be natural for them to start thinking of themselves as healers and to heal whatever they thought needed healing. In doing so they would be arrogating God’s healing power, claiming it for their own. It is absolutely essential that those who are led by the Spirit and are given gifts remember their source and use them only as the Spirit leads.
Is it possible for us to follow the Spirit of God with the fidelity that Jesus demonstrated? That if we followed the leading of the Spirit faithfully, we would do the works that Jesus did and even greater works? That we would become participants in the divine nature? That we would be adopted as additional children of God, little Christs? “Christians”?
Lead us, O Lord, and give us the spirit to follow faithfully.
- “The joy of obedience”, The Christian's secret of a Happy Life, H. W. Smith
- “Pure and entire resignation of self to obtain freedom of heart”, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis