I am endeavoring to chronologically work my way through the Gospels, reimagining each of the familiar stories through the use of imaginative prayer. If you are unfamiliar with imaginative prayer, I highly recommend reading Greg Boyd’s excellent “Seeing Is Believing: Experience Jesus through Imaginative Prayer” and check out his ‘Animate’ sermon series on the topic as well. Today I am considering the temptation of Christ found in Mark 1:12-13, Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.
The fasting of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days is a testament to what a person can withstand when their entire focus is on God. It is hard for most of us to imagine going without food for a few hours, much less forty days! I think the key here is that Jesus was so enraptured with being in the presence of God that He truly needed nothing else. We are spiritual beings at our core, and the story would seem to point to the fact that proper spiritual nourishment trumps the physical. When Satan tempted Jesus to turn the stone into bread, Jesus replied that “Man does not live by bread alone”. His fast was on God’s schedule, and He wasn’t going to break it even though He easily could. Satan was obviously not trying to help Jesus, but rather sought to have Jesus take nourishment from the things of this world rather than from God; Satan tried to get Jesus to focus on the temporal, physical side of things rather than the spiritual and eternal. The lesson is that we should always be in diligent conversation with our Heavenly Father, while at the same time realizing our communion with God is infinitely more important than our physical comfort and pleasure. In refusing Satan’s attempts to get him to focus on His own physical needs, Jesus demonstrated a total reliance on the Father.
The second thing Satan tried to tempt Jesus with was power and a desire to have great wealth as the ruler of all of the earthly kingdoms – if only He would bow to Satan. Jesus responded by telling Satan to “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only”. No power or achievement in our life will ever be worth turning away from Christ. It is far better we be poor and powerless, yet serving God, than to have our fill of this world’s “success”. We need to remove any idols we have in our lives that would keep us from worshipping God alone. Idols can come in many forms: tangible possessions, social status or personal desires. Anything that we value more than God, even for the slightest moment, is an idol. In refusing to worship Satan in exchange for earthly power and wealth, Jesus demonstrated total devotion to the Father.
The final test of Jesus occurred when Satan tried to get Him to step off the highest point of the temple, to test whether Jesus really had faith in God to protect Him. Jesus replied, “Do not test the Lord your God”. We see a couple of principles in play here. First, God blessed us all with the ability to think through the various situations in our life. We need to constantly pray for wisdom, and also seek the counsel of trusted men and women. Acting with wisdom, we can trust that God will walk with us. We can’t simply act foolishly, without thought, and expect God to bail us out. Secondly, avoid sinning simply because you have faith that you will be forgiven. I believe this is also testing God. If we truly love Him, we will want to turn away from sin, not see how much we can get away with. By refusing to “prove” His faith to Satan, Jesus demonstrated a confident faith in the Father; He knew God would always walk with Him through the turbulent times to come.