By Gretchen Potma
Luke 4: 1 – 13 NLT
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.”
As I was reading once again this familiar passage about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, something stood out to me that I hadn’t thought about before. Jesus was being tempted by the devil, not just in the three conversations with Satan that are recorded here, but throughout the forty days. My perception always has been that Satan came at the end when Jesus was weakened by the forty days of fasting. I think most of us would see fasting and being alone in the wilderness as the biggest challenge. I’ve never tried being alone in the wilderness, but even fasting for one day for spiritual purposes is challenging enough.
I wonder what kind of temptations Jesus faced during those forty days. Matthew mentions wild beasts, he was alone, and he certainly didn’t have any kind of built structure as protection from wild animals or from wind and rain and sun. God had just affirmed that Jesus was his beloved Son, but after a few days, maybe those words weren’t ringing so strongly in his ears. In his humanity, Jesus could have struggled with self-pity and loneliness and fear. He could have been tempted to murmur against God like the Israelites did when they were in wilderness.
This account of Jesus’ temptations immediately follows the awesome signs of Jesus being affirmed by God’s voice and the dove of the Holy Spirit descending upon him. As Luke begins to tell this story of Jesus’ temptations, he emphasizes that Jesus was filled with and led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus was not relying on his divine nature to carry him through these temptations. Jesus was well-aware, as he states later in this chapter, that he was relying on the Holy Spirit to face temptation. This is encouraging to me and I hope it is to you as well. Jesus faced temptations as a human just like I do, and he was dependent on the same Holy Spirit that I have been given by God. I have never seen a dove descend over me or a flame on my head, but I know the Holy Spirit is living within me and the only way to overcome temptation or live as a Christian is with the Holy Spirit. Just do a search of “in the Spirit” or “by the Spirit” in a Bible app and it is clear that God never intended us to live as His sons and daughters without the Holy Spirit.
We can guess that Jesus was probably thinking about the Israelites because the passages from Deuteronomy that he quotes to Satan are taken from precisely that context. The Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years and Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. Jesus would have been aware of the significance of 40. Maybe he felt on day 40, like he had passed the test and could now move on to his time of ministry. How many times in the past year have we felt like we have passed the test of Covid, quarantine, lock-down, stay-at-home and now we can move on to doing what God called us to do? (We can all probably identify with those grumbling Israelites).
“Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”
8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,
‘You must worship the Lord your God
and serve only him.’”
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say,
‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you.
11 And they will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”
12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”
13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.”
At this point, Satan threw some new angles of temptation at Jesus. He responded not just in the Spirit or by the Spirit, but with the word of God. I don’t imagine he was carrying a Torah scroll with him, so he relied on his biblical training and the spiritual disciplines of his Jewish community and his time alone with God.
We have those weapons available to us as well. We have the advantage of the whole Bible being available to us at any time in print and digital forms, but we do need to make it a habit to use them every day and throughout the day. I was struggling with reading my Bible and forgetting what I’d read during the day, so I’ve started making putting a verse from whatever passage I read on the home screen of my phone, so I see it frequently throughout the day. I’m thankful for all the verses I memorized as a child because memorizing is much more of a challenge as an adult, but the effort is still worth it. It is a way to meditate on Scripture, even if it doesn’t make it to my long-term memory.
Here’s one verse about temptation that I memorized as a child (in the King James Version, but I’ll quote it from the NIV) that is a great promise for every time we are facing temptations, big or small.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” I Corinthians 10:13
The preceding verses in that chapter recount the temptations to which the Israelites had succumbed: sexual immorality, testing the Lord and grumbling. Paul points out that “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” I Corinthians 10:11-12 In short, he is telling us to defend ourselves from temptation, reading and learning from the examples and warnings in the Bible, and to be listening to the Holy Spirit who will make us aware when we have the potential to fall. These are the weapons that God gave to Jesus and that He has given to us!