“Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.””
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry.”
Luke 3:21-22, 4:1-2 NASB
“This is My Beloved Son.”
The Voice confirmed Jesus’ identity and commissioned His calling. Jesus came up from the waters of the Jordan river to that benediction and went away into the wilderness to begin the next stage of His life.
I always thought when Jesus went into the wilderness, the forty days he spent fasting were a time of communion with the Father. Yes, I thought, the fasting was probably hard, especially at first, but that time of fellowship must have been so sweet. I thought the devil waited until that time was over, and Jesus was done praying and was hungry and tired before he made his move.
But a little detail jumped out at me in my last read of Luke 4. Jesus wasn’t sitting in some nice cave, talking to God. He was being “led about by the Spirit in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1b-2a) His retreat was less about His time with the Father and more about His time with the devil. Matthew tells us that He was led into the wilderness “to be tempted by the devil,” but this phrasing is ambiguous compared to the Luke account or that of Mark, who gives even more details of the forty days, saying, “He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and angels were ministering to Him.” (Mark 1:13)
“Being tempted.” I’m a word person, so it actually gives me a little thrill when the grammar matters so much. “Being tempted” means that it was a continual process, not a one-time event. In Jesus’ wilderness, the communion with His Father and the ministry of the angels mingled with the wearing, wearisome work of the enemy. Jesus was worn down by more than hunger when the big showdown occurred at the end of the forty days. He had been niggled and jabbed with temptation even as his physical strength ebbed.
The devil’s attempt to derail Him coalesced into the final three temptations. These were the essence of what Satan thought would work on this Incarnation of God. He appealed to Jesus’ human desire for physical comfort: “Tell this stone to become bread.” He offered to fill the human craving for purpose and approval from people: “I will give you all this domain and its glory.”
But the third temptation was the deepest cut. Satan enticed Him feel with His flesh His own specialness.
“And he (the devil) led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘ HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU TO GUARD YOU,’ and, ‘ ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'” And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘ YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'””
Luke 4:9-12 NASB
If it were me, I would have longed to make that test. “I am so hungry, Father. These last weeks have been so hard. I just want to feel, really feel, the tangible reassurance of Your love and care for me. Remind me that I am precious in Your eyes. Show me the strength of our relationship.”
In fact, words like these have come out of my mouth. Sitting on a dirty kitchen floor in the middle of the night. Grieving, raging, desperate for relief for my wounded heart. “It hurts so much, God. My boy has been sick and suicidal for so long. You say You love me. Please, please show me. Fix it. Prove You love me.”
Fix it. Prove you love me. This temptation can wreck us.
Yes, this temptation can wreck us if we let it. It is the pull, not to do the wrong thing, but to believe a lie. To believe that circumstantial good is the proof of God’s love, when the worst evil in history, the cross of Christ, is the true proof. To believe that pain is the absence of God’s love, when actually we find our fellowship with Him in suffering.
So how do we respond? The devil didn’t use this temptation on Jesus because it was outrageous. He knew it appealed to human logic and emotion. That’s why he uses it with us too. It is so very natural for us to want God to prove His love. Our defense is the same as Jesus’ answer: “It is written.”
“Now faith the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
“God demonstrated His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Friends, let’s cling to our faith in the love Christ demonstrated on the cross. Let’s press in hard, especially when we are tempted to seek the “proof” of having things go the way we want. It’s hard, I know. But God is love. It is written.