In Nomine Iesu
“Lead us not into temptation” we pray. Jesus taught us to pray this way, and we do every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. Guard and protect us from every temptation of the devil, the world, and our own sinful selves. Yet today, in this morning’s reading, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, fresh from His baptism in the Jordan, was led by the Spirit (“driven” Mark says!) into the wilderness to be tempted. Jesus was led into temptation so that you might not be led into temptation.
He was driven into the wilderness. An arid, waterless no-place where the wild things howl. The jackals, the screech owls, the coyotes, the demons, the devil. The wildnerness is the un-Garden to which Adam and Eve were banished when they sinned, in which Israel wandered for forty years. Jesus is doing the 40-day Israel thing, the Adam thing. He is Israel, and He is the second Adam, humanity’s new Head. He goes to the wilderness to meet banished Adam’s children and the settle an ancient score with the serpent who tempted, who seduced, who lied, who led Eve and Adam to sin, despair, and death.
“I will make enmity between you and the woman, between her Seed and yours,” God said to the ancient serpent. Now the Seed of the woman, virgin born, goes to the wilderness to make good on the threat. He goes to meet the Serpent on his home turf, in the wilderness. He is hungry, living on nothing but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. For forty days, there is no daily bread. He fasts for all of humanity. This isn’t for Him, this is for us, for everyone. He was hungry with a hunger we cannot imagine. He hungered for our righteousness. He is empty that we would be filled. The One who multiplied bread for 5000 men with their women and children in the wilderness, the One who is the Bread of Life, living Bread come down from heaven, would not feed Himself.
“If you are the Son of God,” the devil says, “command this stone to become bread.” It would have been simple for the Son of God. He commanded demons and diseases. He opened deaf ears, healed blind eyes, made lame men jump. At His command the dead sat up alive. What a little thing it would have been to turn a stone into a nice loaf of bread. Yet it would not have been the Son of God’s way to do this. He made the stone. He makes bread. When He needed bread in the wilderness to feed 5000, He didn’t turn rocks into barley loaves, He multiplied the bread that was there. Five loaves fed 5000. That’s God’s way – to multiply, to add something more. When Jesus turned water into wine, He didn’t destroy the water but added something more. When He gives us His body to eat, He doesn’t destroy the bread but adds something more – His body. The same with the wine. It’s wine and more, His blood.
“Turn this stone into bread.” It’s diabolically simple. How hungry Jesus must have been after going forty days without food. It makes our hunger look like a mid-morning hunger pang. This is the sum total of every hungry soul who cried out to the Lord, “give us this day our daily bread.” He hungers, and in His hunger the devil seizes on the opportunity. The devil is an opportunist, always looking for an opening, a weakness, a vulnerability.
Our appetites are especially vulnerable. We’ll do most anything to satisfy a hunger, a craving, an urge, a desire. Eve looked at that forbidden fruit and saw that it was beautiful, pleasing to the eye, it was delicious, good for food, it was useful, it made one wise in the ways of good and evil. The devil saw a vulnerability in Eve, a little tiny bit of doubt. “Did God really say?”
“It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.” God said that through Moses. Jesus quotes it to the devil. Notice He doesn’t use His power as the Son of God, but He uses the power of the Word. What you and I have at our disposal. “One little word can fell him.” “Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” You don’t need divine power to resist the devil. You just need the Word. That we don’t use it, that we don’t honor and respect it, that we barely even know it, is testimony to our old Adam and Eve who prefer the devil’s lie to the God’s Word. It’s in us too.
The devil takes Jesus, and in a moment of time, an kairotic flash of “now,” a kind of “from above” view of things, he shows them all the kingdoms of this world, that were, that are, that ever will be. Egypt, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome. Perhaps even Great Britain, America. All the kingdoms, all the power, all the glory. All that men fight wars over and kill each other to possess. “All these things will be yours, Jesus. Forget that cross with its pain and blood. Here’s the easy way. Worship me.”
What we won’t sacrifice for hunger, we will for power, glory, dominion, kingdom! Our families, our integrity, our lives, even our faith. We’ll forego church, devotion and prayer for the sake of getting ahead, building our kingdoms, grabbing a bit of the glory. What’s the lottery but another version of “all these things could be yours?” We’re suckers for the deal, and the devil knows. We’ll worship most anything that promises health, wealth, fame, glory, love, happiness. We’ll sacrifice to it, bow down to it, give our lives to it.
Jesus answers on behalf of Adam and all humanity. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” That’s where Adam went wrong. He bowed down and worshiped before a tree not given him. He ate a false sacrament, the tree of knowing good and evil. He wanted to experience the creation on God’s terms, to be like God. Adam was the priest of creation, the image and likeness of God. He had a priesthood, and that was to lead the worship of the earth in the universal praise of its Creator. To tend the earth, God’s temple in the cosmos. To care for its creatures over whom God gave dominion. Adam’s worship was at the tree of life not death. It was focused on Yahweh, not on the curiosity of good and evil. When Adam fell, his worship fell. His masses went from high mass to black mass. His sacrifices were to strange gods that were in the image and likeness of him.
“You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve” It goes for the devil, too. He’s God’s devil, one of His spiritual creatures. And again, a little Word fells him. A little Word from the Torah silences the temptation of worship. God alone.
A third time, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and set him on the top of the temple and said, “I dare you. If you’re the Son of God, throw yourself off. And as long as you’re quoting the Bible at me, let me quote the Bible at you – ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you.’ See? You won’t get hurt. God will protect you. He promised. Want more? ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ You won’t even stub your little toe, Jesus. God promised. You’re the Son of God. The Father loves you, and He’s protective of His Son. Who wouldn’t be? His angels will catch you if you’re the Son of God. So jump.”
The security company promises to respond within 10 minutes of an alarm. So let’s pull the alarm and turn on the stopwatch to see if they come. The life guard promises to rescue you from the ocean so let’s intentionally swim into a rip tide. He promised. He’ll save us. Hey, let’s sin that grace may abound. God promised to forgive us, after all. So jump.
It is not the nature of faith to test the promise. Faith trusts the Promisor absolutely. Faith trusts God even when God doesn’t respond on demand. “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you,” God says. So we’re in trouble, and we call, and we seem to get nothing from God. And we say, “God, what happened? Why didn’t you do something? Why weren’t you there? Why didn’t you send someone to help?” And God’s answer: “I did. I sent my Son in your flesh. He died bearing your Sin. He even told you, ‘It is finished.’ Trust me. Trust Him.”
It is a deep and diaboloical temptation to test God. Did God really say you would die? Surely you were mistaken. Go ahead and eat. See what happens. It is the ultimate act of unbelief, the very opposite of faith. It says to God, “Yeah, I hear you but I don’t trust you.” Like the wife who hears her husband tell her that he’s faithful but hires the private investigator anyway. And sometimes, she’s proven right. Her husband’s a liar. God does not lie. God cannot lie.
We subject many things to testing to see if they’re true. It’s the nature of science. We test our cars to see if they’re crashworthy, though I must add, that we don’t do those tests with our own cars! We trust the test results. We test our airplanes to make sure everything is in good working order, though again, I’ll add that we don’t go up for the post-maintainance test flight. We leave that for someone else to do. We test each other, to see if they’re being true to their word. But when we do that, a little bit of our relationship with that person dies and grows distant. When the faithful husband finds out that his loving bride hired a PI to tail him, their relationship will change. Trust has been breached.
It’s as much a breach of trust to break it as it is to test it.
And of course, we are sinners, liars, cheats. We rig car computers to put out false test results. We cover our tracks with strange spreadsheets to cheat on our taxes. We demand trust and are insulted when we are tested, and yet we ourselves cheat and lie every day of our lives. And when caught, we are, of course, outraged, and point at everyone else. That’s old Adam at work, justifying himself.
This third temptation also warns us against the wiles of the devil. He’s a clever serpent. He can quote the Bible too. A few verses of the psalm. He’s also a master proof texter. He has “the verse” for Jesus. But he knows where to stop. Psalm 91 goes on from there:
“You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.” That’s written against the devil! Jesus is the Seed of the woman who has come to trample the ancient Serpent under foot to crush his head! The devil knows this, which is why he wants Jesus to put the word to the test. If He breaks faith here, He’ll break faith on the cross when it counts.
Psalm 91 goes on to say:
14 “Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will rescue him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”
That promise holds even in death. It held for Jesus. It holds for you in Jesus. God will rescue you and honor you. With long life He will satisfy you, and show you His salvation. But don’t you dare test Him. That’s not the way of faith.
“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Again the little word silences the temptor and his temptation. The same word that is near you, in your mouth and in your heart, the word of faith that says, “Jesus is Lord.” That is your weapon, your only weapon against the devil and his temptations.
Luke tells us that the devil departed from Jesus and left him alone until an opportune time. Remember that the devil isn’t God. He’s not present everywhere, He’s not all knowing, He’s not all powerful. He’s a creature, not a competitor to the Creator. Jesus was free to do His work unimpeded by the devil. It is the “year of the Lord’s favor,” and the devil knew he’d get nowhere. He would wait for a better time, an opportune moment. He would wait until Jesus was in agony on the cross, and then he would speak again, this time through religious and political people who ridiculed Jesus. “If you are the Son of God…save yourself. Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God.”
But He didn’t. He didn’t come down from the cross. He didn’t save Himself. He is the Son of God come to save you, to free you, to rescue you. In your wilderness, in your time of testing and trial, in your engagements with the devil, the world, and your own sinful self, trust Jesus. He’s greater than the devil. He’s greater than the world. He’s greater than your Sin.
Trust Him. Worship Him. Feed on Him.
In Jesus’ name,