Jesus in the Wilderness
We see a very interesting phenomenon in this passage. Jesus, having just been baptized, is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted. To be tempted is to be tested in those fundamental areas of faith. And this serves as such an encouragement for the faithful, because it helps us to realize a ubiquitous fact; this temptation itself is perfectly normal. Further, however, we see from this passage that resisting this temptation is fully possible, so long as we remain focused on God. Through His grace, each of us is aided by this same Holy Spirit, and through that fact alone, temptation can be conquered. This wilderness that we read about is a battleground, an image of the world itself and all of it’s temptations; the dwelling place of both man and demon.
Jesus herein reverses the failings of Israel in the desert by overcoming to the temptations which they had allowed to conquer them. The Israelites were tested time and again and proved to be disobedient and disloyal. Thus, God humbled them and allowed them to become hungry, and then gave them manna to help them to learn to depend on Him, rather than their own resources. And yet, even with the many signs that they had been shown, even with the many miracles that they witnessed, they still failed these trials that He gave them. Jesus, on the other hand, is tested with 40 days of hunger, 40 days of self-denial, and never once sins. Rather, He used the fast to overcome temptation, setting for us an example of the power of fasting to overcome the passions. The hunger of His flesh He did not allow to control Him, rather, through His fasting, He gained control of His hunger.
Then we see Satan, the deceiver, the tempter of men, arrives and begins to tempt Jesus. His first temptation is to challenge Christ’s relationship with the Father. “IF You are the Son of God…” Satan says, challenging the very words of the Father at Jesus’ baptism, “This is My Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). See, Satan is tempting Jesus to act independently of the Father, in much the same way as we read from Adam and Eve. He desires to see Jesus detach Himself from the Father and go His own way. And we must remember that although Jesus is in fact One with the Father, in His full humanity, He still possessed free will and suffered from human frailty, as each of us do. And yet, in the face of this, He still makes the conscious decision to remain obedient to the divine will of the Father.
It’s important that we realize that in rejecting this first temptation, Jesus rejects this earthly kingdom and the pleasures of the flesh. Unlike Esau, who for a morsel of food sold his birthright, Jesus here rejects the idea of chasing after the “food which perishes,” similar to Paul’s teaching that he “disciplines his body and brings it into submission” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Adam was given one commandment, which was to fast, to deny himself the fruit of the one tree, but allowed himself to be given over to physical temptation. Jesus, the second Adam, conquers all temptation by the words of the Father and obedience to His commands. In so doing, He overcomes the power of temptation for all of us, giving each of us the power to conquer these passions and, through the grace of God, conquer the power of Satan himself.
After seeing that Jesus uses the Scripture to resist his first temptation (each of Jesus’ answers quoted Deuteronomy), Satan then determines to use Scripture to tempt Him a second time. Satan quotes from the Psalms attempting to tempt Jesus to throw Himself from the cliff, quoting the passage from the Psalmist that “God will give His angels charge over you, and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against the stone.” Jesus responds by once more quoting from Deuteronomy, “It is also written that you shall not tempt the Lord your God.” This is such a valuable lesson to all of us. God does allow for trials and temptations to come for a reason. He allows for them to come to help us to purify our faith. However, we must always remember that He alone chooses when and how they should come. We must be ever mindful to never place ourselves intentionally into hazardous situations or in the line of danger to test or to prove God’s protection. To do so is to truly “tempt the Lord,” as Moses wrote, “you shall not tempt the Lord your God…you shall do what is pleasing and good before the Lord your God that it may be well with you” (Deuteronomy 6:16,18 LXX).
This also serves another valuable lesson. Satan was not wrong in his quote of Scripture. In fact, he directly quoted words of Scripture that many would have taken to be truth. In much the same way as the Scripture truly says, “God who richly provides us all things for us to enjoy,” (1 Timothy 6:17). However, it’s so important that we cling to the teaching of the Church for the proper interpretation of Scripture, because as David did not mean that you should throw yourself off of a cliff to see if God will protect you, neither did Paul mean that God would richly bless us so that we could enjoy our life on earth, but rather he was warning the wealthy to not be haughty, but rather to use those riches to supply the needs of others so that the wealthy could enjoy the life of doing the work of the Lord in caring for others. It’s imperative that we understand the teachings of the Church concerning the Scripture as those teachings are not as susceptible to the ebb and flow of the times as the individual interpretation of any one person at any given moment. It’s so easy for us to be led astray by an errant teaching should we trust in that person’s teaching more than the traditions of the teachings passed down for thousands of years.
Finally, with the last temptation Satan offers, he tempts Jesus to choose an earthly kingdom over the heavenly one. See, God’s kingdom has nothing to do with earthly possessions or earthly power. Rather, those very things are the icon of the kingdom of the fallen one. Jesus calls Satan the “ruler of this world,” (John 12:31), Paul calls him the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus refuses the road to earthly glory which would lead Him away from the will of the Father; away from His suffering, but also away from the redemption of the world. And remember, this is fully in His humanity. This is fully in the same humanity that caused Him to beseech the Father to “let this cup pass from Me.” And yet, in His obedience to the Father, guided by the Holy Spirit, He rejected this temptation as well.
We face each of these temptations in our life, and Jesus gives us this teaching to serve as an example by which we must live. The Church has given us fasting as a discipline, through which we can overcome the power of the passions over us in our lives; to make our bodies our servants, our passions our slaves; rather than serving our bodies and becoming slaves to our passions. Every day we face the temptation of testing God; driving recklessly, arguing unjustifiably, anything that needlessly places our lives in danger. We are constantly tempted to place earthly needs and passions ahead of our obedience to God. We build up for ourselves our own earthly kingdom. We decorate our homes with ornate beds to sleep upon, luxurious floors to traipse upon with muddy feet, the finest dishware that can only be used on special occasions. We accrue for ourselves all of these material things because we think that they give our lives meaning, but only one thing can give our lives meaning, and that is doing the work of God.
Israel spent their time in the wilderness, and throughout that time, they grew distant from God. They were disobedient, disloyal, they sought after other things and forgot Him. Jesus spent His time in the wilderness and used it to draw closer to Him, to secure His faithfulness. At this point in our culture, we are in a similar situation. Many are unable to attend Church services, many are unable to see God in His home. And how are we responding to this time that we have? Have we made our home into our own Church? Have we, like Jesus, used this time to draw closer to Him than ever before? Or have we, like Israel, allowed this time to weaken us? To lead us into discord? To forsake brotherly love and fellowship, and seek after our own needs and desires.
My brothers and sisters, let us look to Christ. As we begin each day, awakening to the wilderness of our lives, let us begin by seeking God in prayer. Let us look to Him throughout the day for guidance and grace to resist each of these temptations, rather than trusting in ourselves and succumbing to them.
Christ is risen! Not just once in some far off caves centuries ago, but every day of our lives. Let us all embrace that truth and show the world the love, the fellowship, and the compassion that the world so desperately needs. Do not allow ourselves to become divided by personal opinions, but rather trusting in the Church and it’s leaders, let us be the light shining in the darkness of the world and the time.
Christ is risen!