Meditation: Are you ready to follow the Lord Jesus wherever he wishes to lead you? After Jesus' was baptized by John the Baptist at the River Jordan, he withdrew into the wilderness of Judea - a vast and mostly uninhabitable wilderness full of danger. Danger from scorching heat by day and extreme cold at night, danger from wild animals and scorpions, plus the deprivation of food and the scarcity of water.
Why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into such a lonely place - right after Jesus was anointed and confirmed by the Father for his mission as Messiah and Savior? Jesus was following the pattern which God had set for Moses and for Elijah - both were led on a forty day journey of prayer and fasting to meet with God on his holy mountain (Exodus 24:18 and 1 Kings 19:8). God tested Moses and Elijah to prepare them for a prophetic mission – to speak God's word (Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 18:15; 34:10) and to lead God's people into the way of holiness and righteousness, a way marked by love of God and love of neighbor. While Moses and Elijah each prayed and fasted in the desert wilderness of Sinai, God fed them with his life-giving word. Their time of solitude with God enabled them to be renewed in faith, hope, and love for the call God had given them. Jesus likewise went into the wilderness to prepare himself for the mission entrusted to him by spending forty days and nights in solitude and prayer to his Father in heaven.
Jesus tempted by the devil
Luke tells us that at the end of Jesus' forty days in the wilderness one visitor came out to tempt him. Luke describes this tempter as the devil (Luke 4:1), who is also called the father of lies (John 8:44), Satan (Luke 10:18), and the spiritual ruler and god of this world (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4). He is the same deceiver who tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Paradise (Genesis 3). Why did Satan tempt Jesus at the end of his lengthy period of fasting? Satan knew that Jesus was embarking on an important spiritual mission for the kingdom of God. Perhaps Satan saw an opportunity to strike while Jesus appeared more vulnerable in his physically and emotionally weakened condition due to his prolonged fasting and inner struggle over his particular call and mission. Satan undoubtedly thought he could persuade Jesus to choose his own path rather than the path his Father had chosen – a path that required self-renunciation, humility, and obedience to his Father's will. Jesus had to struggle with temptation, especially the temptation to choose his own way and to push aside the way his Father wanted him to go. This is the fundamental temptation which confronts each one of us as well. My way or God's way, my will or God's will.
Satan's first temptation appealed to Jesus' physical desires and hunger. Jesus was very hungry and physically weak at the same time - he hadn't eaten anything for forty days. Did the Spirit lead him into the wilderness to die? When the people of Israel were led into the wilderness for forty years without any natural source of food, they complained to Moses that he was punishing them with starvation – a very painful way to suffer and die. Moses took the matter to God in prayer. And God intervened by sending them manna – bread from heaven – for their daily provision. Should not Jesus do the same to revive his weakened condition?
Satan tried to get Jesus to turn stones into bread, both to prove his supernatural power over nature and to satisfy his own personal hunger. Jesus knew that he had been anointed with extraordinary power for performing great signs and wonders, just as Moses and Elijah had performed great signs and miracles in the name of God. But Jesus had chosen to fast from food and to pray for a lengthy period in order to prepare himself for the mission his Father was entrusting to him. Jesus wanted to do his Father's will, even though it might cost him great sacrifice, suffering, and even the loss of his own life. He hungered for his Father's word and made his life dependent on what the Father wanted him to do, rather than what he might have preferred for himself. Jesus chose to use his power and gifts to serve his Father rather than to serve himself. Jesus defeated Satan's snare with the words of Scripture from the Book of Deuteronomy in which Moses warned the people of Israel to never forget God nor his word: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
Jesus' second temptation
Satan tempted Jesus a second time by presenting him with the best the world could offer - great riches, privileges, glory and fame, and the power to rule over all the kingdoms of the world - Jesus could claim title and possession to everything he desired. Jesus quickly saw through the trap of placing the world's glory, wealth, and power above the honor, glory, and service that is due to God alone. Jesus saw how easily one's heart can be swayed and even overpowered by what it most treasures. The heart cannot serve two masters - only one will prevail. Allowing fame, glory, and wealth to master one's heart is a form of idolatry - the worship of false gods. Jesus chose to honor his Father and to serve his Father's kingdom above all else. He chose to make his Father's will alone as his personal treasure and delight. Jesus again defeated Satan with the words of Scripture which Moses wrote in the Book of Deuteronomy: "It is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve'" (Deuteronomy 6:13).
Jesus' third temptation
Satan's last temptation was to convince Jesus that he should position himself at the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, the holiest place on earth where God dwelt in a special way with his people, and there perform a spectacular sign that would prove beyond a doubt that he was the Messiah, God's anointed Son. Why would this be a real temptation for Jesus? It might be helpful to note that the devil is a Bible expert! He accurately quotes from Psalm 91:11-12, "He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you," and "on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone." This psalm is connected with the temple which was regarded as a place of refuge and protection for those who put their trust in God and his dwelling place. The devil wanted Jesus to perform a death-defying sign by throwing himself off the tallest point of the temple to prove that he was who he claimed to be, the divinely appointed Messiah and Son of God. The temple pinnacle which Satan was referring to was very likely the highest structural corner in the construction of Herod's great temple. This high corner of the temple served as the "king's porch" on the edge of a precipice which dropped some 700 feet into the valley below.
Jesus refused to perform any sign that might put God to the test. When the people of Israel almost died of thirst in the wilderness, they rebelled against Moses and they put God to the test by saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?" (Exodus 17:7). Jesus refused Satan's test to prove his divine claim as the Messiah. Jesus quoted once again from the words of Scripture in the Book of Deuteronomy: "It is said, `You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'"(Deuteronomy 6:16). Jesus knew that he would first have to cleanse the temple (John 2:13-22; Luke 19:45-46) and then offer his body as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world (John 1:29; Hebrews 10:5-14). Only after he would be lifted up on the cross and be raised from the tomb on the third day, would people recognize that the Father had sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).
Spiritual preparation in the forty days of lent
What lesson can we learn from Jesus' temptation in the wilderness? How can we hope to fight temptation and overcome sin in our own personal lives? When Jesus went out into the wilderness to fight temptation by the devil, he was led by the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not rely on his own human strength and will-power for overcoming temptation. He relied on the Holy Spirit to give him strength, wisdom, courage, and self-control. The Lord Jesus knows that we cannot fight temptation on our own. We need the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us. The Lord Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness (Romans 8:26) and to be our guide and strength in times of testing (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Lord gives grace to those who humbly acknowledge their dependence on him (James 4:6) and he helps us to stand firm against the attacks of Satan who seeks to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8-10; Ephesians 6:10-18). The Lord Jesus is ever ready to pour out his Spirit upon us that we may have the courage we need to repent of our sins and to turn away from them, and to reject the lies and deceits of Satan. God wants us to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) with the strength and help which comes from the Holy Spirit. Do you seek God's wisdom and guidance for overcoming sin and avoiding the near occasions of sin?
The forty days of Lent is the annual retreat of the people of God in imitation of Jesus' forty days in the wilderness. We are called to journey with the Lord in a special season of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, repentance, and renewal as we prepare to celebrate the feast of Easter, the Christian Passover. The Lord gives us spiritual food and supernatural strength to seek his face and to prepare ourselves for spiritual combat and testing. We, too, must follow in the way of the cross in order to share in the victory of Christ's death and resurrection. As we begin this holy season of preparation and renewal, let's ask the Lord for a fresh outpouring of his Holy Spirit that we may grow in faith, hope, and love, and embrace his will more fully in our lives.
“Lord Jesus, your word is life and joy for me. Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may have the strength and courage to embrace your will in all things and to renounce whatever is contrary to it.”
This reflection is courtesy of Don Schwager, whose website is located at: http://dailyscripture.servantsoftheword.org/readings/