The temptations of
Jesus in the desert
It helps a lot I think if we begin by asking "how do we know about
Jesus' being tempted in the desert?" After all he was led by the spirit
into the wilderness, alone, forty days so there was no-one to witness
these events. It helps because Jesus must therefore have told his
disciples or at least someone so that Luke could record it; and hearing
it that way, as Jesus telling the story helps because then we understand
that there was purpose in its telling and that its FORM owes much to
Jesus' teaching in parables. We recognise the three fold structure, the
anthropomorphic devil as evil and the overall shape of the story - but
then what was its message?
I am reminded of my maternal grandmother, NANA, who when I was quite
young and she was quite old ...... decided to give up smoking. This was
in the days before nicotine patches, or e-cigs or any help from the NHS
and I half remember a conversation between my parents about the
likelihood of her success. Her method was to simply stop - cold turkey -
but she kept in a cupboard on a shelf to itself a brand new packet of
Rothmans filter tips and as she explained to me whenever she felt like a
puff she would open that cupboard, look at the packet and then the door
firmly on it!
Firstly Jesus tells the story of his temptations to let us know that he
understands - that when we are hungry for something, when we covet
something that we may be tempted to do something wrong to obtain it or
to relieve the misery we are suffering. "Why," says the tempter "why go
hungry when you could easily turn this stone into a loaf? Or steal the
thing you want?"
Jesus understands that we may be tempted to barter our integrity for the
pleasure and aphrodisiac of power - "Just worship me," says the
tempter,” pay millions into my bank account maybe and I will give you
power over all these things"
Jesus understands that our belief will be challenged by the unscrupulous
- "I thought you believed in God," says the tempter, "surely he will
keep you safe and protect you, why follow me into this den of sin? As
the criminal said to Jesus on the cross "Aren’t you the Christ? Then
save yourself and us!"
Secondly Jesus tells the story to show us how to resist the temptations
that he knows we will face. He gives us the moral compass to navigate
away from the shipwreck. On each occasion his reply is from scripture.
"One does not live by bread alone"
Worship the Lord your God, serve only him"
"Do not put the Lord your God to the test"
Each time Jesus goes back to the words of his Father - his point of
reference, the touchstone for his decisions, actions and living. All
this prefigures the determination and obedience he will show on the way
to the cross and his rejection of any easier alternative route to glory.
Thirdly Jesus tells the story to strengthen us, to show us that
temptation, even in the face of extreme hunger, can be resisted, to show
us that it can be done. His example is there.
When then many years later I gave up smoking it occurred to me that if
Nana could do it then so could I - I would think of her opening up the
cupboard and NOT unwrapping the cellophane, not flipping open the top,
not removing the folk, not breathing in the scent of fresh tobacco, nor
tapping the cigarette on the table, and not lighting up.
Jesus wanted us to know that evil exists in the world, that we may be
entrapped by it but that the word of God and his own example of
obedience and steadfastness will be proof against this evil and that
temptation may be resisted and that he is here to help us overcome it.
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