3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”
How do you tempt God? When you and I think of temptation, we think of it as being something that draws us to indulge ourselves. As James said:
James 1:13-14 (my emphasis)
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
14 But each one is tempted when he is DRAWN AWAY BY HIS OWN DESIRES AND ENTICED.
For some of us, it may mean being drawn away by our desire for fleshly indulgence–sex, drugs, or other desires and addictions. For others, it may mean being drawn to desire power over others. And for a few, it may mean seeking fame and adulation as a substitute for the real love of true family and friends. We yield to temptation in so many ways every day–most often in how we put our own desires and needs above those of other people. We cut someone off in traffic, we refuse to forgive a small trespass against us, we spend money on things we do not need so much as simply desire. We lie and cheat and steal in subtle ways, and in doing so we yield to the greatest temptation of all: pride. In our pride, we feel that we are somehow separate from any laws, we feel that because others act that way toward us, we are somehow not to be judged. We place ourselves on a pedestal, glorying in our “independence”–and we conveniently forget that God judges EVERY act, not just the ones we think He ought to judge.
Satan was more familiar with the Lord God than any of us could be until we see Him ourselves, and so, in fact, Satan knew perfectly well that Jesus was the Son of God. So what did the tempter mean by saying “IF you are the Son of God”? Exactly how was Jesus tempted? What could the Son of God desire that would be like our human temptations? As David said, “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.” (Psalms 24:1) With what might Satan tempt the Son of God? It wasn’t really the bread that might tempt Jesus.
11 “I know all the birds of the mountains,
And the wild beasts of the field are Mine.
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.”
So what DOES God desire? The prophet Micah asked that same question.
6 With what shall I come before the LORD,
And bow myself before the High God?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
How did Satan tempt Jesus? He tempted Jesus to exercise power and authority that a man would not have. Satan wanted Jesus to give in to His fleshly desire for food AND His divine desire to be known among men, and to combine those desires into an act of pure self-indulgence. What better way for Satan to undermine the humanity of Jesus than by showing that the Son of God was not subject to “the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”? (Thank you, Mr. Shakespeare.) But Jesus WAS human and He WAS subject to the same desires as you and I. As the Son of God, Jesus was able to do something about His hunger, about His desire to make God known, and about His path toward death, and yet Jesus stayed true to His role as the Lamb of God. Jesus remained the God-Man who did not think it robbery to lay aside His glory and power in order to live and die among mortal men. (Philippians 2:5-7) As Paul put it so well:
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Jesus HUMBLED Himself. This first temptation was to NOT be humble, to instead proudly revel in the glory He had laid aside, to abandon his humanity and flex His divine muscles and make Himself known.
3 “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
4 “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.”
The temptation was to steal back the glory He had laid aside, and, in so doing, to abandon the path at whose other end lay the bitter cup of the Crucifixion. This temptation was only the first that Satan laid upon Jesus, and it would not be the last. Many times our Lord would be shown seemingly easy ways to achieve the desire of God to make Himself known among men–e.g. when feeding the multitudes with loaves and fishes–and yet, as Jesus said to His mother at the wedding at Cana, His time was not yet come. At the other end of the temptation in the desert lay the ignominy of death on the cross. It was necessary for Jesus to die that death for all of us, and He could only do that as a Man–a Man who would not feed Himself despite His power to do so, a Man who would not call down flights of angels to save Himself from crucifixion.
God sent His only begotten Son to show the world what true sacrifice was about, to show us the ultimate in love and forgiveness, to break our hearts not with might and majesty but with MERCY and GRACE. Satan tempted Jesus to forego all of that and make His true glory known–which would have ruined all that God required for the salvation of humanity. Jesus remained obedient to the Father’s will for Him so that WE might live.
17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
When I reflect upon Jesus’ humility and obedience in the desert, I cannot help but think about His great sacrifice for us. I do not simply see Him as a Prophet or Teacher, but I see Him as the King of kings who laid aside His mantle to bear the instrument of His death up a hill outside Jerusalem. I do not see Him merely as a miracle-worker and healer, nor only as the glorious and righteous Judge who will one day return, but as the Man of sorrows broken for my sin. I do not see Jesus as the Son of God through whom all things were made, but also as the Son of God who faced Satan in the desert and did not yield to the temptation that would have damned all of humanity.
This day, let us reflect on that temptation, that moment when Satan saw firsthand that God could not be tempted by evil, when the accuser of the brethren had his rule over this world broken by the obedience of the Son of God. Let us meditate on this Man who could have done so much more about His human condition than any of us, and yet who chose instead to continue to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with His Father–to walk even to His death on Calvary’s hill so that we might live. Jesus knew the path that His life must take, and yet He remained true to that path because He also knew what lay on the other end: resurrection and new life for all who believe. (John 3:16-17) By resisting the devil and thwarting him with God’s own holy Word, our Lord showed that we, too, can stand up to our own desires and temptations. Therefore, let us imitate our Savior and forego our pride and power, and let us choose instead to be obedient to God and to serve each other in humility, mercy, and love.
Precious Lord Jesus, how may I serve as You served, live as You lived? Teach me, Lord, how to humble myself before You, how to resist the devil with my obedience and with Your Word. Show me how I might stand before the accuser and remain true, even in the face of my inevitable death. I desire nothing more than to serve our Father in heaven, to seek His kingdom and not my own, to seek His righteousness and not my own, to know His glory and not my own. Thank You, O Lord my God, for Your Son, who showed me how I might be faithful and true and thus follow the path to eternal life with You. Amen.