In last Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 4:1-13) we heard of Jesus being tempted in the desert. This is a familiar story to most of us, but although we may know it well, it still bears a sobering truth to it. And that is this: it doesn’t matter who we are or how holy we may be, we all will be tempted throughout our lives.
Now certainly God will help us through these temptations if we only ask His help. As we pray in the Our Father, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” God will deliver us from evil and help us to resist temptation, but that does not mean we will become immune to it. One temptation we need to resist is the complacency that can come when we are feeling so in touch with God that we feel temptation cannot touch us. One only needs to look to the Gospel to see how that is not true. Jesus is God. There is none holier, mightier, more loving, caring, or faithful to the will of the Lord than His only Son. If even He is subject to the temptation of the devil, how can we in our imperfect human ways think that we can avoid it?
“The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.””
In this first temptation, the devil is attempting to use hunger to turn the Jesus away. The devil knows that Jesus has been out in the desert fasting is very hungry. This can be seen as such a simple request. Hungry? What harm can one stone into bread do? This temptation preys on human survival instincts. The desire to provide necessities for ourselves rather than relying on the Lord. How often we are faced with this sort of temptation. The temptation to seek our own will, make our own plans, with the good intention of taking care of ourselves and our families, but without God in the center. Certainly we know that we need food, water, etc. for our survival. And of course God is not suggesting that we turn a blind eye and let our families starve. But what we can learn from this is to rely on God. To keep Him at the center. Yes we need food, but food can only help us in this life. To truly live, not only in this world but in the next as well, we need more than just food. We need God. God is calling us to rely on Him. To make plans to support our families and sustain life, yes. But to do it with Him at the center, all the while praying, “Lord help me provide for my family. Lord let your will be done in me. Lord, show us the way.”
“Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.””
The second temptation deals with the pull of material things, of power and glory misdirected. The devil offers Jesus all the power and glory of the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship. Jesus is King. He wants all the kingdoms of the world to turn to Him. But he resists this temptation. While we may not worship the devil, we need to remember that sin can be in the things we do, but also in the things we fail to do. While we may bow down and worship the devil, we need to be aware of the temptation to place anything before God. We need to resist the temptation to refrain from worship. When we receive wonderful blessings in our lives, we need to resist the temptation to take credit ourselves or to give the credit to anyone or anything other than God. Certainly we can acknowledge that good can come from God through other people. A promotion at work may be the work of God through your boss. In this instance, and in many like it, there is no harm in being thankful and expressing gratitude to your boss and even in feeling accomplished with yourself, as long as God comes first. We need to acknowledge that without God, we would not even be alive! He gives us the talents and abilities to perform our jobs and if we are able to excel and be noticed for it, we need to realize that it is all because of Him. So before taking all the credit, we need to praise and worship God for all the wondrous things He has given us. In this way we are able to resist the temptation to serve anyone other than God or to place anything before Him.
“Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.””
The third temptation we hear about deals with testing God. This one can sometimes creep up on us. How often when something goes wrong in our lives, when something ruins our plans, when we are faced with trials and sorrows do we feel tempted to question God? I think all of us at some point have thought, why? We feel tempted to question what we don’t understand. We may be tempted to think that because we follow the Lord, nothing bad will ever happen to us. The truth is God has a plan much greater than our own. He will not forsake us. Even when we do not understand the why, He is still there. We do not need to know the why. We do not need to test God to see if He truly cares, if He really is there. We know in our hearts that He is. And when troubles face us, we need only to rely on Him and know that He will be there for us even if we do not understand.
“When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.”
This final part of the Gospel is important to remember as well. Even after tempting Jesus and seeing that He was not willing to bend even the slightest bit to the devil, it is not over. We are told that the devil departed from our Lord, for a time. In Matthew 16:23 we see Jesus tempted by the devil working through His dear friend Peter. Jesus has started to tell His disciples of the suffering and death that will befall Him. Peter is shocked and says that this shall never happen to Jesus. While Peter’s words may not seem incredibly harmful or evil, He was resisting the will of the Lord. Jesus knew this and says, “Get behind me, Satan!” He knows that despite Peter seemingly looking out for Him, Peter is falling prey to the temptation to test God and to question His will. We are also told of some temptations He encounters leading up to and during the crucifixion. Even after remaining obedient to God’s will through His arrest in the garden, even after performing such wondrous works throughout the lands and having resisted the devil already, the devil returns again to try and force our Lord to test God and to take matters into His own hands. When Jesus is being questioned by the authorities, they ask Him over and over if He is King, if He really is who the people say He is. Jesus could have said, nope sorry you have me confused with someone else! With Pilate already seeing nothing wrong in what He had done, if he had given into the temptation to simply turn away from God and denounce any claim that He was the Son of God, the Messiah, He may not have been crucified. Even on the cross after enduring such pain and suffering, he is tempted “If you truly are the Son of God, save yourself.” The devil was desperately trying to turn Jesus through these temptations before He conquered death once and for all. These repeated temptations show us that we, too, can be tempted repeatedly and, like Jesus, will need to resist the devil on more than one occasion.
The thought of being faced with temptation over and over throughout our lives certainly doesn’t sound very appealing! But we need to be aware of this and to pray daily for God’s assistance in resisting the temptations we face. The fact is, the closer we may get God, the more the devil will try to turn us away. But we need not be afraid or worry at this thought. We only need to place all trust in God, pray for Him and His angels to watch over us, and be aware of the temptations that come our way so that we may resist them. And the most amazing part? Even if we do fall to temptation (as we in our sinful human nature sometimes do), God will still love us, still be by our side, and will still forgive us and welcome us to Him with open arms. Our Lord will never forsake us. We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. (Philippians 4:13) With the strength of God on our side, we can be confident that although we may be tempted, we will never be abandoned.