by Richard McMaster
After His baptism in the Jordan, Luke tells us, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the
wilderness, the wasteland to the south of Judaea. John the Baptist has proclaimed Him
the Messiah and a voice from Heaven has confirmed it, so Jesus goes off alone shunning
But Temptation follows as He fasts and prays for forty days. ‘You are hungry.
Change some of these rocks into bread. If you’re God’s anointed, take advantage of your
status. Make sure you have enough of the good things life offers.’
Jesus dismissed the Tempter with “One does not live by bread alone.” Of course,
He’s talking about more than freshly baked pita. Rich food and drink, fine clothes, a palace, all the things a king in David’s line would expect, Jesus turns His back on them.
Then the Tempter showed Him in a vision all the kingdoms of the world. ‘Judaea is
too small to satisfy you. I’ll give you all the authority and glory as ruler of the world. That’s in my gift because really they all belong to me. Acknowledge me and it’s yours. I offer you Empire.’ ‘No,’ Jesus says, ‘the whole world belongs to God and only God can be worshiped.’
The final temptation is to a spectacular event that will make the whole Mediterranean
world buzz about a wonder worker in Palestine. ‘Jump off the highest point in Herod’s Temple and let everyone see you float effortlessly to the ground. They’ll hail you as superman, king, Messiah.” Jesus will have none of it. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Creature comforts, power, deserved recognition. All the good things of life.
Don’t these temptations sound familiar? I find myself tempted all the time to place my
own comfort over that of others. I witness our national hunger for power cloaked in language of nation-building and security needs. And we all deserve recognition. Why can’t Jesus accept what’s on offer?
Jesus defines what His Messianic mission will be by clearly eliminating what it will not
be. Jesus renounces Satan and all the evil powers of this world. Jesus rejects the Empire and all its works and all its pomps.
It’s no surprise that in the Gospel accounts the temptation of Jesus follows immediately
after His baptism by John because this is the rest of the baptism story for all of us. When we were baptized as adults or as babies we were asked certain questions. Since I was a few weeks old when I was baptized, my godparents answered for me. The minister uses words more or less like these:
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Savior?
Do you put your whole trust in His grace and love?
Do you promise to follow and obey Him as your Lord?
We hear the story of the temptations every year at the beginning of Lent. Jesus, weak and weary from His forty-day ordeal, defeats the Adversary at every stage. Is this simply
a pageant of His triumph over Evil? Not at all. It is a call to renew our baptismal vows
and to stand with Jesus in renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness and the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.
Are we up to it?