” . . . where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Luke 4:2
The practical, the powerful, and the personal, the three temptations the devil puts before Jesus; they are very clever, very beguiling, but temptations are like that, if they were not they would not be temptations, they would be things that could be rejected without a second thought. What might we learn about ourselves in these conversations between the devil and Jesus?
Jesus is hungry, he is famished and the devil is very reasonable. In Saint Luke Chapter 4 Verse 3, the devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” The devil is being very practical, very down to earth: Jesus is hungry, Jesus has power, Jesus could create bread from stones. What would have been the harm in it? Who would have known? Jesus is out in the wilderness, there is no-one there to see what he does and doesn’t do, but we are told in Verse 4, “Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.'”
Jesus is saying to us that there are things more important than just what we have, things like being able to be honest with oneself, having integrity. If we are not honest with ourselves, then how shall we honest with other people? Haven’t we all had such temptations? The banknote lying in the street, the thing someone has left on the train, the items we might put on our tax return, the things that no-one else has seen and that might be never noticed anyway. Wouldn’t it be practical just to just put things in our pocket? There was no-one to see Jesus in the wilderness, and there would be no-one who would see us, except ourselves. Jesus says we do not live by material things alone, giving into the practical temptations is saying that material things matter more to us than our own honesty. Giving into the practical temptations, we betray God and we betray ourselves.
The second temptation is powerful. In Verse 6 we read that the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said to Jesus, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” What a temptation for Jesus, he knows the power of the devil, he even describes the devil as “the ruler of this world;” with such power, Jesus could do tremendous good in the world, he could bring so many changes for the better. What would there be that Jesus couldn’t do if he became so powerful? But Jesus realizes that he would betray himself if he bowed down to the devil and in Verse 8 he declares, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
The temptation of power is not one that is likely to trouble us, or is it? The temptation to Jesus was to get the things he wanted in life by compromising his beliefs, don’t we sometimes face similar temptations? Aren’t there sometimes moments when we feel that we could get what we wanted by compromising what we believe? Maybe it’s not telling the whole truth, maybe it’s pretending we are something we are not, maybe it’s misrepresenting someone else, but if it’s for a greater good, does it matter? Doesn’t the world teach us that the end justifies the means? If we accept that way of thinking, then we are rejecting the way of Jesus who said we were to serve only God. Giving into the temptation to power, we betray God and we betray ourselves.
The third temptation is personal. Verses 9-11 tell us, “Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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 protect you’, and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” The personal temptation must have been the hardest of all for Jesus to bear, the devil is sneering at him provoking him. It is a temptation that must have got under the skin of Jesus, made him think that it would be simple to show the devil who was the greatest, simple to show the devil who could call on the angels, but Jesus resists the temptation to put his own personal pride before the principle of resisting the devil. Jesus answers the devil in Verse 12, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
The personal temptation is the hardest one, we can more easily resist the external things, whether they be practical or powerful, than we can the provocations that challenge us personally. We know that Jesus says to us that we should turn the other cheek, that we should always be forgiving, that we should not be provoked, but when people annoy us, we want to show them that we are not people of whom they can make little. We can easily slip into the feeling that there is no harm in showing people who we really are, only to discover that they have been trying to provoke a reaction. Pride does not serve us well. In giving into the personal temptation, we betray God and we betray ourselves.
Practical, powerful and personal, the temptations are always with us and the battle to overcome them is one we have to fight every day.