Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’ Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘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.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’
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.” ’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. (NRSV).
Our reading is ‘bookended’ with a reminder that Jesus, after his baptism, was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’. Luke would have us know that this encounter – from beginning to end – is Spirit led. Yes, Jesus needed God’s guidance.
But of course, divine leading does not imply that the devil cannot get close. Indeed these are very real temptations for Jesus. They test the Son of God.
The heavenly voice must have given Jesus some inkling of the task he was to undertake. After all it was directed at him: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It would seem that Jesus is only slowly discovering his call and all it entails.
This ‘devil’ is bold enough to question even to voice of God. Twice he will open his deals with his: ‘If you are the Son of God…’. He is planting the seed of doubt.
The call of God to Jesus and the deceptive requests of the devil are not unrelated. Jesus is called to be human and therefore, after a 40 day fast, hungry. Bodies need food. It is nothing less that reasonable to satisfy these cravings. What type of salvation will he bring to the world if he is dead?
But stones to bread at the request of the devil?
The glimpse of ‘all the kingdoms of the world’ is not divorced from Jesus call either. This is the world he has come to save. The core of his mission is to take possession of the world’s dominions – to re-align them with the gracious rule of God. Surely the devil’s offer aligns with this mission?
But to worship other than God would not. There is no ‘authority’ under such evil.
The third temptation, in many ways is the most deceptive. It asks for an act of faith in God. If it comes off, surely it would be a spectacle winning over a new audience. Who has time for Galilee? Why not straight to Jerusalem? A Miracle of miracles in the city of David?
No. It could only ever be a act of faith in the one initiating the idea.
Saving the world in any of these ways will involve a re-alliance on Jesus’ part. Take them on and Jesus is listening to another. He would be attempting good at the command of evil.
Jesus will go on from this experience to, in very human ways, be sustained by the fruit of the earth and to slowly discover more of the call of God on his life; he will, beginning with Israel, strive to win over the kingdoms of the world; in Jerusalem he will miraculously overthrow death.
Yes, sometimes the call of the devil can sound all too much like the call of God. But he offers no short-cut. Rather his is a dead-end – a godless way leading nowhere new.
It would seem God’s way is the only way to do lasting good.
Still, the devil’s questions have tested Jesus. Our author calls it ‘every test’. But Jesus has won. For now there will be no more offers.
And so Jesus returns to Galilee to do the small, faithful things well. He will travel and teach under ‘the power of the Spirit’. It may initially look somewhat less spectacular, but watch closely.
This is the way of God. There are no short-cuts – and no dead-ends. This is the way to life – in all its God-ordained fullness.
And just wait. The rolled stone and the appearance of the resurrected Jesus will be more human, more far-reaching, and more spectacular than anything this devil has ever imagined!