Sometimes this story makes me really scratch my head.
I mean, the devil knows who Jesus is. He knows that while he’s in every way fully human, he’s also fully divine. And these “temptations” are as subtle as a flying mallet, so he’s got to know that Jesus will see through them as soon as he says them. I can’t fully see the point of going after Jesus this way.
But even though I don’t understand why the devil does this, I’m glad the story’s here. Because I’m not Jesus, and I don’t always see through these temptations, and getting the gist of them is a big help to me in figuring out how to deal with them.
First, the devil tempts Jesus to ease his hunger, great after forty days of fasting. Jesus, who will one day do some pretty impressive things with a handful of loaves and fish, could easily make food from even the rocks in the wilderness. He doesn’t need to be hungry or suffer one second longer if he doesn’t want to.
Jesus reminds the devil that he, as a human being, has spiritual needs as well as physical ones, and that ignoring the spiritual part of his existence is as dangerous to life as ignoring the physical ones. He didn’t just come to the desert to be hungry. He came in order to prepare himself for his ministry.
When we sacrifice for Lent, we sometimes focus on what we give up, rather than why we’re giving it up. Jesus’ response to the devil reminds us not to do that.
Next, the devil brings Jesus to a place where he can see the whole world, and invites him to ask for control over those kingdoms. All Jesus needs to do is worship him, and every bit of earthly glory and authority that the devil has will be Jesus’.
But Jesus knows that the devil’s control is not real. He has only the power given to him from God, which logically makes God the one to worship. Which makes sense – would you or I want to worship someone who says, “Hey, look at my power. Worship me and I’ll give it to you,” or would we want to worship whomever gave that someone his power? Duh.
Finally, the pair stands at the top of Herod’s new temple, high above the ground. The devil tells Jesus to prove he’s the Son of God, by showing how he would survive a fall from this spot without even a scratch. After all, scripture itself said that angels themselves would protect Jesus from harm.
But, Jesus said, the core truth of God isn’t something we should be trying to prove, or demonstrate to people for our own purposes. If he stepped off that roof, Jesus would essentially be saying to God, “Well, if you’re real, then I won’t get hurt doing this.” And God says, “Excuse me? If I’m real? Who do you think you’re talking to?”
You know, the devil is basically a one-trick pony – he suggests to Jesus the same thing he suggested to Eve in the garden, and the same thing he suggests to us today. You, he said to them and says to us, can know better than God knows what you should be doing. You can do what seems right to you, and not worry about whether or not it’s right in God’s eyes.
The devil’s vision of Jesus’ ministry is one of flash and bang, of amazing tricks that would make people say, “I’ve gotta see this!” It would point to Jesus as a master magician, or a showman who entertained them but never lead them anywhere. It’s a vision I might see in myself if I think more about the style of my sermon than its substance, and if I think more about my words and how they’re presented than about who my words should point to.
Thanks for the offer, Mr. One-Trick Pony, but according to Jesus, I need to be looking at what he wants me to do, what he wants me to be and why he wants that. I don’t need to look so much at what I want, because following that path hadn’t brought me anywhere I needed to be.