One of the most popular hobbies at the moment is researching your family tree. Massive amounts of information are now available online as well as in church and civic archives. And a popular TV programme has fuelled this national obsession. For a special birthday present you might pay for someone to have their DNA tested and a map of their ancestry produced.
Just before Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus, Luke gives us the human family line of Jesus. A family tree stretching back through distant history, weaving together names like King David, and Jacob, and Isaac and Abraham, Noah and finally Adam the Son of God.
Luke ensures that we understand Jesus is part of the human family. And by linking Jesus to Adam, by taking us back to the start of the bible story, Luke sets the stage for a re-run of the first temptation faced by Adam and Eve.
What follows in the temptation of Jesus is re-match between the devil and God’s chosen representative.
In the long years between these two showdowns it becomes painfully clear that in our own strength we cannot undo the effects of sin and rebellion against God. The efforts of Israel are not sufficient to free the world from sin. The warnings of prophets were not enough. Obedience to the law was not enough. The best of their worship was not enough. Sin was still spoiling the world.
The arrival of Jesus, God’s great gift to the world, shows us that God must take the initiative to restore and renew the world. It is his power, at work in Jesus, that brings change.
Freshly baptised and full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus faces the devil in the wilderness. This is one to one combat. Jesus is alone, exposed and vulnerable. This is a private match before Jesus begins his public ministry.
All through the bible the desert places, the loneliness of the wilderness, play a special role in God’s plans. Moses flees into the desert only to find God appearing in the burning bush, Israel are led through the desert before crossing into the promised land. The prophets are often led into the wilderness to pray, John the Baptist begins his ministry on the fringes of society. God’s plan for his people often includes a time of testing or refinement on the margins of society in order to strengthen and equip up for the next part of the journey.
Perhaps you have experienced hardships that have in the end strengthened your faith, or enlarged your heart, or opened the door to something good. We may not know in this life whether those things were planned by God or simply allowed by God. But with the help of the Holy Spirit over time those experiences can build up our maturity. Many people find themselves opening up to God during the testing times of life, they find he provides a new power and new strength. And when we re-engage with the world around us, we are all the more confident and able to serve.
One obvious example of this are the many people who through bereavement find their faith is strengthened and emerge with a great desire to help others through their own bereavement.
In Christian terms spiritual retreat and meditation is never a way to avoid the needs of real life and the real world, only a way to grow in faith and reconnect with life in God’s service.
The temptations begin with a very significant word. ‘If’.
The devil is using the power of doubt to wage this war. This is very reminiscent of the devil’s earlier contest with Adam and Eve. The question in Eden was ‘Did God really say…?’ The devil casts doubt not only on what God said to Adam and Eve, but also whether it was fair. Its said that the devil has no truth of his own, he can only twist God’s truth. It is in this tangle of doubt, confusion and feeling of unfairness that Adam and Eve choose the devil’s version of reality.
‘If you are the Son of God…’ Jesus is in the desert to learn utter reliance on his Father. He will need this in the trials ahead. How easy it would be to doubt the goodness of his Father in those moments. How easy instead to use his divine power to produce bread – a miracle he could easily do. The doubt here is not only whether Jesus is the Son of God, but also whether his Father will be the great provider for him, during the mission that follows.
The next two temptations follow in a similar way. ‘If you worship me all the authority and splendour of the kingdoms will be yours.’ The doubt here is whether the Father’s plan to redeem the world will bring honour and glory to Jesus. Can the rejection, suffering and death to come really be the path to glory? The devil offers a shortcut, so it seems, to the glory that lies beyond the cross and the grave of Jesus.
And the third temptation ‘If you are the Son of God throw yourself down.’ Again the devil casts doubt over the Father’s loving purpose for his son. At his baptism the Father said to Jesus ‘You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well please.’ Now just a few days later the devil undermines that reassurance, asking Jesus to put that promise to the test.
In Eden the devil sowed seeds of doubt in Adam and Eve’s heart by twisting God’s word to them. God’s words and commands, full of love, are turned into restrictive chains. Now Jesus shows the power and liberty of God’s word to the devil. Jesus counteracts each verbal punch with a word of Scripture v4, 8, 12. And when the devil uses a verse of Scripture for evil purposes Jesus realises the trap v10,11.
In this war of temptation and doubt the word of God provides the strength and security Jesus needs to persevere. And Jesus allows the scriptures to do what they were intended to do, to strengthen his relationship with God our Father. In the power of the Spirit God’s word increases the love and trust between Jesus and his Father, and so Jesus can step out confidently into the plans and purposes his Father has for him.
If the word of God was crucial for Jesus in his ministry, how much more it is for us.
As the days and weeks and months go by are we getting enough help and guidance from the scriptures? Our bibles should be wearing out through over-use.
In our ever more complex society is the bible providing the light we need to make good, wholesome, lifegiving decisions? The Everyday Faith series is an ideal way of digging deeper into the bible for wisdom.
In the moments of joy and sorrow in our lives, do we have the hope promised in the scriptures bubbling up within us? Too often our reactions and responses mimic the world of unbelief rather than the life of faith.
Lent is the ideal time to restart out bible reading habits, or read an encouraging bible-based book. The Pilgrim Lent Daily Reading booklet and Christ the King book will help.
For Jesus the first skirmish of a long battle has been fought and won. The scene is set for the journey of trust and love that will lead him to the cross. We journey on knowing equipped not only with the written word which sustained Jesus, but the living Word of Jesus himself.