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.Luke 4:1-2
Note: This article on the lessons we can learn from how Jesus dealt with the temptations
he faced in the wilderness, is part of this year’s Lenten theme of “Jesus in the Wild,” based on Dan Wilt’s book.
Jesus certainly understood human temptations and the connection between personal habits and quality of life, which is why he watched his behavior closely during his 40 days in the wilderness. He made a set of choices that can become good habits for us and change our lives for the better. Although Jesus didn’t write a program for our smartphones, he did give guidelines and social support for resisting temptation that we can think of as apps to remember and to use in our times of temptation.
First, there’s the Trust God, not Self app. Luke tells us that Jesus was tempted for 40 days by the devil, and during that period Jesus ate nothing. When those days were over, “he was famished” (Luke 4:2). The devil says to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread” (Luke 4:3). Notice that the devil is making a reasonable request here: Jesus is, in fact, the Son of God. He certainly has the power to turn stones into bread. He is famished, and a loaf of bread would give him energy to keep on serving God. Also, the idea of bread in the wilderness has a nice ring to it, since that’s what God provided to the people of Israel through the gift of manna.
But Jesus says no, because he’s in the habit of trusting God, not himself. If he performs this miracle, he will be serving his own needs instead of allowing God to provide for him. So, he responds to the devil by quoting a line from the book of Deuteronomy, the same verse that reminds the Israelites that God provided them with bread in the wilderness: “One does not live by bread alone” (Deut. 8:3). Instead, we are to live by trusting what God says and does.
Second, there’s the Serve Only God app. In the second temptation, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. The tempter says, “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 … will worship me, it will all be yours” (Luke 4:5-7). This, too, is a reasonable offer. Think of all the good Jesus could do if he had authority over the kingdoms of the world. With a single command, he could eliminate poverty, disease, hunger, injustice, violence, and abuse.
But there’s a catch: Jesus must worship the devil. For Jesus, such a price is too high, even if great good can be accomplished in the world. Jesus quotes the book of Deuteronomy once again, saying, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Deut. 6:13, 10:20).
This app is a tough one for us, because we’re asked to make compromises every day. Do we work overtime to make extra money, or go home at a normal hour to spend time with our family? Do we save money by buying products manufactured in countries where workers are exploited, or do we pay a little more for American-made goods? Do we push for better environmental standards, even when protecting the environment will hinder certain industries?
These are tough choices, as none of them breaks down into good versus evil, God versus the devil. But what Jesus is asking us to do is to serve God ahead of ourselves – focusing on God’s interests instead of our own successes. Jesus could have had great earthly success if he had worshiped the devil, but instead he chose to focus on serving God in all things.
We can do the same by turning to God in prayer when we are confronted by a choice between overtime and family time. We can commit ourselves to loving our neighbors as ourselves, and being more concerned for their wellbeing before we purchase a particular item. We can take seriously our role as stewards of God’s creation when we take stands on the economy and the environment, knowing that God wants us both to use and to preserve the resources of the earth. If we apply ourselves to serving only God, we will find a faithful path through these challenges.
Finally, there’s the Do Not Put God to the Test app. In his last temptation, the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and invites him to throw himself down, trusting the promise of Psalm 91:11-12, “His angels … will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” After hearing Jesus use Scripture in his previous responses, the devil is clever enough to use God’s Word as part of his own temptation. But once again Jesus resists, going back to Deuteronomy to find the words, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). Jesus trusts the power of God to save him, but he is not going to tell God when and how to do it. Even at the end of his life, he does not ask God to rush in and rescue him from the cross. Even so, the promise of Scripture comes true for Jesus, as God raises him from death to life everlasting.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit we have all put God to the test. Often, we bargain with God, making promises in exchange for help. Unfortunately, this is a form of testing God, which Jesus refuses to do. If we avoid this temptation and apply ourselves to not put God to the test, we’ll move closer to God and find a sense of peace … in God’s will, not ours. Looking at the entire temptation story, we see that all of Jesus’ choices enable him to remain close to God and to honor the Lord’s divine agenda, not his own.
Trusting God, serving God, and not putting God to the test: These are the apps that Jesus uses in his own time of trial and temptation. And they are daily habits Jesus advises us to apply to our own struggles with our sin nature, and to use to help us resist and overcome all temptations by the evil one. Thus, let’s make an earnest effort to use these apps to change our habits, so we can change our lives. Even more, unlike most good smartphone apps, these apps are absolutely free! It doesn’t get any better than that.
So, why not download them in our hearts and start using them today. Just a thought.