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Temptation in the Wilderness

Taken from the VIA train going from Vancouver to Edmonton in some area that was rather desolate

Taken from the VIA train going from Vancouver to Edmonton in some area that was rather desolate

A Reflection on Luke 4:1-13

One of my favourite Christian bands in my teen years was a Canadian band called Hokus Pick. I’ve often been reminded of their simple, yet profound and honest lyrics that often echo the yearnings of my own heart. Their song “God for One Day” acknowledges that the Saviour we want may be different than the One who walked the path of suffering to the cross:

If I was God for just one day… I’d stop the wars and make the soldiers pray

I’d take the hungry for a meal… I’d prove that I was real.

If I was God for just one day…  I would take all this pain away

I know God has a plan… I just don’t understand

I wonder how often we long for a superhero to instantly make all things right.

Luke is very interested in telling us who Jesus is. In the previous chapter, we learn of Jesus’ baptism and the voice from heaven that declares that Jesus is God’s son in whom God is well pleased. In the genealogy that follows the baptism, Luke focuses on Jesus being the son of man, the son of Adam, the first human in Jewish tradition. Luke leaves us wondering what it means for Jesus to be God incarnate.

The Spirit then leads Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days. Jesus faces temptations that Israel faced in the wilderness and in doing so becomes the fulfillment of who Israel was called to be. Instead of a superhero that proves his identity and entertains the people with his powers, each temptation shows the type of Messiah Jesus is.

First Temptation

The first temptation is to turn a rock into bread. Given that Jesus had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, I imagine a loaf of bread would satisfy his empty stomach. We know from later stories of Jesus feeding the five thousand with just a few loaves and fishes, that turning a rock into bread was something that he could do.

Jesus quotes from the book of Deuteronomy, a passage that would have been familiar to the Jewish audience:

He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers now, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Deut 8:3)

The Israelites had to trust God daily for provision of needs in the wilderness.

The first temptation shows that Jesus ultimately trusts in God for all that He needs – and that he does not need to use his power or position to magically take care of his human needs.

Second Temptation

The second temptation is for Jesus to make a deal with the devil – to exchange worship for authority and power of the kingdoms. I imagine that the cross was always in Jesus’ mind and that it would be tempting to take the easy way out. The cost of this easy route however was to violate what God consistently required:

You shall fear ONLY the Lord your God and you shall worship him and swear by his name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you,  for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God.

While Israel was known for its divided heart and worship, God leaves no room for ambiguity – we are to worship the God of Israel, and the God of Israel alone. Jesus shows His humble submission to His Father through this temptation. Jesus submits to God’s ways and not to the cheap and easy ways to power that the devil offered him.

Third Temptation

In the third temptation, we see the devil try a new strategy – to quote Scripture itself to get Jesus to prove He is the Messiah by throwing Himself from the top of the temple.

If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written – “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you.” and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

I wonder how many times we look to God to prove who he is – by defining what that proof should look like. But Jesus didn’t come to snap his fingers and have everyone bow down. Given His miracles, I’m sure he could have done this. But Jesus knew not to put God to the test – instead, Jesus submits to God’s will and the path that leads to the cross without some spectacular show of who He is but a cross, a painful death, rejection and humiliation


Ironically, God uses the devil’s temptations to teach what kind of Messiah Jesus is. Instead of a superhero who can use His powers as he wishes, we see the emptying of power and humble obedience to the path that God has ordained – one that would be filled with unimaginable pain and rejection in order to reconcile all things to God.

We all face times of trial and temptation. NT Wright says, “It is a central part of Christian vocation to learn to recognize the voices that whisper attractive lies, to distinguish them from the voice of God, and to use the simple weapons provided in Scripture to rebut the lies with truth.” (Wright, Luke for Everyone) As we face temptations in our own lives, we can be encouraged that we do not do this alone. God’s Spirit goes with us. We have been given Scripture to learn of God’s ways. And we have each other to lean on and encourage us as we face the wilderness.

May our times in the wilderness be rich in learning how to trust and humbly submit to God’s ways and calling in our lives.

In the words of a celtic morning prayer liturgy:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with us

wherever He may send us.

May He guide us through the wilderness,

protect us through the storm.

May He bring us home rejoicing

at the wonders He has shown us

May He bring us home rejoicing

once again into our doors.

Sources Used:

  1. Luke for Everyone by Tom Wright
  2. Luke by Thomas W. Walker (Interpretation Bible Studies)
  3. The Message of Luke by Michael Wilcock (Bible Speaks Today)
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