Read All About It
Once the devil had started a battle of wits using the scriptures, Jesus was more than ready to take him on.
Jesus would have been taught by Mary, to learn the scriptures off by heart. Then at 8 years old , he would have attended lessons at the local Synagogue where he would have also learned to read and write. It is because of a boy’s Jewish education that Palestine became a semi-literate society . However, although boys were learning the scriptures in the Synagogue, the girls were not allowed to take part. Their tuition was from their mother only meaning few learned to read and write.
We can see by the devil’s actions, it is too easy to twist interpretation of Bible verses and what they mean. A mistake easily made when a verse is isolated from its context without explanation. If Jesus had not been so well versed, things could have been disastrous for humankind. The test was greater because the devil had put before Jesus very plausible temptations.
Like everything in life, relying on just one person’s point of view can be no good for us. Most misdemeanours start by hearing someone else’s view when we are feeling weak. Instead of walking away to regain our spiritual strength, we give in to temptation. That voice can come from anywhere, an advert on the TV, a phone call, spending time with someone you know will lead you into bad ways. It’s not all about food and drink though because we all know people who enjoy a good gossip and its too easy to join in. Temptation is so often portrayed as something dramatic but in reality, it leads to a down ward spiral and a significant deterioration of our Christian walk.
Lessons from the First 2 Temptations
The first temptation of Jesus was aimed at making him doubt his relationship with God by making Jesus perform a miracle to cater for his own needs.
The second temptation was used by the devil to entice Jesus to be overconfident in his standing with God. The devil wanted Jesus to recklessly endanger his own life to prove God would save him.
These two temptations, called on our human vulnerability to doubt and to be reckless, bot of which ever present in society today. Even faithful Christians may doubt their own salvation when they are feeling down about themselves.
However, there are also some Christians who can go the other way, Christians who continue to live their lives as repeat offenders with reckless behaviour thinking God will always forgive them. But we all have a part to play in our salvation so we must keep making an effort to live as God wants us to.
The second temptation showed Jesus interpreted the Scriptures in harmony with other passages. Whereas the devil interpreted passages of Scripture purely to serve his own ends. Jesus was quick to show what the devil wanted was at odds with the true meaning of God’s Word.
Jesus answered him, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Matthew 4. 7
What can we learn from the second temptation? The words spoken by Jesus in Matthew referenced the much earlier words from Deuteronomy . Jesus knew his Scripture and how the coming of the Kingdom would change things for all. Cherry picking parts of the Bible to suit our own needs, is something Christians must be very careful not to do, especially those with a long standing faith. If taken out of context, it is possible to use Bible verses to go against Jesus’ universal law to “ Love your neighbour”. But there are still over zealous Christian groups who apply Old Testament verses as a means of judging and criticising others. The only way we can protect ourselves is by sound Biblical knowledge coupled with being culturally and historically aware of the original context these words were spoken in.
The Power and the Glory
The devil was not about to give up just yet and leave Jesus in peace, instead he had another trick up his sleeve.
“The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him. “All these things will I give you if you fall down and worship me.” Matthew 4. 8-9
It is worth noting that Jesus does not question the devil’s ability to grant him all the kingdoms of the world. So the devil must have had those supernatural powers to be able to show Jesus the vision of power and status achieved by ruling the whole world.
But this final temptation went far and violated the first commandment of God.
“You shall have no other Gods before me.” Exodus 20.3
Jesus’ response was quick for the devil had violated the law that we should worship God and serve him only. To this Jesus responded,
“Be gone Satan! For it is written: You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Matthew 4. 10
Jesus had triumphed and the devil had failed in his bid to derail the Son of God.
But the human Jesus had endured physical suffering and spiritual temptation. Jesus knew now what it is like to face temptation when physically weak. Jesus, aka God himself, knew what it was like to be human and face temptation.
But by enduring this, Jesus had shown us how we need to be vigilant to temptation and be able to resist it. We can do this by recognising the sin we commit behind every temptation and by knowing God’s Word, we will see thee wrong and right way is to conduct ourselves. Finally, we must not act in haste so we have the time to see what is before us. Only then can Jesus strengthen us when confronted with temptation.
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Despite having lost the first challenge, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem to stand on the highest point above the temple.
Although the exact spot is not given, Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, records the highest point as Herod’s Royal Portico, towering 138 metres above the Kedron Valley. Visually that is about 30 metres taller than St Paul’s Cathedral so a very great height indeed. From there Jesus was given a panoramic view because the devil had the supernatural power to do this, something Jesus does not deny is possible.
This time the devil quotes the scriptures to justify his next temptation.
“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Psalm 91:11-12
It was a clever tactic by the devil trying to to persuade Jesus that if he really was God’s Son, then the Scripture promised that Jesus would be saved. All Jesus had to do was to throw himself from this great height and God would save him. But Jesus outwits the devil by replying –
“It is written: you shall not put the Lord your God to test.” Matthew 4. 7.
Jesus is also referring here to the earlier words in Deuteronomy 6.16 . This says God will protect his children but also expects us to exercise sound judgement too. God does not approve of reckless behaviour and this sends a clear message to us that we have our part to play when tempted even if we ask for God’s help.
Knowing we are Vulnerable
The stress and worry of modern living, coupled with the COVID crisis, leaves us weary and open to temptation. We can soon slip into a mind-set where we think we deserve to be rewarded for everyday living. An occasional treat is fine but it is so easy for it to become so much, much more – another takeaway, another glass of wine, another chocolate biscuits. Eventually it can become a bad habit or at worst a crutch to support us psychologically.
The temptation to satisfy our senses is a primal biological urge. The very first temptation of Adam and Eve, was to eat forbidden fruit from a tree. Jesus also faced the same desires when, after weeks of prayer, he found his appetite. Jesus was genuinely starving when the devil offered to turn a stone into bread.
“If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made into bread.” Matthew 4. 3
But this was not just a temptation to eat, it was something far more cunning, it was the temptation to perform a miracle on demand, Jesus knew he would then find the sustenance he so needed. But Jesus resisted saying
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by the word of God.” Matthew 4. 4
These words of defiance show Jesus’ reliance on God was stronger than his reliance on food. How much do we rely on God, to sustain us?
Most of us hope that by experiencing a period of discipline and denial, we will become stronger spiritually. Lent gives us a chance to spring clean our bad habits in a bid to improve ourselves on our Christian walk. It is easy to make superficial changes such as a new hairstyle but that’s of no use on our spiritual journey. Self gifting never produces a lasting improvement in how we feel.
To change ourselves from within requires a lot more effort and guidance and this can only be done in union with the Lord. To get that guidance, we need to ask for help in prayer. But to overcome our bad habits, we need to be honest about them in the first place. Do we gossip too much? Are we moaners, quick to complain? Do we feel hard done by, thinking life has been unfair? Do we limit our prayers to family and friends, ignoring the world beyond? Do we harbour grudges from a time long ago? Are their still people we would rather avoid than forgive? Do we feel we are fine exactly as we are? The list of human frailties is endless.
Lent is the time we can work on both our outward behaviour as it often a manifestation of our inner thoughts and attitudes. We must not miss that opportunity to use the season to do this so we can emerge stronger and more spiritually aware in preparation for the season of Easter.
“Create in me a clean heart of God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”
Day 3 Endurance
But why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the desert into such an inhospitable environment for a human being? Maybe it was a place Jesus would be guaranteed peace and quiet but what was there another reason?.
It is entirely possible Jesus never intended to stay as long as he did but got absorbed in prayer with God his Father. The Bible does not say whether Jesus took any supplies but at the very least he would have needed water. Jesus would have seen how his cousin John lived off the fruits of the land so would have known what was safe to eat, and what was not. Even with this in mind, 40 days is a very long time to be out there in such an extreme environment. Jesus had gone from a comfortable home , with enough food to eat, to a place that was also unsafe. Was physical denial really necessary?
Giving up things during Lent, is a tradition many still follow today. It is meant to improve our self-control, patience and our appreciation of things. It is meant to strengthen our spirit, to increase self discipline and reign in our earthly desires. For this to have an impact on us, we must give up something we love so it’s a genuine sacrifice. However, Lent is also a period of reflection, a time to take stock of things, a time for meditation and renewal.
An alternative to “giving up” things is also to just “give”and this is particularly good for children and young people.
A good idea is to keep a “Giving Diary” to record daily “gives” in. This is not all about money but acts of kindness and service to others. It could be doing some shopping for the housebound or picking up litter outside your home. It could be ringing to check on a friend to ensure they are okay, the list is endless. Lots of things are possible that are still Covid Safe. You could even have a Family Giving Book which everyone writes in to encourage the concept of giving and serving .
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”
Matthew 25. 40
Day 2 The Preparation
One day, whilst John was busy baptising people in the River Jordan, Jesus approached him and asked to be baptised. Jesus was without sin and had never put a foot wrong so John was taken aback by this. John had been busy preaching about preparing the way for the coming Messiah but it would be at this moment, when a voice spoke from Heaven, John knew it was Jesus.
But if Jesus is God made flesh, why would he need to be baptised? Surely Jesus did not need his sins washing away and forgiving?
The act of baptism for Jesus, was an act of humility and an important example to us all. It was an act of respect for John and his mission, proving to his cousin, Jesus was the One he had preached about. But in addition, on this special occasion, something supernatural happened when the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus as the Messiah . This act empowered Jesus to start his mission.
After being baptised , Jesus was immediately now under the Holy Spirit’s direction. The Holy Spirit then led Jesus into the wilderness for the next part of the Messiahs preparation and Jesus’ life would never be the same again.
The Holy Spirit who transformed Jesus at his baptism, is the same the Holy Spirit who hears us reaching out in prayer each day . But it is because of the sacrifice Jesus made, that we can now call upon the Holy Spirit ourselves and we too can receive the guidance and gifts of Christ’s Holy Spirit.
Being Human Why did Jesus wait until he was 30 to start his mission? One answer could be because of family duties he had to undertake as head of the household. Jesus was a diligent, Jewish son so would have taken over the family business when Joseph died, as he was the first born child.
We know his parents went on to have more children as they are mentioned in the Gospels. This probably happened after Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth, after King Herod died. So the nearest sibling to Jesus would have been at least three years younger .
In Jewish Law , the next brother closest in age, was able to take over Jesus’ role when he was old enough. So eventually the day came whereby Jesus could hand over the reins and begin God’s work.
After being baptised by John the Baptist, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be alone. This was a very inhospitable place but Jesus knew he would not be disturbed there. It would have been hard to endure the intense heat of the daytime and the cold night’s, with wild animals roaming about. There is no doubt it would have been physically challenging for Jesus. But the Holy Spirit had led Jesus there for another purpose, the fully human Jesus was about to face the temptations of the devil.
“At this time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” Matthew 4. 1-2 After 40 days, Jesus would not only have been hungry but be suffering the affects of starvation at this point. We know humans will die after 3 or 4 days, without water but water is not mentioned so we can presume Jesus had a source. Maybe he took a goat skin full of water to keep him going, he would certainly have needed it to survive.
Hunger has hit the headlines over the past year and it has shocked people to learn about the high levels of food poverty in the UK. Thankfully, because of Marcus Rashford’s FSM Campaign, vulnerable children received their entitlement to food vouchers over the holidays. The campaign was successful twice last year, in the summer and Christmas holidays, ensuring 2 million children received one healthy meal a day. But the fight goes on to feed our nation’s estimated 4 million socially disadvantaged children. So what can we do to help? Keep topping up the food bank donation point this Lent.