Luke 4:1-13

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. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “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, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you’,
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

It’s likely that when Luke names Jesus’ time of fasting and temptation as lasting forty days he is calling to mind for his hearers the forty years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. Wilderness, in the Bible, is often a place of trial, of testing, of temptation. It is always a struggle; it can be purifying.

What grabs my attention in addition to this detail is the character of the temptations themselves. Each, in one way or another, names the temptation to give up on God, to come to believe that God is not sufficient to meet one’s needs. And it’s not that this isn’t a reasonable temptation. That is, there are times when, in fact, our needs – emotional, physical, and more – are not met. Does that, however, demand a shift in allegiance? Does it necessitate the conclusion that God does not care?

This is the constant theme of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness. Deprivation, hardship, isolation – again and again these lead Israel to question the trustworthiness of God.

It is also a theme of the “original” temptation, and I suspect that since Luke has just traced Jesus’ ancestry all the way back to Adam we are invited to make this connection. The old temptation and this new one are related. Note, for instance, that in the Genesis 3 narrative “the tempter” does not necessarily mislead Adam and Eve. They do not, in fact, die when they eat the forbidden fruit. Rather, he sows mistrust. “Did God really say,….” “That’s not true; God knows….” These statements engender mistrust. What else does God not tell, not share, with Adam and Eve? What else is God withholding?

In each of the three temptations Jesus endures, the same seed of mistrust is present. You may go hungry. You need a better protector. Prove for yourself that God is trustworthy. And in each case Jesus asserts confidence in God’s presence and promise by turning to Scripture.

Which is the dynamic thrust of this passage, I think. Many have drawn attention to Jesus’ use of Scripture, inviting us to respond to life’s challenges by remembering or quoting Bible verses. And I think there’s something to that. But I wonder if it’s not simply that Jesus quotes Scripture to deflect temptation but that Jesus finds in Scripture the words to give voice to his trust.

Can we, too, read the Bible this way – not so much looking for tips and tricks to a better life, not so much as a moral guidebook or theological check list, but rather as the story of the people of God that still has the capacity to give us words to express our trust, our hope, our faith…and our despair, our fear, and our doubt?

Jesus did; maybe we can, too.

Prayer: Dear God, remind us of your promises and lend us the words to bare our hearts to you and to each other. In Jesus’ name, Amen.