Luke XVI: Lk. 4:1-14
Last week we looked at what temptation is, and why the Spirit led Jesus and sometimes leads us into the wilderness to be tested. This week, we look more closely at the three particular temptations the devil presents to Jesus and why it should be encouraging to know this part of the gospel.
The Three Temptations
We might summarize the three temptations under the headings: food, glory, and life. Or what John describes as the “love of the world” – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:15-16). Or we might summarize them all under the question: Who are you really? Temptation is always rooted in contrasting what we think our identity is with what our circumstances seem to be. The devil says that if Jesus really is the son of God he should prove it in some way (Lk. 4:3,9). But the unspoken converse is also part of the temptation: If Jesus really is the son of God what is he doing starving in the wilderness? This is what we mean when we ask: Why is this happening to me? God just said that Jesus was His “beloved son” at his baptism (Lk. 3:22), but that identity doesn’t seem to match the circumstances. When we don’t think our circumstances match who we are or what we deserve, we are doubting God’s “good pleasure” in us. In the in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve believed the lie of the devil that God was withholding some of His goodness from them (Gen. 3:4). Jesus is the new Adam, and He doesn’t doubt.
The Desire of the Flesh
The flesh in the Bible is not literal flesh, but represents all of our sinful desires, habits, and appetites (Gal. 5:16-21). These are cravings for food, pleasure, respect, friendship that have enslaved us, have become our greatest loves. Here, Jesus is on the verge of starvation and the devil suggests that He prove that He is the son of God by turning a stone into bread (Lk. 4:3). When a human being doesn’t eat, the body begins to eat itself, usually focusing on fat first but also eventually muscle which can cause heart failure and many die from secondary causes resulting from a severely weakened immune system. This test was not merely a spiritual/moral test, it was a physical test as well. But Jesus answers this temptation like He does the others with Scripture, saying, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone” (Lk. 4:4). It’s not random scripture that He cites, but He clearly understands where He is in the story of Scripture. The Bible is not just a series of aphorisms; it’s a story and when the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness (where Israel was also tempted), He clings to God’s word about that part of the story: “the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you… And he let you hunger… that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone…” (Dt. 8:2-3). Jesus knows where He is in the story, and when the devil suggests that things have gone wrong, Jesus clings to God’s word. In fact, being tested is not evidence against his sonship because in the same place it is also written: “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you” (Dt. 8:5).
The Desires of the Eyes
In the Bible, the eyes are associated with judgment and power (Lk. 6:39-42, 11:34-36). The eyes are related to our innate desire for glory. We use our eyes to evaluate and draw conclusions, and we do that either with wisdom and honesty or else with selfish ambition and greed. Here, the devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment in time if Jesus will just worship him (Lk. 4:5-7). Great prophecies had been made about Jesus, that He would be given the throne of David and reign over the house of Jacob forever (Lk. 1:32-33). Surely God didn’t want His Messiah to die in the wilderness, did He? But Jesus again clings to Scripture: “It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Lk. 4:8). This is taken from Dt. 6:13, and again the context is God’s promise to give Israel the land of Canaan (cf. Dt. 6:10-11). Did God give Israel Canaan? Perhaps Jesus also remembered David who was anointed king but spent years on the run from Saul. Did God give the kingdom to David? It’s not that the fruit of the tree was evil, but Adam and Eve saw that it was “a delight to the eyes” and could “make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). The problem was that they refused to wait. It’s not that Jesus didn’t want to be king. But Jesus refused to serve anyone besides God to get there (Dt. 6:13). He trusted His Father to give Him the nations (Ps. 2:7-8). He trusted all the way to a Roman cross inscribed with the words: “This is the King of the Jews” (Lk. 23:38).
Pride of Life
Lastly, the pride of life summarizes our sinful desire to be at the center, to be the greatest, to be gods. Jesus does not reject our desire for greatness, but He insists that true greatness comes through selfless service and sacrifice – not pride, not self-centeredness (Lk. 22:25-27). Suicide is one of the most selfish acts a human being can commit, and it is rooted in despair of greatness. Here, the devil suggests that Jesus force God’s hand, force God to prove He is His beloved son (Lk. 4:9). The devil has a verse ripped from Psalm 91 as a proof text. Which just goes to show you that that devil is a theologian and bible student. The psalm itself might present enough rope to hang the devil with, but Jesus continues to cling tenaciously to His text in Deuteronomy 6. In His answer, Jesus situates Himself in the story of Israel coming out of Egypt complaining and testing God saying that it sure looked like God was bringing them out of Egypt to kill them with thirst (Ex. 17:1-7). This matches our suspicion that the devil is trying to get Jesus to despair. But Jesus refuses to tempt the Lord in this way, and He refuses all the way to another high place, where He still refuses to leap: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk. 23:46).
This story is relevant because Jesus faces our enemy. The problem of sin goes unreasonably deep. All other attempts to explain evil ultimately fail. The Bible says that evil comes from deep within our race, and it was instigated by a being who prowls, who tempts, who seeks to kill and destroy. But Jesus came that we might have life. This story is preeminently relevant if we care about the existence of evil. The genealogy of Jesus shows He is a new Adam, a new Israel, reversing our story, giving us a new identity. His victory over the devil is not primarily a great example. Rather, it is good news. He resisted the devil because we don’t, because we haven’t.