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Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. But he answered, “It is written
‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, 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 I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
Last week’s post on the baptism of Jesus emphasized the new life that comes through humility. I’m going to spend a few weeks on the story above, because it brilliantly conveys the struggle we each face when trying to build that new life, to start on a new path.
(Remember, the point of this newsletter isn’t to convince you that the devil exists, or even that the events depicted here in these stories actually happened. Rather, we’re just seeking the wisdom available to us in Jesus’ life and teaching.)
How many times have you tried to change your life? How many times has your life actually, significantly changed? Are you still on that new path?
I’ve tried many times. Some attempts have stuck, and my life’s better as a result. Other attempts I’d rather forget, even as I’m reminded regularly of these struggles. Each time, though, I find that my resolve is immediately confronted by the forces of fear and inertia. It’s why there are a zillion books on keeping your resolutions, how to make habits stick, take control of your life, beat your phone addiction, etc.
Simply put, there’s no easy way to change. Even when I embrace the new life available to me, I can be certain that the temptation to stay the same will be profound. A new path is uncertain, risky.
The story today depicts Jesus himself facing three temptations: turn stones into wine; fling himself to certain death and command angels to save him; bow down and worship the devil.
In some ways, this first temptation is the easiest to understand. After all, Jesus had been fasting in the wilderness (some translations use the word “desert”) for 40 days. Why not just break the fast? What’s the point of being so hard on yourself?
Well, as Jesus says later in this book, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Willing … to do what? Too weak … for what task? For the work of changing yourself, your life. We crave comfort. We’re all uncomfortable with the unfamiliar, even when we know it’s a better place to be. Our bodies insist that we don’t upset things too much.
Jesus specifically sought out the temptation, and went to the wilderness—literally, the unknown and unfamiliar place—to find it. One simple truth here is that there’s no easy way to change your life, even when you have a vision of the new life that’s available. There will be temptation to go back to the familiar. To compromise, because what’s the point, really?
Jesus’ example suggests that the way through is to embrace the temptation we know is coming. To seek it out, on our own terms—empowered by that vision of new life—so that we aren’t caught off guard when confronting it.
- What temptations do you expect to encounter as you seek to change your life?
- How will you resist them?