Reflections on the Temptation of Jesus

Temptation of Jesus

I have been reading the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness as told by Matthew 4v1–11 today, and have been finding Tom Wright’s discussion of the passage1 really helpful.

The whispering voice of Satan in this passage comes hot off the heals of God’s acclamation that “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). It strikes me that this was for Satan the number 1 opportunity to scupper the plans of God by causing Jesus to stumble. Spiritual warfare doesn’t get any more intense than this… So what does Satan throw at him? Ouiji Boards? Wiccan Witches? Demons? A Harry Potter novel? No. Jesus’ battle was to submit even his most basic needs (like hunger) before his Father as an offering. Satan tempted him with success and significance, survival and safety. "These suggestions are all ways of distorting [Jesus’] true vocation: the vocation to be a truly human being, to be God’s person, to be a servant to the world and to other people.”2

The big question for Jesus, then, was what kind of Son of God would he be? His answer is clear: he would be the kind of Son who did the will of his Father; The kind of Son who laid all that he was to the service of the Father; The kind of Son that would only do what his Father was doing; He would be the kind of Son that that would make himself vulnerable enough to trust his Father completely, even with his very basic of needs. To quote Tom Wright:3

He is committed to loving and serving God alone. The flesh may scream for satisfaction; the world may beckon seductively; the devil himself may offer undreamed-of power; but Israel’s loving God, the one Jesus knew as father, offered the reality of what it meant to be human, to be a true Israelite, to be the Messiah.

This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus would face the tempter in various guises: protesting to him, through his closest associate, that he should change his mind about going to the cross (Matt 16:23); mocking him, through the priests and bystanders, as he hung on the cross (Matt 27:39–43, again with the words ‘if you are God’s son’).4 The parallels between our passage and the taunts hurled at Jesus on the cross are no linguistic fluke. "When Jesus refused to go the way of the tempter he was embracing the way of the cross.”5

So what about me? When I fast, I am faced with some very base choices and temptations. Voices whisper in my head that this is all silly, a meaningless exercise, a needless experiment in self-deprivation. Yet in choosing to deny these whispers, I am choosing to remind myself of how often I give in to the other whispers in my life. They are intended to distract me from my calling and vocation to be a servant of God. I choose as I fast to let my body echo my true desire (albeit often well hidden) to win the battle against Satan that wages in my mind over the subtler temptations I give into daily. For in choosing to give into these, I know that I am allowing my true vocation to be distorted, to allow myself to get distracted, turning aside from the path of servanthood to which I am commissioned.

Yet this commissioning is often a simpler process than I like to imagine. I recognise that my own reliance on God is often more about big picture stuff rather than a daily reliance on him. I have a tendency to always be looking at the ‘big picture’ of where God is taking me in life and what God is doing, at the expense of what he is asking me to do right now. It takes a lot of my spiritual energy. As I fast, I am being painfully taught the need for a daily reliance on God. Focussing on what God wants me to do today – not tomorrow, next year or in a decade – today.

I recognise more and more that the trajectory of my life, expressed in the daily conscious and unconscious decisions that I make, is in need of continual realignment to the plans and purposes of God.

God has a costly but wonderfully glorious vocation for each of us. The enemy will do everything possible to distract us and thwart God’s purpose.6

What kind of child of God am I? Am I the kind of child that trusts God to meet my needs? The kind of child that trusts that when the Father says he’ll give me good gifts, that he’ll give me just that, and not a scorpion or a rock?

What I do know, is that I’m trying to step towards God’s purposes. One day at a time.


  1. Wright, T., (2002) Matthew for Everyone, Part 1 Chapters 1 – 15, (SPCK: London)  ↩

  2. Wright (2002), p. 25  ↩

  3. Wright (2002), p. 25  ↩

  4. Wright (2002), p. 26  ↩

  5. Wright (2002), p. 26  ↩

  6. Wright (2002), p. 26  ↩

A Phoney War?

… I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway…

Hitler warning

… I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Romans 7:19-25 NLT

In September 1939 Britain found itself at war with Germany, yet neither side had committed to launching a significant attack, and there was relatively little fighting on the ground. We were really at war, but the reality of war in all its horror hadn’t hit home yet. This was the situation right up until the Battle of France in May 1940, and was called ‘the phoney war’.

Yet this is not my situation, and it is not the situation the world finds itself in today. I am often challenged by how little the wars that are taking place in the world impact on me. If I think about the wars we as a nation are currently engaged in (Iraq, Afghanistan) they have very little impact on my day-to-day existence because I don’t have any close relationships with any of its participants. Gaza is an equally shocking world situation at the moment – I watch the news and am moved with compassion by what is taking place there – yet this ‘compassion’ seems only to move me to weak and feeble prayers. It doesn’t seem to intersect with my life in any concrete way. The reality is that there are significant attacks taking place, but if you looked at my life you’d be forgiven for thinking that the wars being waged by my countrymen are ‘phoney’.

Within me, I am aware that there is a war being waged between my flesh and my true, Christ-like self. Yet very often I continue my life as if it doesn’t really impact on me at all. I am spiritually numb – to the extent that I can continue with my life relatively unaffected by this battle that rages within me.

The war that rages within my soul is not a phoney war. The devastation it causes in my life though, when I allow the enemy to get the upper hand, is often that of apathy and a spiritual bluntness. If I allow this to continue for any period of time, it can deaden me to the things of God and decrease my capacity for God. When I fast from food as a sign to God that I want my physical hunger to become for me a spiritual hunger, I find that I get headaches. Often this is the side of fasting that I find most difficult to cope with. They get in the way of my ability to pray with any coherence, or read with any clarity of thought. They rob me of my ability to focus on the task in hand. Yet these headaches serve as a physical reminder of the war being waged within me. What my true self wants, my flesh is determined to frustrate. I usually don’t need headaches to distract me from God – other things do the job with far less strain – the internet, computer games, reading…. The list could go on and on. I don’t usually suffer from headaches. Yet when I am fasting, these headaches bring to the forefront a war that I am often only aware of at the very edges of my consciousness. The headaches help me to see my life for what it truly is, to see myself for what I truly am.

two-faced

If I am living day-to-day in blissful ignorance of this war then my discipleship to Jesus needs realignment. I need to get closer to Him, close enough to get covered in the dust of my rabbi. I want my heart to be broken for what breaks His heart – for that is the true fast that He requires (Isaiah 58:6-8).