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 passage 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.”
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:
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’). 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.”
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.
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.