The baptism of Jesus began the unveiling of the divided Kingdom that once stood united – the Kingdom of God which include both heaven and earth. Jesus’ baptism points to the spiritual reality just beyond our senses that we cannot see with the naked eye. We can only comprehend this Kingdom of God with God’s intervention that has been made available through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The divided Kingdom of God becomes more clearly defined in the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness/desert. The earthly dominion stands in clear contrast to the Kingdom of God.
The Voice of God: Before Jesus enters his wilderness/desert experience, he first hears the voice of God as affirming and uplifting: “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was well established prior to coming into temptation. Let us remember that God, not Satan, is the one who takes the initiative in leading Jesus into the time of trial in the wilderness/desert. God tempts no one (James 1.13-14). Because Jesus overcame we can stand confident and in complete assurance that we can face our own struggles, whether in complete healing on this side of heaven or in grace and mercy through the suffering.
The Voice of Temptation: Satan is Jesus’ arch-nemesis who reigns over the kingdom of this world (1 Corinthians 2.12). Satan is a real entity (Job 1-2), not a figment of Jesus’ imagination, who has a real conversation with Jesus. Satan is the devil who “whispers plausible lies” as N.T. Wright calls them (Luke for Everyone, 41-45). The deceit of Satan is that he is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (all-present), and omnipotent (all-powerful). But he in fact is ubiquitous, having only the appearance of such qualities. He’s a fake. Temptation sounds like a voice in your own head, or a thought that flitters across your mind that is not something you would naturally think about. Because Satan has had years of experience dealing with the fallen nature of humanity, the voice is often seems personal and intimate. The voice of temptation may make a lot of sense, and even be attractive. It is the same voice that Jesus heard in the wilderness/desert, and Jesus cut him down through the power of the Spirit, prayerful fasting, and Scripture. Surely, we learn through our experience with temptation and evil that “entertaining thoughts of temptation” or “arguing with it” or “justifying our actions” or “manipulating the circumstances in our own head” only leads to the sin becoming too irresistible. There’s a learning curve with temptation. The tactics of the devil can be hard to distinguish! He uses doubles, look-alikes, camouflage, smoke, and mirrors. His aim is seduction.
The Old Testament Connection: There are three Old Testament stories that point out truth in the text. First, the voice of temptation came first in the garden when Eve and Adam (Genesis 3). This voice that Jesus wrestled with in the wilderness/desert is not a new experience. Eve was challenged with this encounter in the very beginning of time, and it was in the garden that temptation fell the hearts of humanity. Indeed, the temptation that came to Eve then Adam was irresistible to them. But Jesus was able to resist! Second, we can read in the book of Job that Satan is a real spiritual entity who has dominion over the earth (Job 1-2). And, the earthly dominion is given to Satan by God himself in what seems to be a battle between good and evil. This relationship between God and Satan is ancient to be sure (1 Chronicles 21.1, Zech. 3). Satan is not a new creature in heaven or earth. And, we see that God is in charge of Satan’s mischief. Third, Satan offers Jesus bread after a long 40-day fast in the wilderness. Surely, this points back to the 40 days that Moses spent on the Mount with God (Deut. 9.9, 32.49, 34.1-3) as well as the Israelite’s struggle with other temptations in the wilderness/desert for 40 years. The Israelites fought idolatry and hunger within their own souls. It took Israel 40 years to have their hearts tested and humbled in the wilderness/desert (Deut. 8.2).
Jesus as our Model: When we pay attention to Jesus as our model, we can observe that the first temptation came through bodily needs. Jesus was hungry. For us food, shelter and clothing – and the comforts of home – often become a distraction to our devotion to God. When we think about Jesus personal needs, food is really about creature comforts.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone.’” (Luke 4.1-4)
When we pay attention to Jesus as our model, we can observe that the second temptation came through his vocation. When Adam and Eve fell into sin for the first time, the result of that fall was that Adam would toil the soil and Eve would strive to find a mate (Gen. 3). However, our original vocation is to worship God alone – not toiling the soil or striving for a mate. When Jesus is confronted with the second temptation, Jesus refuses power and authority to rule over himself and others deferring to worship the Lord God and serve him only. Jesus had to decide from where his power and authority would be derived from – God or himself.
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4.5-8)
When we pay attention to Jesus as our model, we can observe that the third temptation came through the fear of dying. It is a natural result of the fall of humanity to fear death, and fear facing God after our death. Many will attempt to managing this fear by “redesigning” who God is (heresy) or creating their own view of God (agnostic, atheist, idolatry). Choosing how we view God helps us to deal with our fear of death. Jesus was not afraid to die believing in the One True God. When we are faced with life and death decisions, we attempt to reason our way through it. We want a way out of suffering and death.
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4.9-12)
When we pay attention to Jesus as our model, we can observe that the devil began with the temptations directly after his baptism in the Holy Spirit and his call to ministry. But the temptations did not stop at the initial temptations, but continued on until his death. Jesus was challenged left and right by the religious leaders in hopes that Jesus would self-incriminate, prematurely step into his calling, thus making him appear as a false messiah to be sure. When we follow in Jesus footsteps, then we must pay attention to these same temptations in our lives.
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4. 13)
To be sure Jesus is our model for defeating the enemy of our soul and it all began in his obedient baptism at which time he was filled with the Spirit of God. And, Jesus was lead into the wilderness to have his soul tried in obedience to the will of God. It was at his baptism that he heard the voice of God, and it was in the wilderness that he needed to discern the voice of his enemy – the devil. He was successful in defeating his enemy in part because he was able to discern the difference in the voices. But he also needed command of the Scriptures. He did not possess the text as we have it today in an easy access form; he possessed the text within himself. And, he knew how to weld the Scriptures well. Jesus even takes time to teach his disciples in prayer to resist temptation: “Father… lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11.2-4). If Jesus’ only formal teaching on prayer includes this line on temptation, we should take it pretty seriously.
Purposeful Temptation: It seems that God has his own purpose in the trials and testing of our personhood – the purity of our souls. Trials prove our unswerving commitment to God, and willingness to serve obediently. Our moral readiness and our character development prepare us to face the challenges this world has to offer us. It is through temptation, testing, and trial that we are prepared for the more difficult decision-making tasks in our lives. When we resist the temptation and evil, we suffer in our flesh. Temptation is real, and requires a choice and an effort to overcome. When metal is tested, it is not simply observed on the outside but must be melted down to see what’s on the inside of the metal. Our sinful behavior is inevitable but not necessary, when we learn to be endued with the power of the Holy Spirit. We have been given a great freedom: the freedom of choice. We have the choice to choose the “fullness of being and doing good all the time” in our mind, will, emotions, spirit, and body. We also have the choice to resist both good and evil by degrees. The definition between Sinner and Saint is a thin line. Both know the nature of temptations in their daily lives, the sinner chooses to yield to the sin but the saint chooses to persevere. The temptation most prevalent in Scripture is pride, not sensuality. Temptation appears good. Our fallen human nature is drawn in and our free will must respond. Temptation comes first in the form of a suggestion then it progresses to the imagination until finally it reaches consent and you have sinned. With Jesus as our model, we can see how Jesus chose the way out in all of his temptations. Often times the way out is through suffering and discomfort, test and trial, which lead to character ethical and moral development. When we allow the overcoming Christ to live within us we can suffer and die to ourselves.
Overcoming Temptation with our Baptismal vows: Within our baptismal vows are 5 key tools that can help each one of us overcome temptation. The Spirit of God transforms our fallen nature to be born again into the image of Jesus. The Spirit of God aids us in discerning the voice of right from the voice of wrong. First, we must renounce wickedness, reject evil, and repent of sin. There’s a child’s story – We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – that that I often chant when I am in times of trouble. In the book a family is going on an adventure and they struggle through various obstacles – tall grass, water, muddy swamp, forest, and into a cave where they find themselves chased out by a bear. The troubles they face along the way could not be avoided – and they realize: can’t go over it; can’t go under it; oh, no, they have to go through it. That’s much the same when we face our own troubles – oh, no, we’ve got to go through it!
Second, we must choose by our own free will to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. When temptation comes from our fallen nature, we need to confess and acknowledge temptation. When we are tempted, our will is in a struggle against evil. We must make good choices by turning from any wrongdoing by a conscious choice, “I choose…” Temptation comes to twist what is good – giving it the appearance of being good. Then we need to stand strong by resisting the devil and he will flee from you (James 4.7)! We must choose to persevere through the temptations, trials, and troubles. The Andy Griffith character Barney Fife would say, “Nip it in the bud.”
Third, we must confess Jesus as your Savior and plead the blood of Jesus. We need to acknowledge our salvation in Jesus alone through the cross by pleading the blood of Jesus over our lives. Fourth, we must keep connected to the church in worship, discipleship, and accountability. Accountability is essential to keep our hearts clean and clear from temptation. A trusted friend is essential for our success in times of temptation. Last, we must profess the Christian faith as believed in both the Old and New Testaments. It is essential to know the Word of God deeply. An easy way to remember what we believe in the Apostle’s Creed. Each line can serve to strengthen us in times of trial. Now you have some great tools in your tool belt to keep you safe in times of temptation!