This text focuses on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Chronologically, Jesus has been baptized. His identity and vocation have been affirmed. Now he is led by the Spirit into the bleak Judean wilderness. Jesus is tested three times regarding making fast food, bungee jumping without a rope, just a little worship of the other team.
Each time Jesus responds to the temptation by quoting Scripture. The Scripture passages come from Deuteronomy (6:13, 6:16, 8:3). These are texts produced in another wilderness experience, the wanderings of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 6 begins with the declaration, the Shema: Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one (6:4). Each of Jesus’ temptations is an attempt to undercut this primary affirmation.
Jesus, the true Israel, is being tempted to walk away from his central identity and central calling. The devil seeks to distract and divert Jesus. It is an attempt to take the easy route rather than a path that will leads to servanthood, suffering and the cross. Each time, Jesus resists the temptation, and with that resistance shouts: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and strength. Jesus knows who he is. Jesus knows that his ministry will lead to suffering and the cross. There is no easy way.
Henri Nouwen makes this text live in his book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. Nouwen sees these three incidents as temptations to be relevant, and spectacular, and powerful. In Jesus’ resistance we are shown a different way. The church continues to struggle with these temptations today. The North American church wrestles to remain faithful and counter cultural. The temptation in the church is still—to be relevant, meeting “felt needs,” to be spectacular and entertaining, and to be powerful, making the gospel a weapon of force.
The church historically has honored saints and martyrs, people who have let go of their lives for the sake of others. In our day, we have tendencies to honor celebrities. Some practices of the church might raise concern: worship as passive but splashy entertainment, video venue worship starring the very popular and powdered preacher, need based evangelism that conveniently forgets ministry to the poor and the marginalized, using the Bible as a bat to push agendas that might be more political than biblical. Bryan Stone in Evangelism after Christendom notes that saints and martyrs more than revivalists and megachurch pastors are the exemplars of evangelistic virture (p. 282). In a celebrity-rich culture, this should cause us to pause, reflect, and maybe repent.
The call on the church, as we live at the margins, in the wilderness, remains the same–to die to self, to love God with all of our heart, soul and strength.