17 February 2013

Luke 4:1-13

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (v. 1)


Just before this passage, Jesus has been baptized (Luke 3:21-22), the Holy Spirit has descended upon him, and he has heard, "You are my Son, the Beloved;  with you I am well pleased". The phrase "Son of God" was used for those anointed by God and particularly for the Messiah. Jesus has now gone into the desert alone for a period of fasting, prayer and preparation. This echoes Moses fasting for 40 days and nights before receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28).

Jesus, in his humanity, is tempted to doubt his calling by the repeated, "If you are the Son of God…" (vv. 3, 9). The unspoken taunt is 'Let's see you do the great deeds Moses and Elijah did, if the power of the Spirit of God is truly with you'. The second temptation recalls what Psalm 2:7-8 says about the one God anoints: "You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession."

Jesus is also tempted to use easier ways to carry out his mission. He could have relieved hunger and poverty, and won for himself all the followers he wanted. Through political and military power he could have forced people to accept his message. He could have convinced people by spectacular miracles. But such approaches would have distorted the relationship between humanity and God.

Christian history has seen these approaches fail. 'Rice Christians' remained 'converted' as long as there was food from the missionaries, while forced conversions and the mediaeval use of relics and 'miracles' undermined Christianity. Today there are still those who seek to win converts by promising prosperity, some who become millionaire TV stars on the back of 'miracle' working, and Christian factions who seek to gain political power so that they can impose their interpretation of biblical teaching. Jesus, however, opted for the more difficult and dangerous, but ultimately the most effective, way of love and self-sacrifice.

To Ponder

  • Have you ever been tempted to doubt your calling? How did you work through this?
  • It is easy to feel self-righteous because we don't succumb to temptations that trap others - perhaps because we don't have the opportunity or the daring to do them or they just don't appeal to us. What are the temptations that really challenge you?
  • What can you learn from the passage about the best way of carrying out God's mission in your community?

Bible notes author

Philip Sudworth

Philip has retired from a career in the education service. He is now kept busy by voluntary work with local children's charities.