Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Reflection We’ve got a few weeks to go yet before the start of Lent, at which point this reading is traditionally the focus. In Lent, the forty days and forty nights that Jesus endured are seen as being re-enacted in our lives, in the run up to our marking of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Reflecting on this passage outside Lent comes as a reminder that the experience of wilderness, testing and fasting are not only something we enter into during one part of the Christian year, but can be part of our daily living.
We can face bleak and barren times in which we’re not sure which way to turn. We can feel tested, by the world around us, and sometimes even by family and friends, and be unsure as to how to respond. We can see those who are literally in a wilderness, of homelessness and as refugees.
Jesus’ fasting was part of his freeing of himself from all that might have weighed him down, in order to face the even bigger temptations that were going to come his way, in his struggle with the Devil.
He faced the temptation of seeing physical food on its own as all that mattered, rather than the spiritual and emotional and mind-filling food that comes from God’s word as the food that gives life in all its wholeness.
He faced the temptation of testing God in order to find an answer to his problems, rather than putting his life into God’s hands and waiting to see what God would ask of him.
He faced the temptation of worshipping someone other than God, rather than the worship and service of God being the way to the fullness of life.
As we wrestle with all that tempts us today, let us engage again with Jesus’ wrestling, and see once more what it really is that God offers us at the heart of life, for ourselves and for all God’s people.
Prayer Loving and gracious God, as you were with Jesus in his wrestling in the wilderness, be with us in our times of wrestling today. Help us to see the food that you offer in your word. May we place our lives in your hands and follow where you lead. May our worship of you be at the heart of each day, leading us out into boldly living in your way in a troubled world. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Elizabeth Welch, retired minister, active ecumenically and theologically, member at St Andrews URC, Ealing.