The devil took Jesus up on a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms on earth and their power. The devil said to him, “I will give all this to you, if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus answered, “Go away Satan! The Scriptures say:
‘Worship the Lord your God
and serve only him.’”
and serve only him.’”
It is at our most vulnerable time that the devil swoops in and offers his demonic delights for us to consider. We call it “temptation.” Indeed, it can be quite tempting to entertain ways of getting what we need and want through means other than God.
In the desert, the place of preparation for ministry, Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days. If ever there was a time when Jesus would be vulnerable to alternative religion, it would be now. Then, the devil tempted him with three whoppers he thought would get to Jesus for sure. Having tempted Jesus with food and a way to fame, and failed, Satan gave his final temptation.
To us this temptation to bow down and worship Satan is a no-brainer. Of course, no one would do such a thing as this, especially Jesus. He didn’t. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t tempting. It was. Jesus knew very well what was ahead of him. He had just spent 40 days in an intense orientation for three years of hard ministry with an end being tortuous death.
Satan was picturing for Jesus a different path. Jesus could have it all without the three years, without the hard slugging to communicate that the kingdom of God has come. Most of all, Jesus could circumvent the cross and establish his rule over all the earth. The temptation, yes, was very tempting. Become King Jesus now with no suffering.
This has always been one our great temptations as well: Take the easy path. Get what you want, what you deserve, now, with no hardship.
The values of God’s kingdom include trust, patience, and perseverance. Temptation insists we don’t need them to be successful. Satan is the original slickster, marketing his quick and easy wares for people to buy into the notion that life can lived without pain and hardship, and with wild success right now. The scary thing about it is that Satan can deliver… but it will cost us. Slavery to sin is the price we pay for hitching our hopes to quick and easy.
Lent is a time for the slow, patient, deliberate development of the soul in attachment with the Lord Jesus. It’s hard engaging in spiritual disciplines. It’s difficult fasting and praying. Growing in Christ is slow and takes a great deal of learned perseverance. Far too many of us are tempted to circumvent the hard work of discipleship and simply have a spiritual professional distill everything we need into one hour on Sunday morning. Or, we create our own religious practice and beliefs, picking and choosing what fits our lifestyle, as if it’s about convenience instead of worship.
Christ was able to face down temptation because the desert strengthened him. Yes, he was vulnerable. But he was not weak. If we want to handle temptation, it will take Lent to help us. It will take the desert to spiritually form us and prepare us for godly ministry that puts the devil in his place.
Lord Jesus, you are the king of all creation. Just as you chose the hard path of God’s kingdom, so help me to persevere with faith and patience. May my life reflect your words and ways, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.