Over this Epiphanytide, we have heard about who Jesus is, how his true nature was revealed to the world, from his Baptism by John, through to his revealing of his divinity in the Transfiguration.
The point of today’s gospel is another revealing, but more about how than who.
We also meet another character, the devil.
He too reveals himself as he really is.
Not as evil personified, but more a tempter, a giver of options.
The way the two interact over these three scenes reveals much about Jesus Messiahship, and the devil’s methods and role in the divine economy.
The conversation between these two also reveals much to us about both their roles in our lives.
Jesus has just been baptised by John, and now led by the Spirit, goes out into the wilderness. We have to assume that this time is one of great contemplation and meditation for Jesus. He has been in deep communion with the Father. He has been learning of his mission.
He is tempted by the devil.
In the three temptations, he offers Jesus choices.
All of the choices actually seem ok, if not downright reasonable.
But the way Jesus deals with them shows what his communion with the father in the wilderness had taught him about his mission.
The devil said to him,
"If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become a loaf of bread."
If you are the Son of God.
The devil is trying to just break in the tiniest amount of doubt. It is all he needs. He can’t work with 100% certainty here, but he only needs 0.1% to wriggle his way into consciousness. His starting point is self doubt.
command this stone to become a loaf of bread
Now this is not unreasonable. Jesus has been starving for 40 days. He would be very hungry.
And we know that Jesus will multiply loaves of bread to feed 5000 later on.
If Jesus were to do this, people would gather around him, he would have an instant following.
"It is written,
'One does not live by bread alone.'"
It is not the time for eating.
Jesus time in the wilderness is to hear the will of the Father.
When Jesus does provide food as a miracle, it is not for himself, but for others.
It is done in compassion for those others who are hungry, not for his own cause.
The temptation to “do” a miracle is rejected.
It would have been an easy way to gain followers, but Jesus’ time in communion with the Father has shown him that love is the way of the mission.
Then the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world.
He says he can give all of these to Jesus, he has the authority to do so, but only if Jesus will worship him.
What the devil is offering Jesus is the Kingdom of David, but as the whole world.
This is what the Messiah was supposed to achieve.
Scripture had told the Israelites this is what would occur.
The devil is crafty.
He is offering Jesus exactly what everyone expected of him.
This was surely his mission, and here it was, his for the taking.
But Jesus has heard otherwise.
What he has heard is that this is not the will of the Father, but the will of the people.
The temptation here can be seen as “the old way.”
That was the will of God, but since the incarnation, things have changed.
What was expected will now happen in a different way.
Then the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem, to the top of the Temple.
He quotes scripture to Jesus about how God will protect him if were to throw himself from the top.
'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
If he is truly the Messiah, there is no way he will fall to the ground.
God will save him.
The temple would be filled with people, all would witness this divine miracle, and Jesus would have an easy time of securing a devoted following.
Glory and recognition.
But Jesus knows his mission will end differently.
His time in Jerusalem is not one of glory and recognition.
In his passion, he will experience rejection, shame, and humiliation.
This is the way of the Messiah.
These temptations show us how Jesus will go about his mission, about what the Messiah will be.
But they also show us how the devil works. They show us how temptation works in our lives.
The temptations Jesus faces aren’t evil in themselves.
But they are easy way out options. They are quick fix.
All of them would get the job done. All of them would reveal Jesus as the Messiah of expectation. They would all give him an instant following. But, they all do it in a way that is not right.
This is how the devil works. He tempts with an option that will get the desired result, but ultimately will go against what we are trying to achieve.
Most temptation works in this way. It is the easy way. it is the way that lets something get passed as “good enough.” Once done, it is easier to do again. And so on.
This is how the devil and temptation work most often.
By offering an easy way, a way of cutting corners.
The way to avoid such a temptation is the same way Jesus did. By listening to God’s will in our lives, we can hear the temptations for what they are.
And if we are strong, prayerful, and filled with the spirit, we can almost be grateful for them.
Because it is often by seeing the wrong way that the right way becomes clear.