Before He began his public ministry, the spirit drove Jesus out into the desert where He was tempted. I call this Jesus’ exorcism moment–the devil attempts to possess Him but Jesus will have none of this, driving the devil away from Him “for a while.”
It’s easy for us to listen to the evil forces in our lives rather than to what is best for us–which is what God wants whether or not we really can see that at the time. It is only in these desert places when all is stripped away that we are able to get in touch with what temptation really looks like and see it for what it is. Sometimes a good spiritual direction program can serve as a pseudo-desert, a place where we come away for awhile to see things stripped away from our own usual biases and experiences and where another can listen to our experience and provide guidance and support for our journey when we are inevitably led into temptation.
Jesus knew these temptations directly. The three we see in the synoptics include:
1) Putting one’s needs first (Luke 4:3): The Devil commands Him to turn the stones into bread—to satisfy His own need of hunger before anything else. I think I fall into this trap often. I often feel I need to have my alone time before I can listen to my wife when she needs to talk something out that’s happened to her during her workday, or even when I’m the one at fault and have offended her. As I write this blog entry I even know intimately that I am ignoring her in favor of writing this entry. How stupid of me and yet, how easy a temptation it is to fall into.
2) Seduction of power (Luke 4:5-7): The Devil suggests that He will give Jesus power over the whole world if He just worships him. Of course Jesus pushes the temptation aside, but I often think that it might have been hard for him to do this, knowing the cross was in his future–that he would not be able to change the hearts and minds of all of the world and that they in turn, would kill Him instead. I’m not sure how much I hunger for power in my own life but I certainly want to be liked by people. I don’t think I have an unhealthy attachment to this, after all, who doesn’t want to be liked? I also think I can see very clearly when my hope to be liked gets in the way of my work or ministry or something else more important. I also think I like to be respected a bit much and when I don’t feel respected by others that I have a hard time putting that aside.
3) Manipulating others (Luke 4: 9-11): The Devil finally asks Jesus to throw himself off the cliff and suggests that God will send angels to save Him. Jesus offers the response of not putting God to the test. Yeesh! I fall into this trap often. I want to see God’s work tangibly and have some confidence that God will care for me, especially in my own dark hours. I want things neat and easy and often life is very messy and obscure. Throwing one’s self from the cliff metaphorically is asking for this proof of God’s love for us. And God need not be tested, after all, God has already given us much–His very self on the cross.
What tempts you? What are the things that tie you down to your mat and keep you from really being the best you can be? Today let us pray that we can cast aside our temptations so that we can live more in freedom from them and discover what lies on the healthier side of our desires.