And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” (Luke 4: 1-4)
One of the most powerful explanations of sin and its origins I’ve ever read is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC 397).
Take a moment to let that sink in. The beauty of this explanation is that, while it does not deny or even diminish the reality we all know to be true (that sin is disobedience and an abuse of our freedom), it roots that disobedience in a deeper current of our hearts with which we are all far too familiar: a lack of trust in the goodness of God—that despite all the promises of Scripture, we fear that somehow the life that God wants for us is less desirable, less abundant than the life we could make for ourselves.
It also helps us to see that sometimes the most destructive sins in our lives are not the ones that are easily recognizable by society, but the far more subtle sins of distrust by which, rather than surrendering to the timing and provision of God, we make our own ways and seek to satisfy our own desires, and even seek to flee the seasons of wilderness through which He, in His goodness, leads us. They are destructive precisely because they are most likely to go unnoticed. And yet they wound the very relationship with God for which we are made, and in which we find true life.
It is with this understanding that I want to approach today’s passage because, as countless scholars have noted, the temptation in which Satan challenges Jesus to prove he is the Son of God by turning the stones into bread is about far more than simply satisfying his hunger after forty days of fasting. It is about far more, even, than prioritizing his physical needs over the spiritual. It is, at its core, a temptation to exercise his freedom and power as the Son of God by satisfying his own desires and needs in his own time and by his own means, rather than surrendering wholly to the will of the Father.
Notice that Luke begins this passage by mentioning the Holy Spirit twice:
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days.” (emphasis added)
It is a subtle detail, but it flags for us two fundamental concepts underlying this passage:
- The intimate connection between Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and his baptism, where the Holy Spirit descended upon him and he was declared the Son of God and
- The influence of that same Spirit on Jesus’ actions. He is not in the wilderness arbitrarily, nor even in spite of the fact that He is the Son of God. He is there precisely because He is the Son of God, and his faithfulness in this and the other two temptations is the means by which He lives out that Sonship.
The importance of this becomes even clearer when we take into consideration the emphasis placed by all three Synoptic Gospel writers on the fact that he had been in the wilderness for forty days. It is a number that evokes several key moments in Israel’s history, all of which lie in the background of Jesus’ time in the wilderness: the forty days Moses fasted before receiving the Law (Jesus came to fulfill the Law), the forty days Elijah spent without food on his way to Horeb (He is the prophet of prophets), but most importantly for our purposes, the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness. Look closely and you will see that all three areas in which Jesus is tempted are the very same areas that the Israelites (who were called to be the son of God) were also tested but failed during their time in the wilderness (Ex 17:1-7; Deut 9:6-29; ch Acts 7:35, 39-43). And all three of Jesus’ responses to Satan in these temptations come from Deuteronomy 6-8, where these temptations are treated.
Tying this all together it becomes clear that there is far more at stake here than simply a piece of bread. Literally everything is at stake–his entire mission as the Son of God–and it is in his fidelity in these areas that his Sonship is ultimately manifested for in him “the destiny of Israel was recapitulated and the divine purpose accomplished [for] he renders to God the obedience and trust that Israel failed to give.” (C.F. Evans)
Bread is such a minor thing, particularly for the one in whom all things were created. But Jesus’ resistance to Satan in this apparently minor detail demonstrates the most important aspect of his mission: his unwavering surrender and trust in the Father—to surrender so wholly to his will and his purpose, that he would not leave the wilderness until led by the Spirit to do so, nor would he abuse his divine gifts to make bread for himself by his own power.
What are the apparently “minor”—or perhaps even major—areas in your life in which the Father is calling you to surrender to his will and purpose? What are the ways in which you might be tempted to use your own freedom and capabilities to satisfy that desire or need in your own timing, rather than trust in His goodness and provision?
One of the most fundamental steps of living into our sonship and daughtership in Christ is to demonstrate the same unwavering trust we see Jesus exhibit in the wilderness by, likewise, determining not to fulfill our own desires in our own way or in our own time (however easily we might be able to do so), but rather to surrender our lives to his Kingdom, trusting in his provision, his timing, and above all His unfailing love.
For He that promised is faithful (Heb 10:23).
“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)