The First Temptation of Christ

I have mentioned Anne Rice’s novel Christ the Lord: the Road to Cana in a previous blog. The book is the second in a series of four historical novels on the life of Jesus told in the first person by Jesus Himself. Rice takes what we know about Jesus from the gospels and creates a fictional backstory that is both respectful and (usually) believable. The second novel centers on the fictional Avigail, a young woman who grows up in Nazareth… and who captures Jesus' heart. In the novel, Jesus wrestles with his desire to marry the woman he loves and raise a family. At the wedding feast of Cana, Jesus does more than just turn water into wine—he marries off Avigail and leaves with his disciples to walk the road that will lead to the cross. In the novel, Jesus handles the temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4, our reading for today) with relative ease compared his struggle over Avigail.

The temptation story in Matthew 4 is told in a very straightforward and non-dramatic way. If Jesus pauses or struggles with His choices here, Matthew doesn’t tell us. Satan presents his temptations, which seems pretty innocuous compared to some of the things that Satan tempts us with (stones into bread?). Jesus quotes scripture, flatly refuses Satan’s offer and then finally shoos him away. It’s not very dramatic.

No? Matthew says Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted.” The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation…” But here Jesus is specifically led into the desert to be tested when he is greatly weakened by a 40-day fast. I read a little too fast this morning, and it first looked like Matthew had said “he was hungry. The temper came to him…” Actually he said “tempter” as in Satan, but temper might work. I’m not at my best when I’m hungry, and neither here is Jesus. And yet He resists the onslaught of what must have been Satan’s best shot.

This temptation story should sound a little familiar. Remember the first temptation in Genesis 3? Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden that she should eat from the forbidden tree; he told Jesus in the wilderness that He should eat bread. Satan told Eve that she wouldn’t really die if she listened to him; Satan told Jesus that he wouldn’t die if he jumped off the Temple. He told Eve that she could become like God; He told Jesus He could rule over the world’s kingdoms. The temptations had to do with physical appetite, pride and power. We recognize those, right? Those are the ones Satan uses on us!

All of Satan’s temptations of Christ also had to do with Jesus’ identity. The first two actually begin with “If you are the Son of God…” Doesn’t that sound something like a taunt? Isn’t that the same thing Satan will say to Jesus on the cross through the Jewish leaders—“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt 27:40). Satan wants Jesus to either doubt who He is or to give in to Satan in an effort to prove who He is. But Jesus knew who He was, and that’s what allows him to overcome the temptation so powerfully. Jesus told Satan “No!” and Satan left Him.

Here’s a thought—maybe we would do better at resisting Satan’s temptations if we would at all times remember who we are!