Sunday (March 1)
Jesus fasted and was tempted by the devil
Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:1-11
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, `He will give His angels charge of you,’ and `On their hands, they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God and he only shall you serve.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
Old Testament Reading: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
2:7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
3:1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.
Are you ready to follow the Lord Jesus and to go with him wherever he leads you? Jesus did not choose his own course or path in life but followed the will of his Father in heaven. After Jesus’ was baptized by John the Baptist at the River Jordan, he was led by the Spirit of God to withdraw into the wilderness of Judea – a vast desert wilderness that was mostly uninhabitable and full of danger. Danger from scorching heat by day and extreme cold at night, danger from wild animals and scorpions, plus the deprivation of food and scarcity of water.
Preparing mind, heart, and will to serve God
Why did Jesus choose such a barren, lonely place for a sustained period of prayer and fasting? Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us in their Gospel accounts that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Mark states it most emphatically: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12).
What compelled Jesus to seek solitude, away from his family and friends, for such a lengthy period? Was it simply a test to prepare him for his mission? Or did Satan want to lure him into a trap? The word tempt in English usually means to entice someone to do what is wrong or forbidden. The scriptural word used here also means test in the sense of proving and assessing someone to see if they are prepared and ready for the task at hand. We test flight pilots to see if they are fit to fly under all conditions, including times of adverse turbulence, storms, and poor visibility. In like manner, God tests his people to see if they are ready to follow and serve him without reservation or compromise.
Keeping God’s word and holding to his promises
On a number of occasions, God tested Abraham to prove his faith and to strengthen his hope in the promises that God made to him. Abraham obeyed willingly even when God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac, the son of promise. When the Israelites were sorely tested in Egypt for more than 400 years of hard labor and persecution, they did not forget God. They kept God’s word and remembered his promise to deliver them from oppression and bring them back into their promised homeland.
When God called Moses to free the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, God led them into the wilderness to his holy mountain at Sinai. There Moses ascended the mountain and met with God face to face for 40 days in prayer and fasting (Exodus 24:18). The prophet Elijah was also led on a 40-day journey to the holy mountain at Sinai (also called Horeb) to seek the face of God. God sustained Elijah for his journey with supernatural bread from heaven (1 Kings 19:8).
Jesus’ forty days of testing and preparation
Jesus was no exception to this pattern of testing and preparation for the mission his Father gave him. He was led into the wilderness for 40 days without food and little shelter. He had nothing to sustain himself in this barren wilderness except what the Father would provide for him during his forty days of prayer and fasting. Jesus was left alone in this harsh and austere environment to wrestle with the temptation to seek an easy or comfortable course that would avoid pain and hardship, humiliation and rejection, suffering and death on a cross.
Jesus’ testing in the wilderness was similar to the test which Adam and Eve underwent when God made them stewards of his creation and sharers in his glory and power. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Paradise, he provided them with everything they needed to live and to fulfill the stewardship entrusted to them. In giving them the one command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, God tested their love and fidelity (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6).
Why did they fail to obey this one command of God? They listened to the voice of a rebel angel, who disguised himself as a very subtle and clever figure of charm and persuasion. The Scriptures call this tempter by many names, the devil and Satan (Revelation 12:9), Beelzebub the prince of demons (Luke 11:15, Matthew 12:24), the evil one (Matthew 13:38) and the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan tempted Adam and Eve with pride and envy to claim equality with God. As a consequence of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise and driven into the wilderness.
Jesus resisted the devil and obeyed the voice of his Father
Jesus now freely enters the wilderness in order to regain Paradise for the lost children of God. Jesus refuses food to show his dependence on the bread of heaven, the word of God, that would sustain him not only in his physical hunger but in his hour of temptation as well. When Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, Jesus replied with the words of Scripture, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (quote from Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
Where did Jesus find the strength to survive the desert’s harsh conditions and the tempter’s seduction? He fed on God’s word and found strength in doing his Father’s will. Satan will surely tempt us and he will try his best to get us to choose our will over God’s will. If he can’t make us renounce our faith or sin mortally, he will then try to get us to make choices that will lead us, little by little, away from what God wants for us.
Strength from God in resisting the temptation
Jesus was tempted like us and he overcame sin not by his own human effort but by the grace and strength which his Father gave to him. He had to renounce his will for the will of his Father. He succeeded because he wanted to please his Father and he trusted that his Father would give him the strength to overcome the obstacles that stood in the way. Luke says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). When tempted by the devil Jesus did not try to fight his adversary on his own human strength. He relied on the power which the Spirit gave him. Jesus came to overthrow the evil one who held us captive to sin and fear of death (Hebrews 2:14). His obedience to his Father’s will and his willingness to embrace the cross reversed the curse of Adam’s disobedience. His victory over sin and death won for us not only pardon for our sins but adoption as sons and daughters of God.
How can we overcome sin and gain freedom over our unruly desires and the lies of Satan and the world? The Lord Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness (Romans 8:26) and to be our guide and consoler in temptation and testing (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Lord gives grace to the humble who acknowledge their dependence on him (James 4:6) and he helps us to stand against the lies and attacks of our enemy, Satan, who seeks to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8-10; Ephesians 6:10-18). The Lord Jesus is ever ready to pour out his Spirit upon us that we may have the strength and courage we need to resist sin and to reject the lies and deceits of Satan. God wants us to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) with the power and strength which comes from the Holy Spirit. Do you rely on the Lord for your strength and help?
“Lord Jesus, your word is life and joy for me. Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may have the strength and courage to embrace your will in all things and to renounce whatever is contrary to it.”
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
A Daily Quote for Lent: On the Snare of the Devil, by Ambrose, 339-397 A.D.
“The devil said to Jesus: ‘If you are the son of God, command that these stones become bread’ (Luke 4:3). Here we learn that there are three principal weapons that the devil likes to carry in order to wound our souls. They are gluttony, arrogance, and ambition. Here begins the weapon with which he has already been victorious. We likewise should begin to be victorious in Christ in the very same area in which we have been defeated in Adam – we should be wary of gluttony. The devious trap is set for us when the table is laid for a royal banquet – it is bound to weaken our defenses.
“See what weapons Christ uses to defeat the power of the devil. He does not use the almighty power he has as God – what help would that be to us? In his humanity, he summons the help common to all – overlooking bodily hunger and seeking the word of God for nourishment.
“Whoever follows the Word is no longer attached to earthly bread, because he receives the bread of heaven and knows the divine is better than the human, the spiritual is better than the physical. Therefore, because such a person desires the true life, he looks for that which fortifies the heart by means of its invisible substance.”