Jesus is confronted with three major temptations (Luke 4:1-13). These are the most basic temptations in life and they form the foundation for all other temptations (1 John 2:15-17). The first temptation was “Stone into Bread.” Satan addressed Jesus by saying, “If you are the son of God.” Satan was trying to get Jesus to question himself, to misuse His power, to turn stone into bread, and virtually to take the crown without the cross.
Jesus said, “It is written, man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Satan has misunderstood Jesus’ need. What he does not understand is that there is another type of hunger. It is the hunger of righteousness. Jesus is feeding himself on the Word of God. He lives in obedience to the Word of God. When we come to God we come because we belong to Him. We come because we want to be in His presence, not to satisfy our physical hunger.
The second temptation was “Throw Yourself.” The temptation to gain popularity by performance. The first temptation deals with Jesus’ physical needs, the second with His reputation. “Jump off” the devil says “for it is written, He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you safe.” Satan, a fast learner, begins this temptation with the words, “It is written.” He shows Jesus that he can quote scriptures as well. Jesus refuses to jump, further quoting from scripture, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Satan says, “Would you not rather avoid suffering, or the path that requires patience? Would you not rather take the crown without the cross?”
The third temptation was “Serve Me.” In the third temptation, Satan finally comes out in the open. He no longer flatters Him by calling Him the Son of God. He shows Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world and tells Him that all of this will be His, if, for a just moment, He will bow down and worship him (Satan). Again, Jesus quotes scripture, “You shall worship the Lord your God and He alone shall you serve.” Jesus will not be enticed by the glitter of the world. The trial is over. Satan has failed in his attempt to bribe Jesus with fame, fortune, and power. At this point Jesus says, “Satan, go away and do not return.”
The crucial question for us is, What does all of this mean to us? The ultimate temptation for Jesus was that He would have a crown without a cross. This is the temptation that we, His followers, still face today. We want victory with limited commitment. We want heaven without the cross. We want the crown without the cross. Some say that the life of a Christian is always beautiful, but the temptations of Jesus give another perspective. He is saying life is a struggle, life is a wilderness experience, life has many temptations and trials, and many twists and turns. You will be tempted by evil, but be strong and of good courage, bear the cross and at the end you will receive a crown.
In those times when you are in the wilderness, trying to find your way through, and when Satan comes and offers you the wrong choice, the wrong use of power, the way to popularity, the wrong kind of partnership, then you should remember that Christ was tempted as well. But He did not turn those stones into bread; He fed Himself the Word of God. He did not fling Himself upon the rocks; He wanted no man’s approval but God’s. He did not render service to Satan; He obeyed His father in heaven. Jesus was tempted to take the crown without the cross and He did not. Would I? Would you?
Leon Thomassian is the Atlantic Union Conference treasurer and trust services director.