Lent, by its nature, is a desert time—a time of purification. This is why the lectionary starts Lent today with Jesus in the wilderness. There we meet all the elements of Lent: 40 days, fasting, wilderness and meeting the Devil face to face. We have an enemy of our soul, and Lent is the time we face it again, so that what is really fundamental rises to the top, and all that which distracts us falls away.
I think the church fathers were right when they asserted that Jesus endured many temptations, but these particular three temptations are highlighted in the Gospels because they represent different categories of the temptations we all face.
First, “turn these stones into bread.” At the most basic level, this is the temptation of the flesh. John Wesley taught the goodness of creation, and we know that food, drink, and sex are all God’s precious gifts to us. But, when food or other fleshly desires take on a deviant twist, they become evil. This would include all the ways our flesh becomes malformed or misdirected, whether it be lust or a desire for material things. God provides us with a family, and material possessions, but once we start trusting in our food and material possessions, or allowing any fleshly desire to be misdirected, then it can become an evil. We all can become preoccupied with our daily needs—bread, money, paying tuition, retirement income, etc. This is the temptation which lies at the base of our human existence.
Satan then takes Jesus and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and promised them all to him. This is the temptation for position, for power, and name. It is the temptation for status, and glory. Ministry is no different from any other position in that it carries with it the temptation or the malformed desire to make a name for ourselves. We long for reputation. We long for status. Our affections get malformed and directed towards our own power or glory. Jesus, alternatively, points us worship the Lord alone. Notice that Satan controls all the kingdoms of the world. We cannot put our hope in Washington, D.C. or any other political system to achieve kingdom ends.
Finally, Satan takes him to the highest pinnacle of the temple and commands him to throw himself down and Satan quotes scripture—Psalm 91. Satan takes the verse out of context—“for his angels will protect you so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” It is a promise for those who have made the Lord their refuge. It is not a verse which should be used to test the Lord in some presumptuous way. This is the temptation to not trust the Word of God. It is that temptation to make the Scripture say what we want it to say, rather than what it actually says. This is why Jesus replies with Scripture, “you shall not test the Lord your God.” All three times Jesus brings the focus back to the Lord and the call for us to keep a single-minded focus on the Lord.
I pray this Lent that your life will be cleansed and renewed for the season ahead.