Today we’re reading Luke 4.
Before Jesus began his public ministry in verse 14, it was appropriate for him to win a private victory. Specifically, in order to preach righteousness to others, Jesus had to practice righteousness first himself. That’s what his temptation in the wilderness in verses 1-13 was about.
Although Jesus was fully human his virgin conception kept him from receiving a fallen nature like the rest of us humans have. He did not have any inward pull toward sin like you and I have. That’s why Satan had to get creative in tempting him. He tempted him with food when he had been fasting (vv. 2-3); there is nothing sinful about eating food, so the temptation focused on Jesus using his divine power to create food. Again, there is nothing wrong with that; he used his divine power to create food when he fed the 5000. So this first temptation is hard to figure out; what exactly was the sin that Satan was trying to get Jesus to commit?
The answer is revealed in Jesus’ response to Satan in verse 4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 and the context for that passage was how God provided manna for his people in the desert. In Deuteronomy 8:1 Moses instructed the people to “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.” In other words, receiving God’s promises was tied to obeying his commands. In Deuteronomy 8:2-3 Moses said, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” This was all a reminder to Israel that the most important thing they needed to do was obey God. If people obey God’s word, they do so because they are trusting God–trusting him to keep his promises and to provide what they need. Moses was reminding the people in Deuteronomy 8:1-3 that God provided for them in the desert so they should obey his word and trust him to care for and provide for them in the future.
Back to Jesus, then, and Luke 4. Luke 4:1 told us that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” and that he “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” It was God’s will, then, for him to be there. He was sent there by divine appointment without any preparation. The desert is not a place where food grows naturally so if Jesus were to survive his time out there, God would have to provide for him. The devil’s temptation, then, subtly suggests that God the Father and the Holy Spirit had abandoned him so he should use his powers as the Son of God to provide for himself. Jesus’ reply was that obedience was more necessary for human flourishing than food and that if he obeyed and waited, God would provide for him. The temptation to sin, then, was a temptation to operate outside of submission to God the father and act independently of his own will.
This is what we do, really, every time we sin. When we sin, we believe the lie that our sin nature, the devil, and the world around us speaks; namely, that obedience to God’s way is stupid, that we can’t trust him to keep his promises, so we need to seek our own gain, our own pleasure, our own solutions to the problems in our lives, or whatever else.
So, where are you facing this kind of temptation today? Has God left you waiting somewhere, longing for something that you think he should have provided by now? Don’t turn away from obedience for the false promise of sin. Just as Jesus resisted abusing his divine power by exercising it out of God’s will, live within God’s moral will yourself through obedience and wait for him to deliver and provide for you.