I’m always fascinated by Jesus in the wilderness and confused by those three temptations. I mean, the bread one makes sense. That is a gripping scene: Jesus, literally starving, while your preferred image of The Devil whispers visions of warm, crumby, yeasty goodness in his ear. But then this devil character goes off the rails with his temptations. Maybe we expect him to offer Jesus some porn or the opportunity to insult a childhood enemy. Instead, he starts dragging him all over the world! How many people—let alone starving people—really want all the kingdoms of the world? And how is throwing yourself off a tower a “temptation” at all?
This week I’ve been reading this passage in Luke 4 along with the one before it, and the answer has suddenly become clear. Just before Jesus goes into the desert, he’s baptized by John, and there’s the spectacular scene: heavens open; dove enters stage left; THIS IS MY SON, WHOM I LOVE. WITH HIM I AM WELL PLEASED. An epic moment.
Then Luke makes a huge rhetorical mistake. His story has all this momentum going and he breaks into… a genealogy.
You guys, I have recently become so weirdly enamored with the Bible, I decided to actually read that genealogy. And when I did, I discovered that Luke is a genius. When it was first written, this book would have been read out loud. You would have been dozing off, “…son of Mattathias, son of some other name, son of obscure Hebrew guy, son of David, son of blahblahblah, son of impossible pronunciation, son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, SON OF GOD.”
Luke is saying it twice in this chapter. Jesus is the Son of God. In a literal, special, and spiritual way, that’s, like, his title, and it means he’s divine. But also in the way that we are all the children of God, royalty molded from dust; he is human, and that, too, is what it means to be the son of God.
So Jesus has had this incredible, affirming experience, but then the Spirit takes him out into the wilderness. I think after forty days of desert dwelling, maybe that spiritual high has faded a little. Maybe Jesus is a bit wobbly. In his more parched moments, could he be asking himself whether he imagined the whole thing? And here comes the devil—right out of the gate with If you’re really the son of God… And therein lies the temptation.
I’m looking for a job, so every day I’m asked to prove my worth to people who don’t know me. But we feel the need to prove ourselves in a thousand little ways all the time. If you’re really a successful person, you’ll meet these project goals. If you’re really a good dad, your kids will be shiny and happy. If you’re really a woman, you’ll fit into size six. And we do it in church, too, all the damn time. Real Christians evangelize their friends. If you really love Jesus, you’ll give more dollars to this church.
Jesus was recently so sure of who he was, but now someone is calling him out. How much we want others to affirm our identities! How galling it is when someone won’t believe us, recognize our capacities, or treat us with respect until we pass their test. If I were Jesus, I would have turned the whole desert and the devil himself into bread. But Jesus, who has heard his own identity from the mouth of God, will live another hour by those words. And Jesus, who is himself being tried, will not put the Lord to the test. His identity is not up for debate. It is between him and God.
Friends, I can’t tell you what it has meant to me to sit with these passages this week. To stay with the truth that God has adopted me as her own, to finally shut out the clamoring voices of doubt. There is no other evaluation that matters.
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