Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
First Things First
After Luke’s report of Jesus astounding the temple priests at 12, the Gospels fall silent concerning His youth and its influence on His ministry. We pick up His story when He leaves home at 30. It’s instructive to attend closely to Jesus’s priorities as His mission commences. He doesn’t come out and announce He’s ready to save the world. He puts first things first: discipleship and sacrifice.
He starts with baptism, which ends in dazzling fashion as God audibly confirms Jesus is His Son. But we can’t forget Jesus goes to the Jordan to become a disciple of John the Baptist. His initial instinct is to establish Himself as a follower. Only at John’s urging and God’s ratification does He skip this step. Another minister, then or now, would use such incomparable endorsements to draw a large following right away. Yet look at what Jesus does. He vanishes into the wilderness for 40 days, opting for solitude over social acclaim, prayer over preaching to thousands, fasting over feasts in His honor.
The Way to Prepare
John’s message was, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Jesus’s example teaches us the way to prepare. His wilderness experience opens with this: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4.1) Again, He’s following, electing to endure temptation to test His discipline and faith. He goes into the desert only knowing it leads to a face-off with the Tempter. The confrontation’s time and nature aren’t defined. Provisions for comfort aren’t included. Instead of doing what we’d most likely do—wait until trouble comes to ask God’s help, or give up before the test arrives—Jesus prepares Himself from Day One. He fasts and prays, sacrificing natural drives to strengthen spiritual impulses. For seven weeks, His sole sustenance comes from conversation with God. Although He surely struggles with loneliness, hunger, and confusion, each day bolsters His confidence He’s not alone, He will rise to the challenge, and His responses to temptation will be sound and clear.
Right Where It Hurts
The Tempter first goes for the gut. “If You’re God’s Son, turn these stones into bread.” And, actually, Jesus could have done so, much like He later turns a boy’s lunch into food for 5,000. But there’s a bigger point here: physical cravings are secondary to spiritual hunger. We can survive without satisfying mortal urges because our bodies aren’t made to last. Without God, however, our spirits fail. “Man doesn’t live on bread,” Jesus answers, “but on God’s word.” The Tempter parries two more strikes, trying to deceive Christ with Scripture and offering Him then entire world. Still, he never recovers from losing that first, decisive round.
When battling temptation, remember this. The Tempter is a fast talker but a slow learner. He still uses the same, tired approach. He first hits us right where it hurts, taunting us with cravings we can satisfy—creature comforts, sexual urges, personal ambitions, and so on. But if we’ve stayed in contact with God, we’ll be unflinching about our spiritual hunger’s priority over material desire. “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” Romans 14.17 says. We can’t live on bread alone. Once we’re convinced of that, material temptations lose their luster.
Though He had power to turn stones into bread, Jesus resisted temptation to do so because material sustenance is secondary to spiritual survival.
(Tomorrow: Awaken the Dawn)
Postscript: Meet Les
Child of the Wind is by Les Chatwin, a regular reader here. Last October, Les introduced himself via email this way: “I am a 40-year-old Baptist pastor in Newcastle, Australia. I drive a taxi 4 nights a week and talk to people about God. On Tuesday, November 11, I begin ‘church' in a gay bar in the city.” His home church and family’s opposition to gay people leaves Les with very little moral or spiritual support. Furthermore, as a straight minister ordained in a Fundamentalist denomination, his inroads to the local gay community are limited. While he pursues his call to minister to GLBT people, he continues to support his wife and three children as a taxi driver.
Pause for a moment so all of this sinks in, then visit his blog to get to know Les, understand his challenges, and encourage him with supportive prayer and comments. Love and faith know no distance.