Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
We begin the season of Lent with Jesus' temptation. In the same way, Jesus' ministry was begun (immediately following his baptism) by the temptation. Before Jesus goes off into the cities and villages and the countryside to announce the coming of the kingdom of God, he faces off against the devil. Before he announced the kingdom of God, he defeats the power of the devil. Still dripping wet from the waters of baptism, Jesus is driven by the Spirit not to comfort and peace but into the wilderness. In the wilderness Jesus meets the devil and faces temptation.
There are myriad ways to classify the three temptations and to draw parallels with the kinds of temptations that we face today. I offer one possible way of thinking about them: First, the devil tempts Jesus with relevance: meet the needs that you have. Serve yourself. Serve the immediate needs. Turn the stone to bread. Jesus replies that the immediately perceived need is not always what life is about.
Second, the devil tempts Jesus with success: I can give you the glory and the authority of all the kingdoms of the world. All you need to do is worship me instead of God. Jesus responds that there are things that are much more important in life than glory, authority, and success.
Finally, the devil tempts Jesus to do something spectacular, something that would draw attention and would make him popular. "Get yourself on the evening news. Any press is good press."
Notice the words that the devil uses to introduce each of the temptations. The first and third (bread and jumping) are introduced with the words "If you are the Son of God ..." and the second features the words "If you, then, will worship me ..." Put another way, the devil tempts Jesus to doubt who he is and to whom we belongs.
"If you are the Son of God ..." Using the very words that were spoken from heaven at his baptism just a few verses earlier, the devil tries to put questions into Jesus' mind about who he is. Are you really the Son of God? Because if you were, you could do these things. You would do these things.
"If you, then, will worship me ..." While trying to question Jesus' self-identity, the devil also tries to question to whom Jesus belongs. Because we are God's children, we worship God. If the devil is able to get Jesus to question that relationship, then the worship will follow.
The devil attempted to get Jesus to...