Matthew 4 chronicles the famous temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness. And while I remember hearing this story as far back as second grade Sunday school, I never really noticed that the “sins” Jesus is tempted with are really only one sin.
Satan first tempts the famished Jesus with turning stones into bread. There’s nothing wrong with this. Jesus had been fasting for over a month and was hungry; turning rocks into bread must have sounded like a good deal. But Jesus saw something in this act that did not line up with God’s desires.
The second temptation was a bit more spectacular. Satan says in Matthew 4:6:
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Still, there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Satan seems to be suggesting that Jesus do a little supernatural base-jumping. Honestly, this has always sounded to me like one of the coolest ideas Jesus never tried.
The final temptation is obviously sinful. Satan tells Jesus that he will give Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth if he only bows down to worship him. Jesus responds with the words of Scripture:
“Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
Things seem to have escalated quickly didn’t they. turn stones to bread. jump off this cliff. worship Satan.
An odd assortment of things to be sure. But they have one thing in common. Each one involves exercising God’s power and authority outside of God’s plan.
Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus consciously chose not to do this, but to set aside his authority as God to serve humanity:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
The miracles that Jesus performs, the power he displays, and the authority over creation that he exhibits while he is on earth never advance his own selfish purposes. Jesus has no selfish purpose. Something as “harmless” as turning stones to bread becomes sin when it is only self serving. Selling your soul to Satan for authority on earth is selfishly grasping for power that only God can give.
How does this apply to us?
What Jesus teaches us here is not that we all must go 40 days into the wilderness to fast, or that getting a sandwich when we’re hungry is wrong, but that the gifts God gives his children are just that, gifts from God. And what God gives to us, whether the power to survive a free fall or a job that pays more than we need, is to be used for His glory and the good of others.
In Christ, God selflessly shared all his power, grace, and authority with us, and Jesus gave everything for our good. We in turn are called to use what God has given us, not for our own gain, but in order that others might be blessed by God and overwhelmed by the beauty of His glory and grace.