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Lesson 5: Beginnings

The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.

-TS Eliot

Yesterday we learned each of the four gospel writers has their own unique sources as well as often sharing sources. Today we examine how each writer makes a shared story their own by examining three versions of Jesus’ temptation.

Devotion: Read Mark 1:12-13 for the basic story. Read Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 for the variations. Satan tempts a hungry Jesus to use his power to feed himself. The reason this must be avoided becomes obvious as the story unfolds. Next, he is tempted to gain fame by a miracle and seek worldly power. 

The larger theological issue behind these temptations is the kind of Messiah Jesus will be, how he will use his power. That is why Satan says, “If you are the son of God…” Turning stones to bread is about Jesus being tempted to focus his ministry on feeding the hungry and healing disease. Jesus could do amazing good with that as a focus, but teaching about the Kingdom of God is more important (Mk 1:35-39). Likewise, he could use miracles to entice many people to follow him or prevent wars with all the world’s power, but he is called to a cross and empty tomb. The actions he is tempted to perform are all good on their own, but in performing them, he would have to ignore the best thing, his true calling. After he overcomes these temptations, he is still able to incorporate these good actions into his ministry. When have you been tempted to settle for good things instead of pursuing the best thing? When does the Church focus on good things but forget the most essential things?

Personal Worship Option: Read 1 Corinthians 10:13. What has been the most difficult temptations you have faced? When have you doubted God’s existence or love? What did you learn about yourself in those moments? About God? Do those moments increase your compassion and desire to care for others in similar situations?  

Dig A Little Deeper:

Mk 1:12 Why does God compel Jesus to go into the desert? What good comes from facing our temptations? Do you believe all converts to the faith immediately face temptations?

Mk 1:13 Mark does not mention Jesus fasting or his hunger, but he does report the length of testing as forty days. This ties Jesus to Moses’ fasting (Deut 9:9, 18) and Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness (Num 32:13). How does temptation come to you? Does it look nasty and evil, or attractive and reasonable? How do we distinguish between temptation and a new idea?  

The New Testament assumes a state of war exists between God’s people and evil, with Satan tempting believers to abandon the way of God (Mk 3:23-27; 9:14-29, 38-41). However, spiritual forces of good are also present. “With the wild animals” is often interpreted as a sign of the evil or difficulty Jesus faces. However, this might be a reference to the animals of Eden. If so, Jesus overcomes temptation, unlike Adam and Eve, and paradise is symbolically reclaimed by God (Is 11:6-9).

Mt 4:2 The comment about Jesus’ hunger addresses his humanity. While we are more familiar with people who believe Jesus is not God, the early church also deals with those who believe God overwhelmed Jesus’ humanity. If Jesus’ humanity was subsumed by God, then he cannot suffer or be tempted. The church teaching that Jesus is both fully God and fully human is what we call a “mystery”—beyond our understanding and yet true. He is God but hungers. He is both divine and tempted as we are (Heb 4:15).

Mt 4:3 The 40 days of fasting weaken him physically but strengthens him spiritually. What should we be doing to prepare ourselves for the temptations that lie ahead?

Jesus answers all three temptations with scripture from Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:16, 13). Roman rulers gained the favor of the crowds by distributing bread. What is being communicated by Jesus’ answer regarding turning stones into bread? When do we put our physical needs above living out the Word of God? When do our physical wants become more important than our calling?

Mt 4:6 Satan quotes Psalm 91:11-12. What are the implications that Satan quotes scripture? Jesus is tempted to perform a miraculous sign in order to become popular. Jesus’ answer reveals God has not instructed him to walk that path. What is the danger of following Jesus because of miracles he can perform for us? What is the danger of Christians seeking to be popular through ministry?

Mt 4:8 This mountain does not exist in the world. It is a vision tempting Jesus to use political power to accomplish his ministry’s goals. Why does Jesus compare using worldly power to the worship of false gods? What is the link between the two? Does all worldly power come with temptations?

Lk 4:4 Compared to Matthew, Luke’s version of Jesus’ answer shortens Deuteronomy 8:3.

Lk 4:5 Luke adds “in an instant” to clarify this is a vision or symbol.

Lk 4:6 Satan’s comment on his ability to grant the world’s power is found only in Luke. Jesus does not disagree with his claim, suggesting worldly power is under the control of Satan (Jn 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). How should Christians approach positions of power? What power do you hold over other people? Do not make the mistake of thinking this issue is only for kings and CEOs.

Lk 4:9 Some believe Luke transposes the final two temptations so the climax of this temptation story occurs in Jerusalem, just as Jesus’ ministry will climax there. How does Jesus’ journey to the cross demonstrate he is able to overcome each of these three temptations?

Lk 4:13 Luke also has a unique conclusion, noting Jesus will face more temptation in the future. How does this comment change the way we look at Jesus’ ministry? Does it change how you look at your journey, witness, and ministry?

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