Lent 1 – Into the wilderness

Lent 1 - Temptation-of-Christ-in-the-Wilderness-Juan de Flandes

2 Corinthians 6:1-10       St Matthew 4:1-11


Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness
to be tempted by the devil.


Just as Jesus was led up by the Spirit, so has the Church led us up, we hope by the same Holy Spirit, to enter into a new space, a wilderness discovered within, this Lent.

We are to encounter our inner lives through a process of clearing away some of the distractions that are wasting our time and hindering our ascent into God.  We will focus more sharply, by the use of prayer and fasting and meditation on God’s Word, on that wilderness landscape that is our inner world.   It’s a wilderness, because we don’t know very much about it.

And if we undertake this Lenten inward journey seriously, we can be assured we will be tempted by the devil.

Jesus shows us how the devil tempts and how to overcome those temptations to self-destruction through right reasoning.

In each temptation Jesus shows us that we should go to the Scripture to cut through the wrong reasoning of Satan. But having the words of the Bible at hand is not enough, we must use them rightly.  The devil is quick to site the Scripturse, as we see in the second temptation, but reasons wrongly.

These temptations and Jesus’ response to them are Jesus recalling his experience, because no one else was there with him in the wilderness.  Jesus is telling us how to have victory over all temptations.


In first temptation, the devil says to Jesus:

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

There is a relation between our desire for food (or desire for any sensual pleasure) and our desire for God.  We discover in fasting from food, that our body often cries out more than it needs to, and food alone does not satisfy us.  If in our fast we wait and look up in that anxiety, we find ourselves fed by God.

In this temptation, Jesus is recalling the words that Moses said in Deuteronomy to the people of Israel.  He was speaking to them after they had come out of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, reminding them that God did sustain them physically by manna when the bread ran out.  Even in moments where we don’t have enough even to eat – God will provide.  We needn’t turn to robbery or fraud or manipulating others to obtain it unlawfully – a way will be shown for us to have enough. [Calvin]

God made us and one of the ways he shows his love for us daily is by sustaining us – physically and spiritually.  If we humble ourselves and turn to him in our need, we will be fed physically and spiritually in our earthly pilgrimage to Him.  We will have enough.

In second temptation,

the devil took Jesus to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

The devil is now using a quotation from a Psalm to try to get Jesus to tempt God – and Jesus will have none of it.  We don’t throw ourselves into danger’s way deliberately to see if God will save us – we trust that God cares for us and we humbly follow his counsel and seek to follow his will in all things.

We become less interested in risky behaviour for the sake of feeling alive as we become more mature in Christ.  It is not because we have lost the spark of adventure, but because we see more clearly how great is the gift of life and the holiness to which God is calling us.  So we guard more carefully this great gift of soul and body.  We chose to sin less and less – that is risky behaviour – we cannot sin thinking ahead of time that God will forgive us.

Calvin puts it simply: “we cannot rely on [God’s] promises, without obeying his commandments.

In the third temptation,

the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

To serve Satan is to put ourselves in the place of God – it is the great temptation to pride – it is the temptation that Eve and Adam fell for in the garden – God says this, but I will decide for myself what is best.

Eve, stretched out her hand for the forbidden fruit and gave it to her husband and he ate.  Why?  She “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise.”  Adam and Eve desired good things, but they reasoned wrongly about how to attain them.

We are to desire these things too, surely – good food, what is beautiful to the eyes, and wisdom.  But we are not to be fooled by short cuts to attain them.

This morning we will eat the bread that comes down from heaven – unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, you have no life in you…and we will pray to Our Father for our daily, our supersubstantial, bread.  We will delight our eyes, not by those things that are forbidden by God, but fix them on Jesus Christ and be changed into his image and likeness from glory to glory.  And if we truly want to become wise, we fill ourselves with Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Wisdom of God.


These temptations that Jesus experienced are the forms of all temptations that we will experience in our lives. [Robert Crouse]

Jesus himself would again and again experience the temptation to save himself from His calling - the path of the Cross - several times.  First it was Peter telling him to turn aside from God’s plans that he suffer and die; then it was his own internal struggle in the garden of Gethsemane to choose another way, but he chose – not my will but thine be done; and finally from the calls when he was at his most vulnerable on the Cross – save yourself, come down from the Cross, show us that you are the King of Israel.  He stayed there, willing the Father's will, reasoning with the highest reason.

As one preacher [Robert Crouse] has put it:

“In this season of Lent we are led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested; and the point is that we should be freed from our diabolical illusions…

“We are led by the Spirit to discern the wilderness around us and within us – the wilderness of a confused and mixed-up world; the wilderness of a worldly Church; the wilderness of our own uncertain, muddled souls; the wilderness in which unknown perils and privations will confront us, and vicious serpents lurk to wound us.  But that wilderness must not be evaded: it is, as Dante puts it, at the beginning of the Inferno, ‘that rough and stubborn forest, in which I found great good.’  It is only in the trials of the wilderness – ‘in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses’, as St Paul says in today’s Epistle – it is only in those trials that the saving virtues of faith and hope and love are forged – ‘Like as silver’, says the Psalmist, ‘Which from the earth is tried and purified seven times in the fire.’

“Only in and through the wilderness and all its struggles do we find the road that leads us to Jerusalem.  Lent calls us to undertake afresh that road, in obedience and humility; to embrace our trials, and bless God for them; to take into our hands and into our hearts that heavenly manna which will sustain our pilgrimage.  Our journey is the work of grace in us, and let us pray, with St Paul, ‘that we receive not that grace in vain,’ for ‘behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’

O LORD, who for our sake did fast forty days and forty nights: Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey your godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to your honour and glory, who is alive and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. 

Amen +




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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2