If you read the Gospels at all, at some point you’ll run into the temptation of Jesus, by Satan, in the desert, since the story is in three out of four of the books (Matthew 4: 1-11; Mark 1: 12, 13; and Luke 4: 1-13).
Like many accounts in the Bible, it’s easy to read through these quickly and say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that before,” and not slow down to focus on what the passage is saying. What it’s saying, however, is pretty important to us, because it shows us the three major ways that Satan tempts, teases, and tortures us because those are the three options he offered to Jesus:
Jesus “was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4: 1)
What are these temptations?
The Bare Necessities
1) We doubt that God will meet our basic needs. At the end of 40 days of no eating, Jesus was hungry, so Satan told Him,
“If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
We ourselves use a variation of this when we pray to God, “If you’re really God, then provide me with the rent money. And the car insurance is due next week.”
God knows we need food. And clothes. And He understands that, though we no longer walk around in robes and herd sheep for a living, the exigencies of modern life are heavy upon us:
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6: 31-32)
That’s what Jesus tells us. What we can tell Satan is what Jesus told him, earlier:
“It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’” (Luke 4: 4) Satan wants you to doubt God; God wants you to trust Him. Choose.
Money. Power. Stuff.
2) We want the good things in life, and those good things aren’t free.
Luke 4: 5 tells us that “the devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’”
Most humans can be bought for far less, and they have been. In the big leagues, we find elite cadres of beings who control world markets, media, politics, and people, but on a smaller level, we all succumb to Satan’s lie when we don’t mention, to the person interested in buying our car, that it inexplicably stalls at random times, and the mechanic can’t figure out what’s wrong with it.
We’re so desperate to get that few hundred dollars that we’ll lie — and face it, holding back information that you have, they don’t, and will make a difference in the final sale, is a lie.
Jesus tells us, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6: 33). By the time we seek, and find God’s kingdom and righteousness, the stuff we were looking for before won’t matter as much, and Satan’s offer may not seem so tempting. But it will continue to be so when we seek the riches of the world first, foremost, and primarily over the kingdom of God.
Believing the Lie over Trusting the Truth
3) We distrust the innate, and inerrant, goodness, compassion, and mercy of God.
“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written — “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully.”‘” (Luke 4: 9-10)
We’ve all experienced prayers that go apparently unanswered, and when things don’t go our way, it is very, very tempting (there’s that word) to believe that God has forgotten about us, or He prefers other people to us.
“Prove to me that you love me, God,” we pray. “Give me a sign.”
And while there is nothing wrong, in and of itself, to ask God to show us, somehow, in what direction to go, it’s a sure recipe for failure to make the existence, or not, of any sign the evidence of God’s care for us. He’s already told us, multiple times, that we matter to Him:
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41: 10)
Either we believe Him, or we don’t; either He’s telling the truth, or He’s lying. If He’s telling the truth, then it’s offensive to ask Him to prove Himself (“Do not put the Lord your God to the test” Luke 4: 12). If He’s lying, then we have no hope at all, and it’s a waste of time my writing this column.
Those are the three major lies, and knowing what they are and that they will be used against us — regularly — is the first step toward not falling into their pit.
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4: 7)