When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Three Temptations

The voice from heaven changed the whole manner oŁ our Lord's life. He worked no more at the carpenter's trade after that. He had a much more important business; for he knew now, with all certainty, that he was indeed the Son of God.

Nobody knows all that that means. Even wise persons who have studied it deeply are not able to make us understand it in its fullness. But some things in it are quite plain.

It is plain that Jesus was the Messiah. Messiah is a Hebrew name, as Christ is a Greek name; and they both mean one who has been anointed. It was by anointing,—that is, by pouring fragrant oil on one's head,—that a man was made a priest or a king. This was a way of saying that God had called this man into his high service, and that he would give him blessing and strength from heaven. The people, for a long, long while, had been looking for a wonderful Anointed One, who should be their king and their priest at the same time,—a king to make them great and a priest to make them good. Mysterious things were said about him in the Bible. They were all expecting him; but in a temple or a palace, not in a carpenter's shop. That day by the river, when the Spirit as a dove came down from heaven, God anointed Jesus.

Jesus was the Messiah; but the name Son of God meant more than that. One day, he said that anybody who had seen him had seen God, because he was in God and God in him. God is in all the world, where the heavens declare his glory, and all things show his wisdom and his might: God is the Father. God is also in all men, speaking to us in our hearts by the voice of conscience: God is the Holy Ghost. But in neither of these ways does God speak very clearly to us. Nature does not make us sure of his love, and conscience does not make us sure of his will. But God is in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. By him, God speaks and tells us plainly of his love and of his will. In him God so dwells that Jesus Christ is at the same time man and God.

This was the great meaning of the word from heaven. At that moment Jesus came to complete knowledge of himself. It was as if a prince, brought up in the house of a carpenter, had at last discovered the secret of his birth, and learned his place in the world, crying, "I am the son of the king!" So Jesus with the light of heaven in his eyes and the voice of heaven in his ears, said over and over to himself, trying to realize it, "I am the Son of God! I am the Son of God!"

Immediately, he went away alone, seeking a place where he might think. He plunged into the wilderness out of which John had come. There he stayed, days and days, out of the sight of men, in the silence of the woods, with the wild beasts for neighbors, thinking and thinking, making out what all this meant for him and for the world, planning his new life. Long after, he described what took place there, putting it in the form of a story. Thus one time when the apostles had been preaching so that people turned from their sins, he said, "I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning," meaning that he foresaw the day when evil would be wholly cast down by the good. So here he said, telling what happened in his soul, "The devil came and spoke to me;" meaning that one wrong thought after another came and attacked him.

He said that one day he was very hungry; for he had been so occupied with his great thoughts that he had forgotten even to eat. You remember how he was so interested that day in the temple that he forgot to go home. So days and days passed there in the wilderness, during which he sat still, with his eyes upon the ground, thinking and thinking. At last he was aroused by the appearance of a visitor, and when he looked to see who came, behold, it was the devil. The devil began in a very friendly way, as he always does, and said, "It is now a long time since you have eaten anything. You must be very hungry. And here you are in the wild woods, a long way from good food. If you are the Son of God, speak to these flat stones and turn them into bread. The Son of God can do that. Moreover, you are going out presently into the world to tell men about God; you are not going to be a carpenter any more. How will you support yourself? How will you get bread to eat? Make your own bread. Use your divine powers to help yourself." That is, the devil suggested that he ought to look out for his own interests, for his own comfort and advantage. Here he was giving up his business in order to devote himself entirely to the service of God. Was that a wise thing to do? For there are people who think of nothing but their own pleasure. They are like the old woman in Mother Goose, who "lived upon nothing but victuals and drink." Our Lord turned his back upon that kind of life. "It is written," he said, " 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God.' " That was the first temptation.

Then the devil did what a regiment of soldiers sometimes do in battle. The soldiers pretend to run away, so as to get the enemy to chase them, and thus they get the enemy into an ambush where there are guns firing upon them from all sides. The devil pretended to agree with what our Lord said. "Of course," he answered, "the body is not of so much importance as the soul. It is best to do the will of God, even if we go hungry. We ought to think only of God. Come, let us do as you say." And the devil took him away off to the holy city, and placed him upon the top of one of the high towers of the temple, and they looked down, and the men and women seemed like ants crawling over the pavement far below. "Now," said the devil, "let us rely upon the word of God. God says that he will give his angels charge over those who love him, and in their hands they shall bear them up lest they stumble over the stones. Cast thyself down." There it was, sure enough, in the Bible, looking like an invitation to do all sorts of wild and reckless things, trusting in the care of God. There have been people who have met the first temptation and overcome it, and have devoted themselves to God's service, and then have been tempted to neglect or to abuse their bodies, feeling that somehow God would be pleased to have them fast or whip themselves or break the laws of nature. But our Lord answered, "It is written again, 'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.' " That is, we are not to run needless risks to see if God will save us. We are, indeed, to be on guard against paying too much attention to our bodies, but we are also to be careful to pay them such attention as they need. So our Lord determined that though he must give up his trade and be in peril of hunger in the service of God, he would still live a natural life, taking all proper care of himself. Thus he met the second temptation.

These two, you see, were like the rocks on either side of a narrow river. Some have struck the rock on one side and have lived lives of mere worldly comfort; some have struck the rock on the other side and have become fanatics, doing foolish things like crazy people. Our Lord went straight between. But now this course brought him to a mountain. For the devil was not yet discouraged. The devil is very patient. "I know what you want," he said; "you want the whole world to be good and happy. Let us go up on this high mountain, where we can see the world." So up they went, in the vision, and there the world lay, spread at their feet like a great map. It was the sight which he had seen so many times from the great hill near Nazareth; and he looked now with the same deep longing in his heart, to help men and to save them. There lay the little towns, in every one of which sin and sorrow lived, because the devil had them in his power. And the devil said, "Now I will go away and leave the world in peace. I will go out and all joy shall come in, if you will do one thing. Here in this solitary place, where no man can see us, kneel down before me!" It was as if the devil had said, "You cannot govern the world without me. You cannot even begin your great plans without my help. If you determine always to be perfectly good, always to do perfectly right, always to follow the ideal wherever it leads you, you will fail. That is the truth about it. You will get yourself killed." To which our Lord answered, "Get thee behind me, Satan; for it is written, 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.' "

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.