Jesus Journey: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Christ

Day 7

The First Temptation of Christ

Read Matthew 4:1–12

We’re on a high.

After our baptism in the Jordan, we drive southward toward Jerusalem. Everyone on our bus is still giddy with the joy of the baptism, when our guide directs our attention to a craggy mountain looming over the city of Jericho.

It looks barren, dangerous, and, well… evil. We can barely make out a gravity-defying ancient monastery clinging to its sheer cliff face.

I understand how the monks who once lived there could be convinced this was the very spot where Jesus faced down the devil.

What’s known as the Mount of Temptation sits on the edge of the Judean Desert. In contrast to the lusher areas of Galilee to the north, this spot gets an average of one inch of rain per year. It can get up to 125˚F in the summer. The treacherous cliff falls four hundred feet to the town below (although these days you can reach the old monastery by taking a modern aerial tram). If the temptation of Christ didn’t happen right here, this is an easy place to imagine it!

The Bible describes how Jesus headed to this region right after his baptism — just like our group today (I can only hope we don’t meet the same character!).

Think of this. Jesus was alone here for forty days. The only human witness to these three temptations was Jesus. That means the disciples’ source for this story must have been Christ himself.

Now ask yourself: Why would he relate this event to his disciples? What was he teaching? Was it just a really good scary story for one of their late night campfires? I believe Jesus used this story to explain the rules by which he operated. Though he was divine, he would not use his power in certain ways.


The devil suggests that Jesus use his amazing power to provide for himself in a way outside God’s timing…

The Bible says that after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry (I guess so!). And the devil says, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Luke 4:3). But Jesus will not use his power for his selfish benefit. He’ll multiply bread and fish for the hungry masses, but not for a personal snack. He chose to be subject to the same physical weaknesses as you and me. He got hungry, tired, lonely.


Then the devil suggests that Jesus prosper himself in a way outside of God’s will…

He shows Jesus the kingdoms of the world and offers them all to him, if Jesus will bow to him. Just one time.

Imagine being Jesus, and knowing that you could bring instant justice to the corrupt kingdoms of the world for this small moment of compromise.

So many people have taken this bargain. They think of all the good they could do with power, splendor, authority — and they are willing to compromise to get there.

But for Jesus, worshipping God alone trumps anything else. Any good he could have done outside of God’s plan is not worth it.


Finally, Satan suggests that Jesus use his position to prove himself beyond a shadow of a doubt to all those who would mock him.

Again, imagine being Christ. Thousands of angels have worshipped you for eons in heaven. And yet here on earth, on a mission of love, you are reviled and hunted by sinful humans who call you crazy and demon-possessed. Wouldn’t you want to prove to them all, conclusively, who you really were — and what ignorant jerks they were being?

Satan says, “Do it. Jump off the pinnacle of the temple and float to the ground!” Amaze the crowds! Compel belief!

Jesus is not interested in that kind of belief. He’s interested in love.

We often want God to give some undeniable proof to the whole world at once of his existence — but as C. S. Lewis wrote, “Are we sure that he is even interested in the kind of Theism which would be a compelled logical assent to a conclusive argument?” 12


Christ’s responses to these three temptations answer so many questions I have about him, and that others in his lifetime had too. For example, “If Jesus is God, why doesn’t he help himself out a little — like, come down from the cross? Why doesn’t he just put all the bad guys away and take control, right now? Jesus, why don’t you give an undeniable proof, do a personal miracle on request for everybody, so no one could possibly doubt?”

Jesus is saying, “That’s not the way I work.”

He is the King of Kings. He is God. He does do miracles.

But not on demand. Not to grab authority. And not to help himself.

The bottom line to all these temptations? Jesus will not use his divine power for his own benefit. Not even to force belief. He is here to reach out in love.


In the ridiculous movie Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey actually does a decent job of showing what happens when someone yields to all three temptations. Bruce gets to use divine power for a few days to provide for all his needs and wishes, to prosper himself wildly, and to prove himself to his girlfriend and compel her to be with him. And he loses any hope that her love will be given to him freely. And this is his greatest desire.

If Jesus had yielded, he would have lost the very object of his quest: Our love.

Or think of it this way: Ask people what they don’t like about Christianity, and what are they going to say? The Crusades. The Inquisition. Judgmental Christians.

They know intuitively that at those times the church did not operate the way Jesus did. At those times, the church yielded to the temptation to power — to belief compelled by a show of force.

But Jesus is a gentleman. He stands at the door and knocks. And waits for you to answer.

Why? He is building the foundation for what’s to come. The kingdom of God begins one human heart at a time. This is how the new heaven and new earth will be populated — not by slaves or robots, but by those who have willingly turned their hearts toward him. And he longs for as many to join him as possible.

But this wasn’t easy for Jesus. After he’s nearly killed in his hometown for announcing that he is the Christ and then facing down the devil, Jesus finds a new headquarters, a place so strategic that it enables him to reach the whole world without traveling more than a few miles.


Write down one temptation you’re currently struggling with. How can Jesus’ example help you face that temptation?