Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, filled by the Holy Spirit and being tempted by the devil. As I write today we have been in the wilderness of Lent for 10 days. The first of our series focused on the devil’s first test, the personal temptation to turn stones into bread to satisfy Jesus most basic physical need, hunger. The hungry crave fullness. Let’s turn to the second temptation, the political temptation to seize authority and glory. “Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will be yours.’ (Luke 4:5-7)
Power is the ability to influence and control others while, at the same time, withstanding outside influences which would control you. Just as the hungry crave food, the oppressed crave power, control over their own lives and those of others. This applies equally to people suffering from actual oppression such as the Israelites who were being enslaved in Egypt or civilians in Sudan today, and perceived oppression like an employee who is angry because the employer has blocked social media sites from their computer network.
Israel became a nation in the conventional sense when they convinced Samuel to anoint a king over them like the other nations had. Prior to this, Samuel was preparing to pass his authority as a judge of Israel to his sons but his sons did not follow in his ways. Samuel was upset that the people asked for a king but God pointed out that it was their rejection, not of Samuel, but of God as their king. Once they had a king, the Israelites soon discovered that human rulers were perhaps subject to even more temptation than the judges had been, as the judges looked to God for direction. As predicted, human kings took away much of their autonomy.
“He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattlec and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.” (1 Samuel 8:11-17)
The Messiah was supposed to come to preach, to heal, to prophesy, and to defeat the devil. In short, he would free the oppressed. Many expected this to take the form of political uprising, use of conventional power to throw off the yoke of Roman rule which, at the time, covered the world from modern day Great Britain, most of Europe, Northern Africa, Egypt, and most of the Middle East. Even if he had liberated Jerusalem from Roman authority, they would have remained surrounded by the Roman Empire.
We may tend to think of this whole story as a quick succession of temptations and answers in this story, because that is the way that they read. But this is the story of the temptation of Jesus, not the testing. We are told right up front that Jesus was tempted, really tempted. Jesus was, as we often are, there with his finger on the trigger or the button to accept. Focused on his mission of bringing peace and healing to the world, Jesus must have thought of all he could have do with rule over all the kingdoms. There could be peace, he could make taxation fair, put in social programs to feed the poor and provide health care for the sick. He could do it all and with no need for him to suffer humiliation or pain.
God’s power is expressed in creation, healing, and judgement. The devil offered Jesus worldly, human power. All Jesus needed to do was bow down and worship the devil. But what he was offering wasn’t really power, but submission. “Would Jesus submit to the ruler of this world in order to achieve good for the people of this world?” (Craddock 1990, p 56) No he would not. Once again Jesus answered the devil with scripture saying, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” (Luke 4:8) Real authority rests with God. God can give and take human authority as he did throughout the history of his people from Moses to the Judges and the Kings. God even granted provisional authority to Satan in some instances; that is how he was able to make this offer to Jesus in the first place. The devil offered Jesus kingship, God granted Jesus authority to teach, to heal, to cast out demons, to forgive, and to grant eternal life.
One interesting thing that Fred B Craddock points out in his commentary is that temptation is hardest to resist for the most able. “We aren’t tempted to do what we can’t do, but what we are able to do.” (Craddock 1990, 56) Who are those super villains in comics, out to rule the world? They are not limited, know nothings, they tend to be brilliant individuals who have had some success gaining control who then find themselves driven mad with hunger for more! Today Woodstock, tomorrow the world!
I am just guessing here but most of us don’t feel very powerful. Over what, or whom in your life do you have power? For me there would be very little problem with temptation to storm the world of sport, since I am really not athletic. As a teacher, I have power over my students in terms of when and where they can be and what they are to be doing in class, but as I point out to them it I more a perceived power than real power. If they all decided to do something else, there is no way I could stop them. I could inflict consequences after the fact as a show of power. I could give in to the temptation to be stricter, to take away freedoms they normally have in order to keep control, or I could continue to balance demands and freedoms to our mutual satisfaction.
What power do we have? We have the power of free will, of choice, which was given to us by God. We have the power of the Holy Spirit helping us to remain focused. We have the power of Scripture which, we know from Luke’s focus on it, includes the idea that scripture is adequate to generate and sustain faith and that without it even miracles would be of no use. (Craddock 1990,56) And we have the power of assurance that the devil, the tempter, has already been defeated through Christ. As Paul reminded the Philippians,
“20…our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Phil 3:20-21)
Lindsell, Harold, and Verlyn D Verbrugge. 1991. NRSV Harper Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House.
Craddock, Fred B. 1990. Luke. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press.