A strategic time to strike, thinks Satan, as he steps from the shadows. His movements are wary, for he is unsure whether he will end up as predator or prey. He takes a tentative step forward and grows bold in seeing how thin and frail his opponent has become.
"If you are the Son if God, tell those stones to become bread."
The temptations is not to make Jesus doubt himself but to depend on himself. Since the Father hasn't lifted a finger to alleviate his suffering, why not take things into his own hands? Afterall, it's been forty days. Who would blame him?
But Jesus doesn't take the baited hook. Instead he answers, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Regardless how consuming his hunger, Jesus would rather be fed with the smallest crust of his Father's word than with an entire landscape of fresh bread from anywhere else.
Satan steps back to plan his next move. A change of strategy might help. And a change of scenery. He brings Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and prods him with the blunt end of the very weapon Jesus used against him.
"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down . For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' "
In the first temptation Jesus answered Satan by affirming his dependence on the Father, so this temptation Satan pushes that dependence to the limit. If you really believe God will take care of you, reasons Satan, let him prove it, and prove it publicly, so everyone can see it.
The temple was the center of the religious activity for Israel. The jump would be seen by all the key leaders. And the rescue would convince them that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. In a single act he could win over every sceptic and avoid years of conflict with the religious establishment.
A tempting offer.
But Jesus sees through it, realizing that such a test would not be a confirmation of God's care but a calling of his care into question. Without hesitating, he replies:
"It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
Such a test would say to God: "If you really care about me, prove it." The challenge does not demonstrate faith in God's care; it demonstrated a doubt that needs some tangible proof before we will be convinced.
Rebuffed, Satan steps back and regroups. He then takes Jesus to an even greater pinnacle, for an even greater temptation. As god of this world, Satan has the earthly kingdom in his pocket. He digs into that pocket and counts the change. He makes a final offer.
"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
These are the kingdoms the Father has promised Jesus. These are the kingdoms he would someday possess. That someday could be today. And all of tomorrow's suffering could be avoided. All he would have to do is turn his back for a moment and merely bend a knee in Satan's direction. That's all.
But it is who he would have to turn his back on that keeps his knees locked. His own Father. His Father who loves him and delights in him. How could he bend even a knee, even for a moment, in betrayal of such a relationship?
Jesus takes the loose change and throws it in Satan's face.
"Away from me, Satan!" For it is written: 'Worship the Lord you God, and serve him only.'"
The words snap like a whip. Satan recoils, his lip wrinkled in derision, and turns to leave. He leaves, Luke tells us, until a more "opportune time," a time when Jesus would be weaker, more vulnerable, a time when his suffering would be more intense-a time he could have avoided, if only he hadn't taken sides in that desert so decisively, and resisted so resolutely.
In the Jordan, Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit and approved by the Father. In the desert, he appeared abandoned by both. Every trace of God was swept away by the wind or buries by the sand. There was no affirming voice. There was no attesting sign.
All Jesus heard from heaven was the hollow whistling of the wind, All he saw when he looked up were vultures circling in ever-narrowing patterns.
Yet still he trusted.
Still he obeyed.
And only afterwards did angels come.
Isn't that awesome? It totally reminded me that Satan still uses those same attack methods on us today! Depend on yourself, don't believe that God really cares about you & bow down, just put something else in God's place for a moment, and you can have it all. And Jesus was ready, in his moments of physical weakness, for the Prowling Lion. We need to be too!