This Sunday, the First Sunday in Lent, I’ll be preaching on Jesus’ temptation as we find it recorded in Mark’s gospel. Mark’s account is very short, unlike Luke and Matthew’s accounts, which provide much more dialogue between Jesus and the tempter. Even so, it raises some interesting questions, such as “why would the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness right after his baptism? “; “why the desert?”; “is it possible that Jesus could have failed this test?” and “why didn’t Jesus just take care of Satan right then and there and make life a whole lot easier for all of us?”
In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey reflects on the meaning of the Gospel account sof the Temptation. He writes, “The more I get to know Jesus, the more I am impressed by what Ivan Karamazov called ‘the miracles of restraint.’ The miracles Satan suggested, the signs and wonders the Pharisees demanded, the final proofs I yearn for–these would offer no serious obstacle to an omnipotent God. More amazing is his refusal to perform and to overwhelm. God’s terrible insistence on human freedom is so absolute that he granted s the power to live as though he did not exist, to spit in his face, to crucify him. All this Jesus must have known as he faced down the tempter in the desert, focusing his mighty power on the energy of restraint.”
Yancey writes a couple of pages later, “The Temptation in the desert reveals a profound difference between God’s power and Satan’s power. Satan has the power to coerce, to dazzle, to force obedience, to destroy. Humans have learned much from that power, and governments (and I would add, terrorists, criminals, and other destructive human beings–Mike) draw deeply from its reservoir. With a bullwhip or a billy club or an AK-47, human beings can force other human beings to do just about anything they want. Satan’s power is external and coercive.” God’s power is the power of love, the power of compassion, the power of a passionate Jesus who set his face resolutely to Jerusalem because he loved his people that much. And God wants us to freely choose to be disciples who place our feet in the footsteps of Christ.