if you are the Son of God

Luke 4: 1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone.’ “
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.
If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'”
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
” ‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

What strikes me particularly about this passage and that which comes before it, is that twice the devil says, ‘if you are the Son of God’ (italics mine). In the previous passages, Jesus as Son of God has been traced genealogically, but is also declared publicly, at his baptism, by God the Father himself. It’s as if the devil takes what has been affirmed about Jesus and throws it back at him, somewhat scathingly.

Oh, so you are the Son of God, are you? Prove it.

I hear an echo too, of Matthew’s account of Jesus at his darkest hour: “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matt 27:40b)

In Luke’s account:
‘The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” ‘ (Luke 23:35).

So much of all this is caught up with Jesus’ identity. ”Who do you say I am?” he asks Peter (Mark 8:29).

Back to the passage in question. The devil uses various means of temptation, even quoting scripture himself (showing how scripture can be abused when taken out of context). Jesus responds with scripture himself.

Jesus is hungry. If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.
Tell this stone. If you are the Son of God, it should obey you.
The devil prompts him to satisfy his hunger, but also to prove himself.

If you worship me, it will all be yours.
The devil prompts Jesus to change his allegiance completely – no longer ‘Son of God’ but with a completely different master. The devil shows him everything. But Jesus refuses.

The final test. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.
The temptation to prove his identity, to others and himself.
It puts me in mind of superheroes, wanting to test out what they can do. Can I really fly? How far can I push myself?

But Jesus would not be testing himself, but God. He responds: do not put the Lord your God to the test.

And this isn’t a random event. The Holy Spirit takes him into this wilderness, for 40 days (like Israel’s 40 years). Where Israel builds a golden calf and continually doubts the LORD and does not comprehend what it is to be his people, Jesus passes the test. It is necessary for him to face these questions, in order to face the road ahead.
To ponder:

  • How often are we tempted to doubt our identity in Christ?
  • How would we respond to such questions?
  • Have there been times in our lives where a time of great affirmation is followed by one of great temptation?
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