So Jesus, full of the Spirit, is led by the Spirit out into the wilderness. The theme of being “full of the Spirit” and being “led by the Spirit” is all over Luke’s Gospel as it is in Acts. Luke wants us to make no mistake that Jesus is not flying blind. The very Spirit of God is leading him. And here, the Spirit of God leads him into the wilderness. I’ll be honest with you: I struggle with this story. I love it from an almost mythological standpoint, but from a narrative of the man called Jesus of Nazareth standpoint, I struggle. First of all, I struggle with the him being led into the wilderness by the Spirit to not eat for 40 days. If a member of my congregation said to me that they felt led to do that, I would have to say, “I can’t recommend that.” Furthermore any pastor who did would probably be, and probably should be, labelled a cult leader and possibly face legal trouble. Second of all, I struggle with the concept of any kind of physical being showing up and tempting Jesus. Now the text never expressly says that a physical being showed up, but this story is often understood and portrayed that way.
Regardless of all that, however, here’s what I think is at least going on and is crucial to the life and work of Christ: I think the Spirit of God did lead him into the wilderness for the mother of all fasts. I think this happens as a way to remind us and to show us the degree to which Jesus relied on and was connected to the sustaining power of God. Did he literally not take in any food or water for 40 days? I don’t know. I don’t think that’s what’s important here. I think what’s important is that Jesus entered into an intentional and rigorous discipline in which he was forced to fully rely of the power of Spirit in his life. And in doing this, temptation crept in. Temptation to compromise his discipline, his values, and his mission crept in and he came out victorious. He was tempted to compromise his discipline by utilizing the power of the Spirit in his life to turn stones to bread. But he overcame. He was tempted to compromise his values by receiving the power that comes with all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus isn’t about the power of the kingdoms of this world. He is about the power of the Spirit in the kingdom of God. He overcame. And he was tempted to compromise his mission by testing the power of the Spirit within him through what can only be described as an extreme circus act. The power of the Spirit in his life is not given for Jesus to put on awe inspiring displays of power. No, the power of the Spirit in Jesus’ life exists for him to step into his mission; a mission which he is about to reveal.
This is a tricky text for me. Once upon a time I began to step into a more literal understanding what’s happening here. I’m not as certain about that anymore. But regardless of what we believe about this “devil” character here, there’s a lot still to take from this story: The work of God in this world is hard. It requires discipline, it requires conviction of values, and it requires commitment to a mission. And, there is something in the air out there that tempts us, even Jesus, to give up. Thanks be to God that Jesus did not.