Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 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 all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4.1-13)
Last week, we mentioned the three sacrificial systems of this world that united to murder God within the Jesus story. Those three we listed were political systems reliant on violence, represented by Pilate; religious systems based on fear, represented by Caiaphas; and economic systems driven by greed, represented by Herod. What we find in few discourses we do have on the early church is a strange lack of emphasis on or theology surrounding the crucifixion, and a much greater emphasis on the world-changing implications of the Resurrection as God’s overthrowing and victory over the injustice of the cross. Yes, the cross is the means whereby we also follow Jesus in restoring his Kingdom here on earth, but it’s all because there was a Resurrection. Without the resurrection, Jesus’ death simply becomes yet another nonviolent direct action in a long list of others within history.
Yet the story of Jesus’ rejection of these three sacrificial systems only climaxed in the uniting of the threatened Powers That Be (Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod) in the crucifixion. The story of Jesus’ rejection of these three systems is not simply where the Jesus story ends; Jesus’ rejection of these three is exactly where Jesus’ Kingdom revolution, according to the story, also begins.
This week, I want to share some brief comments on Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness and their relevance this season as many are focusing on the resurrection. Remember, Jesus had come to establish His Kingdom here on earth. There are three ways “kingdoms” are established in this world: an economy driven by greed, a religion based on fear, or a political system reliant on violence. A “super power” is a kingdom of this world that has successfully mastered and united all three. In the wilderness temptations, we see Jesus, in the very beginning of his Kingdom revolution, tempted to use but decisively rejecting all three.
Turning Stones Into Bread
As we have covered elsewhere (The Hallmark at https://renewedheartministries.com/AudioPresentationSeries.aspx?series=36), the economic systems at the top of the pyramid structures of our societies today are rooted in the narrative of believing there is a scarcity of those things that will fill our needs. This scarcity produces undercurrents of anxiety. The desire for security or assurance that our needs will be met drives us into a lifestyle centered on accumulation the things we need. Remember, greed is defined as hording out of fear for tomorrow, while those around us are not having even their basic needs being met today. For those who are most driven by this anxiety, without fail, ultimately a monopoly is created in which the greatest amount of control over that which supplies one’s (or a group’s) needs is made and protected at all costs. Though it comes in many forms, this is the essence of greed-driven economies. Yet this security always comes with victims upon whom we shoulder the cost of our ability to get a better night’s sleep.
What Jesus was tempted with first was a means by which nature could be coerced (“turning stones into bread”—think Monsanto, or the meat and dairy industry here in the United States) to create a monopoly that places Him at the top of this world’s pyramid. Henry Kissinger once said, “Those who control the food supply control the people.” Just ask Pharaoh in Egypt—or rather, ask one of his Hebrew slaves. Economically, the way to establish a kingdom of this world is to gain monopolistic control over that which supplies the needs of the many. Jesus rejects the use of such methods in establishing His Kingdom by quoting from Deuteronomy:
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8.3)
Jesus saw what the temptation really was. He refused to use the narrative of scarcity and chose instead the narrative of the manna, where needs will be supplied not by accumulation and ultimately monopolies, but daily by God. There will be more manna tomorrow. Jesus rejected a narrative of scarcity, anxiety, accumulation, and monopoly for a narrative of trust, gratitude, sharing, and generosity toward even one’s enemies.
As Gandhi once said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
Bowing Down To The Accuser
The second temptation Jesus was presented with was to bow down to the Accuser as a means of establishing His Kingdom. This is how all kingdoms of this world are established politically. Napoleon once said about Jesus, “I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”
Kingdoms of this world are established politically by first bowing down to the Satan, the accuser (Hasatan). Nothing unifies a group so quickly and effectively as pointing to a common enemy, accusing them as being the ones we should fear and hate. Jesus could have secured the top position at the pyramid, according to the Tempter, using this means—it was guaranteed, actually. But Jesus came to establish a Kingdom not centered on hatred for a common enemy, but centered on love for one’s enemies. (This, for Napoleon, radically set Jesus apart from all others.) Again, this also creates a lot of security, but just as with economics driven by greed, it comes at the cost of victims. Somebody somewhere has to be the victim, the enemy, the scapegoat, that pays the price for our unity.
A Miracle That Would Immortalize The Temple
The last challenge in Luke’s retelling is the temptation to do something miraculous or sensational within the Temple. Here, Jesus is tempted to use the religious system of His own people, which, as we saw last week, was simply a religious version of systems that sacrifice innocents for the security or assurance of the masses. This too produces security and assurance, but at the cost of innocent victims. Jesus did not come to gain a place at the top of the pyramid by immortalizing such systems by miraculous spectacles. Jesus came to establish His Kingdom by bring such systems to an end. (See last week’s eSight.)
Lastly, it would be wise to notice that the Tempter used the Bible in each of his enticements. The Bible can be used—most eloquently, actually—to justify using violence for political gains. (Augustine used the story of Joshua.) The Bible can be used to justify greed disguised under the label of “wise stewardship.” How often have I myself witnessed the Bible being twisted to condemn any attempt at ending world hunger, which institutional Christianity today has the power to do if every institution that bore the name of Jesus would simply obey the command given go the rich young ruler! If institutional Christianity would simply liquidate all assets and give the proceeds to the hungry, Christianity could go down in history for actually ending world hunger for good, looking like Jesus, rather than the awful history it’s most known for among its non-adherents—the Crusades. Even Jesus’ statement to the disciples that the poor we would always have with us today is being used to justify something so opposite to Jesus’ entire life and teachings as ignoring the hungry. And yes, a lot does not need to be said to mention that the Bible can also be used to inspire fear as the foundation of a religious system that places that system in the role of savior from divine repercussions, itself providing the only means through which assurance can be attained—yet whichever pyramid structure is created this way, even if it uses the Bible economically, politically, or religiously, this is anti-Jesus, anti-Kingdom, anti-Christ.
Jesus had come to establish his Kingdom here on earth “as it is in heaven.” The kingdom economically is based neither on greed nor even fairness, but on need (see Matthew 20.12). Jesus’ economics are driven by need, not greed (see Matthew 5.45). Jesus’ politics are found in the Sermon on the Mount as well (see Matthew 5.3-11). They are not dependent on violence (Matthew 5.38-39), nor can they even be accomplished by violence. Jesus’ politics are established in having one’s own blood shed rather than shedding the blood of another. And lastly, Jesus came not to start a religion at which He sat at the top; Jesus came to start a revolution where the greatest is servant of all. Nowhere does Jesus asks us to assent to certain intellectual propositions or to outwardly conform to a list of rules that would assure us of postmortem realities; rather, He taught us to keep our focus on how we live today, here, now. Jesus didn’t give humanity a sure way to get to heaven, but a risky way to heal the world. Jesus gave us a way to bring heaven here, reuniting heaven with earth once again. Jesus did not teach the “meek will go to heaven,” but that the meek will inherit the earth—a renewed earth, where heaven and earth are once again one (see Matthew 5.5; Revelation 5.10; 21.3). Contrary to popular belief, Jesus doesn’t give us the most guaranteed way of appeasing the gods. Jesus offers us the path to a whole new world—a path rooted in new way of treating our fellow travelers on this journey rooted in seeing them, ourselves, and even God radically differently.
Jesus didn’t come to simply obtain the top position of the power pyramid structures of this world, but to turn them all on their head (see Luke 6.20, 24) and establish in their places something radically different. Jesus came to heal the world (John 3.17, Acts 17.6).
As I shared last week, if we would simply be open to learning how to recognize and then say “no” (as we see Jesus doing in the wilderness) to the systemic evils of greed, violence, and fear—all of which lift us up while pushing others downward—that alone would change everything.
This week, for your time of contemplation with Jesus, I want you to use the story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness.
1. Sit with Jesus quietly with each passage. Ask Him to show it to you from different angles. Be patient. Listen. When you ask for a fish, He won’t give you a serpent. Take the time to also read each version of the event (Matthew 4; Luke 4; Mark 1). Hold in tension the victory of the Resurrection. Jesus chose to establish His Kingdom not through the means offered Him by the Tempter, but by the way of shameful cross and empty tomb.
2. Make sure you journal any insights Jesus shares with you during your time with Him.
3. Share whatever insight and life applications Jesus gives you this week with your HeartGroup.
Till the only world that remains is a world where love, once again, reigns, let’s follow the Master this week in saying “no” to the ways of violence, fear, and greed. Keep living in love. Keep enlarging the Kingdom. Remember, you walk in the light streaming from the empty tomb.
I love you guys! See you next week.