Recently I was asked to share some thoughts about Matthew 4:1-11, the story of Christ’s Temptation, and I thought I’d share just a bit of that with you. In this story, we find the importance of loving yourself—but not for selfish reasons. Much the opposite, Jesus shows us the importance of loving and caring for yourself for God’s sake, and the sake of others. Let’s take a quick look at the story:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,‘One does not live by bread alone,but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,‘Worship the Lord your God,and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” (Matthew 4:1-11; NRSV).
In Matthew’s Gospel, the story of Jesus’ temptation directly follows his baptism, and directly precedes his period of ministry. Here we find Jesus at a moment before he has healed a single sick person, preached a single Gospel message, performed a single miracle. Yet, the ministry of Jesus, in a sense, begins here—with protecting himself against the temptations that Satan will bring against him.
And what are those temptations? — To doubt his identity (“If you are the Son of God,” Satan says again and again). To prove himself out of pride. To lose sight of his mission and purpose.
Jesus is prepared to withstand these temptations because he is well-nourished (“Man does not live by bread alone”), and he knows his true self (“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”). And because he is nourished and assured himself, he is able to proceed in his ministry of sharing with others in God’s name.
Perhaps the same challenge can apply to us. We all certainly want to help others and make a difference in the lives of others—and it’s great that we want to do that. But let us not forget, also, that we need nourishment from God’s Word, and we need assurance in our identity as children of God. If we do not take care of ourselves on a spiritual level, we may not be well-prepared for Satan’s challenges, and we may not have the chance to do the things for others that we long to do.
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The painting of Christ’s temptations is the work of Sandro Botticelli, and can be accessed here: By Sandro Botticelli - See below., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16002985