This Sunday, the First Sunday in Lent, obviously starts us in a new direction. In the Gospel text for this Sunday [Luke 4:1-13], Jesus is definitely headed toward the cross. And that difficult direction is already seen at the beginning of his ministry, during his time of temptation in the wilderness.
From our perspective, it is difficult for us to relate to this time of temptation. If we ourselves had to go through the trial and trouble of not eating for forty days, I think we would care deeply. In short, it would be impossible for the vast majority of us.
The lack of sympathy for such a situation puts us in an opposite perspective, one of caring for what EXACTLY happened. And I would not be the first person to point out that, when comparing the temptations in the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke, the order is different. And asking what order the temptations actually occurred is somewhat like asking the lifeguard to give you his qualifications while you are drowning and going down for the last time.
Using the typical Hebrew literary structure of the important thing in the middle, the middle temptation in the Gospel according to Matthew is that of Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple. And with the living creature of the Gospel according to Luke being the ox, the temptation at the end, after the ox has done all the hard work, is the Jerusalem temple temptation. Both places are important.
The most helpful context to remember for the New Testament is the Old one. Jerusalem is a significant city because the temple was a significant place. And the temptation is very real.
The devil had a great plan for a wonderful start to Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus would jump down from the top of the temple, he would float down and would end up getting a significant number of loyal followers.
That was certainly not the plan in mind. You can see this through the various chapters of this account: Jesus does some wonderful things, but then he goes off by himself. Jesus says some difficult things, but then he does some wonderful things—but then he tells the people not to tell anyone. Some people are seriously upset by what he does; others are seriously confused. Some people want him to leave; others want to follow him; and Jesus tells them both that things are going to be difficult.
In the last verse of the text, the devil goes away from Jesus until ‘an opportune time’. At the beginning of chapter 22, the text says that Satan entered into Judas. He goes to Jesus’ enemies and works out a deal to betray him. And the text says that they rejoiced. Herod also rejoiced when he got to see Jesus (23:8). In sharp contrast, the first two mentions of rejoicing in this gospel account were in the angel’s announcements to both Zechariah and Mary (1:14, 28). The variety shows itself in different ways.
When Jesus goes from big crowds to being off by himself, I can imagine that there would be an opportune time at some point. Jesus makes sure that the devil gets his work done so that the Father can do his. And, because of this, we rejoice.