Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

Lent 1 A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Matthew 4:1-11

1Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards He was famished. 3The tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread;’ 4but He answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

5Then the devil took Him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying 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.” ’
7Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

8Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9and he said to Him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’
11Then the devil left Him, and suddenly angels came and waited on Him.

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

Oh dear! How many times have we heard a passage of scripture being quoted in support of some ideal, ignoring other passages which either contradict the ideal, or support an alternative to it? Leviticus 20:13 tells us that a man having a sexual relationship with another man should be put to death because his actions are detestable, but Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created male and female in His (i.e. God’s) image. Since we are all created in God’s image homosexual people can’t be detestable to God, however much the relationship might be considered undesirable for the continuation of the human species which God has created. The Epiphany 4 passage from Matthew spoke of “an eye for an eye”, which is still practised in some countries, but must be abhorrent to a loving God who is willing to forgive, and forgive, and forgive. Here we have the devil trying to coax Jesus into his errant ways and attacking the relationship Jesus had with God by quoting passages of scripture which were to his suiting, and ignoring others which weren’t. I note the beginning of the words attributed to the devil: “IF you are the Son of God”. Anyone for an insult?

Whenever I see images of the devil I am struck by how unrealistic they seem to be. If the devil really appeared to us with horns and carrying a pitch-fork would we ever be tempted? Of course not! We’re far more likely to willingly go down the track the devil wants us to take, and move away frm God, if we feel we can trust him; and that trust only comes with being happy to be with him, or one of his entourage. It might be the willing person who wants to help run the children’s group, or the person who invites you to play games at the casino, or many others. Keep watch! Be vigilant! How much our society has slid when we have to be constantly doubting the motives of people around us!

The devil was trying to get Jesus to take the easy way out of His hunger after days in the wilderness, but Jesus was wise to his motives, and appreciated the work which goes into producing food. It’s not magic! When the disciples came back to the Samaritan well (John 4:32) Jesus told them He had food which they didn’t know about – food from His relationship with God. He didn’t need to turn stones to bread. He didn’t need to break His relationship with His Father. Go run up a shutter, Satan: it didn’t work. Christ 1, Satan 0.

It might sound disrespectful to the scriptures, but when I think of the devil taking Jesus from a location in the wilderness to the pinnacle of the temple I have images of Superman or Dr Who travel. Of course it’s not. That’s just my 21st century mind picking up on aspects of the story which appear unrealistic, and it’s a distraction from the essence of these verses. These days Scripture is often discredited because we put a 21st century spin on, in this case, a 1st century text, and we let the distraction get in the way of our appreciation of, and understanding of, the message being portrayed. Here Satan quotes Psalm 91:12 as if it should be taken literally in such hypothetical situations. How often do we do the same, especially when it suits us? Again, Jesus is wise to the move and quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, which counters Satan’s reference. Can we respond in such a way? As a follower of Christ should I be able to respond that way? Christ 2, Satan 0!

Then Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows off all the world, offering to give Him all of it in exchange for worship. Hey, hang on a moment, Satan. You don’t own the world, though you seem to have a foothold in many places, so you can’t offer to give it to Him anyway. Do we offer things to others when we have no right to make such an offer? That’s one way in which we can get caught up with actions which are not in keeping with God’s will, or the benefits which following God will provide for all of us. How often do we succumb to offers, or temptations, which are in our personal best interest, but which are detrimental for others? Temptations aren’t just about being faced with a dilemma as to which of a number of options to take; temptations are about testing, in this case our faith and our relationship with God. There’s no doubt about who wins here. Christ 3, Satan 0. The Trinity wins, and Satan goes, but he is wily and uses his own followers to try to tempt us.

If you want a reflection on the Genesis passage set for Lent 1 then go to

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