"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil." - Luke 4:1-2
There's a lot of emphasis on excellence and greatness these days, even in the church. The temptations of Jesus caution against all that. Here's why: if we pursue and achieve "greatness" we will most likely pat ourselves on the back rather than praise God on our knees.
The devil's invitations to: 1) make bread from a stone; 2) impress crowds with death-defying leaps; and 3) claim political power for global domination; are all invitations for Jesus to pursue greatness over faithfulness. And Jesus was tempted. That's why they are called the temptations of Jesus, not the charades of Jesus.
We tend to think of temptation as the sort of things that happen in Vegas and we'd rather have stay in Vegas. Yet temptation is mostly a habit of turning good things (such as food, credentials, influence) into ultimate things, giving them far greater worth and allegiance than they deserve.
Jesus refused temptation in favor of faithfulness. And blessedly, what happened in the wilderness did not stay in the wilderness:
Jesus refused to satisfy his own hunger, but later he fed thousands in the wilderness with just a few loaves of bread.
He refused to showboat his divinity from the heights of the Temple, but later he was lifted up on a Roman cross for all to see.
He refused earthly dominion but offered the kingdom of heaven to those who take up their cross and follow him.
Throughout his life and death Jesus demonstrated what faithfulness looks like, and in doing so he revealed the greatness of God.
Holy God, only you are great. Help me to be faithful. It's all you ask and it's the most excellent way. Amen.
Matthew Laney is the Senior Minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, UCC, in Hartford, Connecticut.