Matthew 3:16-4:2 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.
The highest peaks can produce the greatest falls.
While some of us hike or drive up mountains out of necessity, most of us do so for the views. Whether it’s the White Mountains, Appalachians, Rockies, or the bunny hill by your house, getting to the top is a fun, amazing thing. But of course, we know there are risks. News reports of selfie-taking tourists and unprepared hikers often affirm the old saying that “the higher you go, the further you can fall.” Peaks come with excitement. Peaks come with accomplishment.
But peaks also come with danger.
Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ ministry began with a bang—a baptism celebration complete with Holy Spirit fireworks and an announcement by God. But just as chapter 4 begins, the lights grow dim, we leave behind the mountaintop experience, and we see Jesus being led into a very different place to hear a very different voice. Jesus encounters the devil—the adversary, the tempter, the Enemy—as he obediently follows the Spirit into the wilderness. The devil seeks to sidetrack Jesus after the adrenaline has worn off, after his friends are no longer around when he is in a place very different than the party at the Jordan. The devil encounters Jesus where he often encounters us— in the tender time after we’ve reached a peak, in our hunger and thirst, in our loneliness.
And as with Jesus, the devil desires that we jump to our destruction.
Temptation is an inevitable part of being human. Temptation is the moment before we decide whether or not to give in; it itself is not sin. Jesus experienced it. But we temptation also is a powerful weapon in the devil’s arsenal. As with Jesus, one of the devil’s greatest tricks lies in whispering lies about our greatest dreams, achievements, desires, gifts, and abilities. After you’ve tasted the atmosphere of the summit, he whispers that you can have more. After you’ve trekked back down to the valley, he tells you that you deserve more. After you’ve seen your own power and strength, he reminds you that you can become more. But when you decide to give in, inevitably you encounter the transformation of wonderful, precious things into nightmarish gremlins that haunt for years and lifetimes.
But Jesus gives us hope. Jesus overcame temptation and never sinned. Fully-human Jesus was tempted to use his divine power to do whatever he wanted, but he did not let the high of the Jordan and the low of the wilderness lead him to follow the directions of the devil. Which means, through Jesus, we have the power to resist it too. Jesus digs up the toxic root of the lies the devil tells us and reveals the deadly canyon behind them. When we encounter peaks, Jesus warns us to be prepared for temptation. On our peaks, Jesus bids us to step far away from the ledge and make it a point to lean on him so we don’t fall.
On Today's Road: What “peak” (achievement, sweet spot, talent, resources) has become a temptation in your life? How can you intentionally lean on Jesus so as to not slip and fall?