On a small mountain, just west of the Jordan River, even forty days of fasting could not weaken the resolve of Jesus. He had been led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. As Jesus prayed, the words of John the Baptist played on repeat in his mind, “Look, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus knew that John was prophesying of his death. In that, his mind flashed back to the Passover—the spotless lamb given in sacrifice for the children of God.
Deep in thought, Jesus looked up and out over the valley. He knew that the trip to the cross was one he would take alone, but he was not alone now. Now, he felt the presence of one he knew long ago—one who made the nations tremble, one who said in his heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…” (Isaiah 14:13). Years ago, their paths had almost crossed in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph had fled with the child Jesus just before King Herod’s army had arrived to slaughter the children of the city. The devil had been searching for Jesus ever since, watching for another opportunity.
The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God….”
In Satan’s opening line, during the Temptation of Jesus, we hear him cast doubt on the truthfulness of God’s Word. After his baptism, when Jesus emerged from the waters of the Jordan, the sky was torn open, the Spirit descended like a dove, and the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Here in the wilderness, Satan is now questioning God’s good Word. His trick is nothing new. In fact, it is as old as sin.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan appeared to Eve and asked, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” Satan replied, “You will not surely die…” (Genesis 3).
And there it is; the father of lies accusing God of being a liar.
It is a lie that changed the course of human history. God had given Adam and Eve all good things. How would they respond to his goodness? They would deny his Word, and death would enter the world just as God had said it would.
The voice of the tempter comes to us as well, “Has God really said that you are forgiven? Surely, you can see that you are not. Look at how the earth refuses to give up her crop. Look at how disease ravages your bodies. Look at how war destroys your kingdoms. Surely, you can see that God has forsaken you.”
Perhaps you are tempted to believe the devil. There is always a hint of truth in his lies. But then we are reminded of the very Word of God become flesh—the one who resisted temptation, the one of whom the Psalmist declares, “… as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions” (Psalm 103:12). This forgiveness did not come without cost.
On the cross, Jesus cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”—which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Surely you know, it is for you that he was forsaken?
In Christ you have been given all good things. How will you respond to his goodness? Trust his Word, and open your ears! A day is coming when all will confess, even the devil, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Rev. Troy Tysdal is Director of Communications and Prayer for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and serves as editor in chief of Faith & Fellowship magazine.