Good choices are hard, especially in weak moments. Does it help us with our choices to know that Jesus had weak moments and tough choices, too?
Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry.
The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.”
Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to really live.”
For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, “They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.”
Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”
For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone’?”
“Yes,” said Jesus, “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’”
That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.
–Luke 4, The Message
A few things jump out at us from this story.
Temptation can be personal and even personified. We hear that little voice in our heads, saying “everyone is doing it”. Sometimes it’s even so plain it’s like a devil’s whisper.
Temptations aren’t one-and-dones. We never put them behind us once and for all. Jesus rejects three temptations, decisively. Then the devil retreats, but doesn’t totally give up. The devil lies in wait for another opportunity, at another opportune time. What does that tell us? That temptations are real, and they are very persistent.
What does temptation say about freedom of choice? That we can be tempted to make the wrong choice means freedom is real. We aren’t God’s puppets attached to the Almighty by strings. Jesus is led toward temptations, twice: he goes along. For temptation to be real, it means that Jesus actually considering giving in. But he doesn’t. We’re free to succeed, or fail. Having freedom of choice is a good thing. It’s also dangerous.
We’ll talk more about what these three temptations mean later. For now, the final lesson is that this story affirms that It’s okay that we have weak moments. Weak moments are normal, and to be expected. They can come right after we’ve felt our strongest. It’s not that we’re weak that matters, it’s what we choose to do in moments of weakness that defines us on the way.