Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bread in the Wilderness

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4)
Mark’s account of the Temptation is brief and rapid fire but very powerful. Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, give us more detail, each describing three specific temptations and Jesus’ response to them. Let’s look at the first one, as presented in Matthew.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil. Jesus fasted for forty days and nights but only at the end did he begin to feel the depth of his hunger. That was when the devil came with the first temptation: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Diabolos, the Greek word for “devil” means accuser, and that is what he did here. Shortly before, when Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and the voice of the Father declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). But now here was the accuser, questioning that: “If you are the Son of God …”

Jesus was physically very hungry, and the devil’s challenge was to command the stones around him to become bread, and so prove that he is the Son of God. But this was not just about Jesus’ own hunger. The Son of God was supposed to be the Messiah, the Anointed One who would deliver his people from bondage and exile, just as Moses delivered the children of Israel from the Egypt. Under Moses, they ate manna in the wilderness, a bread-like substance that probably resembled the stones that now surrounded Jesus. So Jesus answered Satan with a quote from Moses, taken from Deuteronomy 8:2-3.
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
God’s provision of manna in the wilderness was never just about feeding physical hunger. It was always about learning to depend upon God, to hear his voice and walk in his ways. In Jesus the Messiah, God has spoken the ultimate word. This was the import of the author of Hebrews, the point he makes from the beginning of his letter:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The Gospel of John also begins by revealing Jesus as the ultimate and living Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This is the same Word that became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

In John 6, Jesus fed the five thousand with two small fish and five barley loaves. After his ministry that day, he crossed over to the other side of the Galilee. The crowds came looking for him again the next day. Jesus said,
Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval. (John 6:26-27)
They were after physical bread … and a parlor show — reminiscent of the devil’s temptation: “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30-31). Jesus answered,
Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (John 6:32-33)
He spoke of a very different kind of bread, one that comes down into the world and for the world, not merely from the world. And a different appetite now began to awaken in them, even if only a little. “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread” (John 6:34). Then Jesus identified what that bread is:
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (John 6:35-38)
The bread that endlessly nourishes and refreshes and sustains us is not that which is magically turned from stones. It is the Lord Jesus himself, the Word become flesh, the Son of God who came down from heaven not to do his own will — much less the challenge of Satan — but the will of the Father who sent him. He is the bread by which we live the life of the age to come, even now in this present age.

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