A devotional reflection based on Matthew 4:1-11
Lenten Season–week one
Read the Gospel passage first, then the devotional reflection that
follows. The discussion prompts at the end will help prepare you for
Sunday school and small-group sessions.
Our first steps with Jesus on our Lenten journey take us to a desert wilderness far from his baptism by John the Baptist. The Spirit has led him away from the crowds and excitement. As we fall into step with him, he has fasted many days. Haggard and drawn, Jesus is confronted with evil offering what appear to be helpful suggestions. But the words have a suspicious ring. The temptation begins innocently enough. “Make these stones into bread! You’re famished. This is the real world. You’re not going to survive at this rate! A dead Messiah isn’t going to do anyone any good.”
It isn’t that Jesus isn’t hungry. It isn’t that he can’t work a miracle. Later he will fed five thousand people with a little boy’s lunch. Survival isn’t the issue. For Jesus, taking orders solely from the Father is what he is all about, so he surely is not going to take advice from the Evil One.
“Man does not live by bread alone,” he says, “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The sympathetic tone continues, as the temptation steps to another level.
“What is this fasting and praying all about? Excitement is what sells! You need publicity! Put on a show! Do miracles! You can be famous!”But Jesus is not a performer. He doesn’t do things for the effect. It isn’t that he can’t master the forces of nature. Later he will walk on the sea and calm storms. He will even raise the dead. But his greatest miracle is teaching us to love, to love even the way of the cross. The way to eternal life has no flashy shortcuts. Jesus listens to one Voice only. “Don’t try to make God do tricks!” is his reply.
The third temptation is maybe the most insidious of all. It is the temptation to compromise. The tempter offers to join forces with Jesus, but on his terms. “A cross is a terrible way to go! No one will see out here in the desert if you just bow down and kneel before me. What does the Father care? What does he know? You have to take charge of your life! Just worship me and you’ll have no competition! Be powerful: you need to take charge! Assert yourself!”
Here Jesus, at his weakest, uses the defense that is available to us all as we learn to walk with him in the time of temptation. He doesn’t try to reason with the Enemy. He reaches back into the Father’s promises. He flees to the first commandment. “Away with you, Satan!” he cries, “for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” Satan has to leave. The angels come, there in the wilderness, and Jesus is
refreshed. Then he resumes the step-by-step following of the Father’s will that will take him to Calvary, to Olivet, and to the glory beyond.
There will be no compromise, no shortcut.
With Jesus in the wilderness of temptation we learn to reject the false sympathy of the tempter and dare to be faithful, as he is faithful.
If you are a student, you want good grades. They open doors. They bring
scholarships. The easiest way to good grades is to let someone else do your work for you. But there is no real shortcut to genuine education.
If you are lonely, you want intimacy and the good feelings of love and
security. No one has to tell you those are good things. The easiest way to those feelings is the pathway of least resistance. But there are no shortcuts to real friendship. There is never an excuse to use people like things, no matter what the goal may be.
If you are ambitious, you want success and influence. Within the boundaries of genuine caring those could be very worthy goals. But in our world, all too often personal goals are reached at whatever the cost. But there is no shortcut to real integrity. Cheating is always wrong; adultery and fornication are always sin; betrayal of confidence is always heartbreaking.
Whatever the reason, remember: there are no shortcuts to finding and doing
God’s will. It is a wonderful thing to realize that in God’s will we don’t need shortcuts! He is with us and will help us to do his will, if we only allow him.
So there are no shortcuts in walking with Jesus.
A workman went to his big boss one day and said, “I’m tired. I think I’ll take my retirement benefits and hang it up. It’s been great working for you.” The big boss looked disappointed and said, “I really hate to see you go. I was hoping you could do at least one more big job for me. Will you, just one more?” Reluctantly the builder agreed to build a house for some important client of the big boss. It was a big house, a big job, a lot of work. It was on a golf course, with a lot of detail. But the man’s heart really wasn’t in it. He threw the house together in record time and cut corners on material and labor wherever he could. He saved the boss a lot of money, but it wasn’t really his best work and he knew it. Imagine how he felt when he turned the keys over to the big boss and the boss gave them right back and fished around in his briefcase and gave him the title and deed to the property on the golf course. “This is my gift for you!” he said. “Thanks for all your good work over the years!” Then the builder wished he hadn’t been in such a hurry. He wished he hadn’t cut corners and taken shortcuts just to get the job done.
Life is like that. Exactly like that. We become the product of our own integrity in following after God—or our lack of integrity. Either we become exiles from innocence when we try to take shortcuts to being like God, or with the Holy Spirit’s help, we walk with Jesus and use the promises and the commandments of God to resist the tempter’s power and share in Christ’s very life, living in his righteousness.
This is the first Sunday in Lent. The journey is under way. Today is a good
time to ask God to give us grace to be like Jesus as we face temptations to cut corners, to take shortcuts, to compromise in any way with the known will of God. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to try to get away with building a shoddy house. I know I’m going to have to live in what I build. —RFM
After reading the passage from Matthew 4 and the
devotional reflection “No Shortcuts,” you may also
want to read the following related passages:
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; and Romans 5:12-19
The discussion prompts that follow will help prepare you to participate in
your Sunday school class or small-group study. Use your reflective journaling section to record any other insights that come to you as you read the Gospel lesson and the devotional reflection.
DISCUSSION PROMPT #1: MATTHEW 4
Matthew describes three different temptations in this passage. What was the
nature of each of the three?
DISCUSSION PROMPT #2: MATTHEW 4
What might Jesus have gained by yielding to each temptation? What price
would he have paid for giving in to each?
DISCUSSION PROMPT #3: MATTHEW 4
How did Jesus overcome these temptations?
DISCUSSION PROMPT #4: MATTHEW 4
Do these verses only apply to Jesus because he is the Messiah, or can they
have meaning for our lives as well? Why?
DISCUSSION PROMPT #5: DEVOTIONAL REFLECTION
The writer of No Shortcuts uses an illustration to conclude the devotional
reflection. How does that story speak to you? The last sentence?