The First Temptation
I believe that all would-be Christians must face the same three temptations as Jesus did. These same demons are in all of us. The first temptation of Christ was to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:3). Sounds good, but this is likely our need to be immediately impressive and effective, successful, relevant, and make things happen right now. It is our natural desire to look good.
The false self tells you what it immediately wants and seldom knows what it really needs. You can be a very popular and successful person when you operate at this level, and you will easily think very well of yourself. That is why Jesus has to face that temptation first, to move us beyond what we first want to what we really need. In refusing to be immediately relevant, in refusing to respond to people’s immediate requests, Jesus says, Go deeper. What do you really desire? It is not usually what you first think. “It is not by bread alone that we live” (Matthew 4:4).
The Second Temptation
The second temptation of Jesus is another one that all of us must face. Satan takes Jesus up to the pinnacle of the Temple, symbolizing the top of the religious world itself, and tells him to play “righteousness games” with God. “Throw yourself off and He’ll catch you” (Matthew 4:6). It’s the only time in the Bible where the devil quotes Scripture. Holy words can be used for evil purposes, it surely says. This second temptation is to think of yourself as saved, superior to others, the moral elite on the side of God and religion, and to quote arguable Scriptures for your own purpose—being against God in the name of God. Actually it is quite common.
As Mother Teresa loved to say, “We were not created to be successful [even spiritually successful!], but to be obedient.” True obedience to God won’t always make us look or feel right (that is why it takes faith!), so be careful before you stand on the pinnacle of any Temple, Scripture, or Sacrament. It is the common temptation of actually loving ourselves under the guise of loving God.
The Third Temptation
The third human temptation is the need for control, importance, and power. The devil tells Jesus to bow down before the power systems of this world: “All of these I will give to you” (Matthew 4:8). Make these into your actual belief and security system. Formal atheism is rare, but this kind of practical daily atheism is almost the norm.
Jesus refuses to bow down before these little kingdoms, the corporations, the idols of militarism and materialism, race and nationality, and all imperialistic thinking. He knows that the price of such love of power is to “fall at Satan’s feet and worship him!” (Matthew 4:9).
That’s a very heavy judgment on all the security systems of this world. These will finally and inevitably demand your full allegiance, loyalty, and attention, but it will all feel like you “are just doing your job.” When Jesus saw through this one and said, “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve God alone,” then the devil left him (Matthew 4:10-11). When you can face these kinds of well-disguised demons, Satan doesn’t have a chance.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Radical Grace: Daily Meditations