Thursday March 9, 2023
JESUS ANSWERED, IT IS WRITTEN MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
What good thing do you need to resist to embrace God’s best? The human heart is made for more than surviving; it is made for thriving. As we look at Jesus’s answer to the first temptation, and the others that follow, some background is in order.
Forty days in the wild for Jesus; forty years in the wild for Israel. Forty days in the wild for Jesus to pass his test of vocation and purpose as the Son of God. Forty years for Israel to struggle and fail, wander and wish, stumble and fall—ultimately failing to pass their test and affirm their vocation and purpose to share the covenant love of Yahweh with the world as a nation of priests, as the People of God (Ex. 19:3–6).
The three temptations (tests) that form the heart of the narrative take us deep into the book of Deuteronomy—and the millennia-ancient covenant story of God and Israel.
Jesus’s answers to the temptations of the satan quote from Deuteronomy directly and tie us back to the truth that Jesus’s story is integrally connected to Israel’s story—and vice versa.
To the first temptation to a) obey the devil’s suggestion, and b) turn a stone into some hot, buttery, gap-filling, hunger-satiating bread, Jesus answers: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
Jesus is answering the pressure of the enemy to misuse his agency and power (it’s the same temptation that the snake used on Adam and Eve in the garden, and the same used on Israel and humans for all time after) for his own benefit.
He quotes from the powerful passage in Deuteronomy 8:1–5 (emphasis mine), in a sense, on behalf of all of us:
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. 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. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.
Jesus’s covenant-powered answer is from this culminating moment in the first books of Deuteronomy. Let’s summarize the backstory that leads to it.
In Deuteronomy 1, Moses is with God’s people in the wilderness (and they are “a heavy burden,” verse 9).
In Deuteronomy 2, they continue their forty years of wandering (and they have “not lacked anything,” verse 7).
In Deuteronomy 3, they are about to take possession of the land by crossing the Jordan (and Moses will not be allowed to go in, verse 26).
In Deuteronomy 4, Israel is called to obedience and to avoid idolatry (that they might “know that the Lord is God, and there is no other,” verse 35).
In Deuteronomy 5, they are given the Ten Commandments with a call to obedience (that they may “live and prosper” over long days, verse 33).
In Deuteronomy 6 we read the great Shema of Israel and the call to love in covenant with Yahweh (“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts,” verses 4–6).
In Deuteronomy 7, Yahweh affirms both his covenant affection and covenant faithfulness to Israel (one could almost weep during the chapter reading, about this small, chosen people, and how “the Lord loved you and kept the oath,” verses 7–9).
In Deuteronomy 8, and Jesus’ answering of the devil from it, Jesus is essentially saying, “My covenant is not with you, Accuser and Un-Namer of Adam and Eve, Israel, God’s historic people, and me—it is with my Father.” Manna is not the bread of life. The Word of Yahweh is—and Jesus is the very Bread of Life standing before the most evil of spirits, resisting his feeble offer. Jesus resisted the bread to become the Bread of Life—for us all (John 6:35).
He doesn’t have time for party games and quick desire fixes with his adversary. He has come to undo the works of that very evil one—it is his central mission and Son of God purpose (1 John 3:8).
As followers of Jesus, it is our mission as well.
What does it mean to you that Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35)?
Lord of the Wild, we are free because you answered the satan in this first temptation to use your power for yourself. You used it for us. To free us. To feed us on the Bread of Life, you and your transforming, awakening, covenant love. You have filled us with all we need; we choose to give the enemy no quarter in our own dealings with his un-naming, disorienting voice. We choose your way, and we will answer the enemy with the Word as well. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Songs for the Wilderness
First 15 through the season of Lent is adapted from Jesus in the Wild: Lessons of Calling for Life in the World available through Seedbed. If you or your small group are interested in using this resource for your Lenten study, you can find more information here or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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