Cornerstone

Lent Week 1: The Temptation in the Wilderness

“Jesus looked out upon the brokenness of those he loved, and saw deep in the souls of the image-bearers a need so desperate that it pierced his heart deeply.”

In an effort to more deeply interact with scripture during Lent, we are presenting some written historical fiction pieces that correspond to verses traditionally read during these weeks. Our hope is that these posts will help you to meditate on the life of Christ as told in scripture, and that leading up to Easter we may all find something beautifully new to appreciate about our Living God, who gave up his very life for us.

The rabbi walked toward the familiar landscape, his sandals scraping the earth beneath him. He set his face forward and squinted against the bright light. He had a spot in mind, and he took his time to get there. 

In the quiet space of the wilderness, Jesus considered his days. He considered his mother, a quiet and joyful woman, protective yet encouraging in all that he did. He considered his father, a humble and hardworking man, invested in the character of his children. Both of his parents were concerned first and foremost with pleasing the Lord, and this pleased his heart. To work alongside Joseph in the carpentry shop creating carts and stools brought him much joy, at least as much joy as working alongside Mary arranging the spools for her weaving. But now there was different work for him to do. With resolute conviction he knew that these days lie behind him, and newer days lay ahead. 

He had scarcely emerged from the waters of the Jordan when all at once he perceived a call from a familiar voice. It was not a call heard with ears, but with the heart, and it was a voice that Jesus was well and dearly acquainted with. It had called him to go out into the wilderness, and so he had. He had been praying and meditating for nearly seven weeks now, and though he had brought neither food nor water, he uttered no complaint. His body moved more slowly by this point, and his daily walks became shorter, but still he perceived that this time was not yet done. And so he continued.

Jesus sat under a tree breathing slowly. In an instant, another man appeared effortlessly, standing just off to his left. This man was dressed as a traveler, but he carried no sack with any supplies. His cloak and tunic were new, his sandals as fresh as if they had never stepped foot on sand. His skin and beard looked like that of any other Israelite, any man walking around the temple. In fact, the sole distinguishing feature about this traveler could only be seen by looking at him directly. In his eyes, where there should have been a color found in nature, there was instead an unholy black, pure and piercing, not so much a color as a chilling darkness felt in the bones.

Jesus did not startle at the man’s appearance, for he knew at once who he was. Though Jesus had seen various people in the wilderness over the past forty days and forty nights, every man, woman, and child that appeared to him had these same black eyes. Satan had been his earthly companion during this time, coming in different forms as he sought to tempt Jesus. This traveler was only the latest in a string of many forms meant to distract from his devotion to the Father.

On this particular morning, Jesus’s stomach rumbled loudly with the ache of hunger. The weakness of his flesh was obvious. The traveler’s eyebrows knitted together into an expression of concern.

“Ah, I can hear the suffering in your hunger,” he said as he stooped down to the ground. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” And he tossed a stone toward Jesus.

Jesus caught the stone and felt the warmth as he cradled it in his strong hand. Instead of being heavy, it felt almost soft and light. And was that the scent of Mary’s freshly baked barley bread hanging faintly in the air? Jesus smiled, partly with quiet joy at the remembrance of his mother, and partly in amusement at Satan’s paltry manipulative efforts.

Jesus looked at the stone intently, appreciating the artistry and potential of its curves. He need only to will it, and it would become nourishing bread to satiate his hunger. In an instant, he could use his own power to manipulate his circumstances to meet his needs. But he was here to trust his Father. 

“It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone,’” he responded, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And he tossed the stone back at Satan.

The traveller caught the stone without looking, a cold look of contempt on his face. He clenched his jaw and his fist, and the small stone cracked within his hand.

Jesus’s joints were stiff from sitting on the ground for so long, but still he stood up slowly and began to walk away eastward. He had taken only a few steps before the traveller ran to catch up, appearing next to him. The sky warped around them as suddenly they were not walking in the wilderness, but rather walking along the top of the temple in Jerusalem. Another five steps and they reached the pinnacle of the temple. They stood side by side looking out from the highest point upon the bustling streets of the holy city below.

“If you are the Son of God,” Satan said while looking at the ground, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” As he recited scripture, his tone was confident, even encouraging. Would it not be a great show of faith to jump?

Jesus looked out upon the lost sheep of Israel who were going about their business below. He recognized their faces, their routines, their struggles. They were desperate for signs and wonders, desperate for the Messiah that would release them from Rome’s grip. What a spectacle indeed it would be for a man to throw himself from the temple, whether he lived or died! But he was here to trust his Father. 

Jesus turned to him and answered, “It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” And he turned away from the ledge and began to walk away. The traveller remained a moment, stoic and pondering. Finally he leaned over and spit off the ledge onto the ground below. It singed the soft earth as it landed, narrowly missing an older man hobbling by.

Again the devil found himself several steps behind, moving quickly to catch up to Jesus. As they walked the roof of the temple around them gradually filled with snow and the surface became rocky and cold. This time they came to the edge of a cliff on a high mountain at the outskirts of the great cities.

Jesus exhaled, his breath creating a vaporous cloud before him. His thin frame shivered in the cold mountain air and he felt the hunger even more strongly now. He wore only his cloak and tunic, though Satan had suddenly donned layers of thick clothing, looking warm and comfortable. He stood right in front of Jesus, looking him full in the face.

“All this I will give you,” he proclaimed in proud voice, “if you will bow down and worship me.” He stepped aside with one sweeping motion, revealing the breathtaking view in front of them. 

And though the tempter had wanted him to see the splendor of the kingdoms of the world, this was not what Jesus saw. At least, it was not the only thing.

For as Jesus looked out upon the landscape and the handiwork of man before him, he saw more than any eye could view. He heard booming laughter within warm houses, and cries of anguish from the houses of the sick. He saw generosity and giving, and he saw wickedness and theft. He saw all things that were created through him, and yet none of it was being returned to him. There was no glory given, no respect shown. No gratitude given to the One who had given all gifts, no honor shown to the true, all-powerful King. Such things were not, and they would not be. Jesus looked out upon the brokenness of those he loved, and saw deep in the souls of the image-bearers a need so desperate that it pierced his heart deeply. 

It was sin that had taken them away from him, the deceiver who had lied to them, who continued to lie to them to this day. They had been told that their shalom—their wholeness, their completeness, their wellbeing and joy—could be found in things other than the living God. What foolishness! What tragedy! The Father who created them and sustained them was their only true hope, and in that moment Jesus could have revealed this. He could have shouted from the mountain the truth of the Lord and commanded the worship he was properly due. He could have reclaimed in that moment the kingdoms of the world that were rightfully his. If he worshiped Satan, he could have all authority on earth—without going to the cross.

But that would not fulfill what was written. It would not bring many sons to glory. It would not be the will of the Father. And he was here to trust his Father.

The indignation of Satan’s suggestion that worship go to anyone other than the Lord welled up inside Jesus, surpassing all else that he felt physically. “Away with you, Satan!” said Jesus, his narrowed eyes flashing with fire bright as life itself, “For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

Jesus advanced forward and the devil backed away quickly, disintegrating into the air as quickly as he had appeared. Jesus was breathing deeply now, his righteous anger having temporarily warmed him. Now he swayed, the finitude of his body making itself known again. He fell to his knees, and as he landed he was back upon the warm ground under the tree in the wilderness. 

He remained prostrate for a moment, feeling a renewing presence as he regained his composure. When he looked up he saw fresh water and warm bread laid out before him.

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’” he whispered, bowing his head low and nodding. “Thank you, Father.” And he ate and was satisfied.

Ashley Ross

Ashley is a member of Cornerstone and serves as a Web Content Editor.

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