Our first Lenten scripture tells of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan. Jesus is first tempted to turn stones into bread in order to satisfy his hunger–the result of forty days of fasting. He is then tempted to leap from the top of the temple, which Satan says would not harm him because angels would protect him. Although Matthew does not explain why Jesus would be tempted to do this, the implication is that the Jews, upon seeing what happened, would proclaim Jesus as their Messiah and King. Finally, Satan offers to make Jesus the ruler of the whole world if he will worship him. Jesus resists all three temptations.
I wonder, however, which of Jesus’ three temptations was the most tempting? Perhaps he resisted all three with equal ease, but I doubt it. I doubt that Jesus would have been tempted very much by number one. After all, he was hungry because he had chosen to fast, and he could have found food soon enough. The first temptation, however, might have been the most tempting just because it was so minor. Don’t we find it easy to rationalize committing a sin, if we think it doesn’t amount to much?
Still, what Jesus was offered in the other two temptations was so, so much more desirable than one meal. It was POWER, and in the third case power over all persons, and don’t we all love power? It’s easy, moreover, to justify having power in order to help others, and Jesus must have thought of all the good that he could do for everyone if he were their ruler. Surely this was his greatest temptation.
Then why did Jesus decline Satan’s offer? Perhaps he knew, as Lord Acton later wrote, that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Matthew, however, says that it was because Jesus thought that worshipping God was more important than all the good he might accomplish by worshipping Satan.