Monday 19th February – Luke 4:1-13 ‘The temptations of kingship’

Luke 4:1-13

Today’s passage is one of the most famous in the bible.  If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you will probably have heard lots of talks on it, and may feel that there isn’t much left to say!  However, I’m not going to give you a general guide to this passage, or just re-visit the usual observations about resisting temptation – important though they are, of course.

Instead, I’m going to look at it from what I believe is the original lens through which to view this passage: Jesus as the King of kings.  Whilst we can find great value in learning from Jesus how to resist temptation – especially in this season of Lent – the key point about these temptations of the devil is that they are all ways of being king – or rather, all ways of abusing royal power.

The first temptation is to use power for personal gratification.  ‘If you are the Son of God [i.e. the true King of kings], then tell this stone to become bread’ i.e. use your power over nature to manipulate it for your own ends.  How many leaders start well but are undone by their own greed, and finish as tyrants who live in luxury while their populations suffer?

The second temptation is to seek power for its own sake rather than to use it for humble service.  To make a deal with the devil is to trade integrity for narcissism, to serve darkness rather than light.  It never ends well.

The third temptation is to use power for entertainment, for distraction rather than true human flourishing.  As the Roman Empire declined, it was often said that its rulers relied on ‘bread and circuses’ to divert a population that was increasingly oppressed and disenfranchised.  Such leadership inevitably tends towards the narcissism and tyranny of the other two temptations, since it seeks to avoid the real issues facing people in their real lives.  It is a ‘big show’, and nothing more.

It is easy to over-spiritualise Jesus, to paint him as someone who essentially sits above politics and history and human activity.  But Jesus comes as a real flesh-and-blood king into a world of competing kingdoms.  His kingdom inevitably challenges and confronts all other expressions of worldly power.  When we start to look at Jesus in this way, we can see that all the gospels – and especially Luke’s gospel – are studded with references to this ‘clash of kingdoms’.   In Luke, see 1:32, 1:51-53, 1:71,74, 2:1-4, 2:34-35, 3:1-2, 3:31 – and that’s just the first three chapters before today!

Today, let’s marvel at Jesus’ faithfulness, at his integrity.  This Jesus went into the wilderness ‘led by the Spirit’ (v1) and returned in the power of it (v14 – starts tomorrow’s passage!).  It is not a worldly power – but it has the power to change the world. 

And, of course, you and me.