Reflections on Luke 4:1-13: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him…”

Desert in Judea to illustrate Jesus' temptation

Each week, Moravians across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean share a common message through their Sunday bulletins. This month, we share insights written on Luke 4:1-13 for the First Sunday of Lent. Thanks to writers past and present for their contributions, and to the Rev. Hermann Weinlick for his continued editing of our bulletin messages.

The Temptation of Jesus
Luke 4:1-13 (NRSV)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.


The Better Way

Rebecca Craver, Director of Congregational Development
Moravian Church, Southern Province • March 6, 2022

Jesus, who has been out in the wilderness for forty days, has been experiencing a time of reflection. At his hungriest, most exhausted and most vulnerable moment, he is confronted with the promises of comfort, power and privilege. When Jesus is able to decline the temptations before him, the devil departs until a more opportune time. It sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But Jesus doesn’t react as one who needs to be protected from what may be lurking in the shadows. He moves closer to the Way of God and begins his ministry of teaching in the community.

Throughout the years, the church has used the season of Lent as a time for Christian reflection and contemplation. Those same promises of comfort, power and privilege are offered to us every day. They can tempt us to stay put, instead of stepping out in faith to follow.

How was Jesus able to turn down bread when his stomach must have been churning with hunger? He relied on a more reliable promise from God. Jesus knew God would protect him and show him a better Way. It requires endurance, persistence and commitment to follow God.

Maybe the challenge for us isn’t quickly to get to the place where “we arrive,” but to find ways consistently to pick the Way of God over the comforts offered by the world. When we can be honest with ourselves about the allure of these things, we can be more open to allowing God to free us from their hold. We can also move further into the ministry to which we have been called and for which we have been equipped to live out in the world, without worrying about the danger lurking.

We are invited to look at ourselves, our practices of faith and our communities, so that we can attend to God’s call in our lives. This may result in a shift of our perspective and possibly a letting go of things that no longer serve us in our commitment to follow Jesus. What might we find if we take a step out, in faith?

Jesus, the one we can trust

Vicki Jens-Page, pastor, Morongo Moravian Church
Banning, California, February 14, 2016

Lent, the season to prepare to draw nearer to Christ, begins with this familiar story: “Jesus . . . was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where . . .  he was tempted by the devil.” Can we hear this again with fresh ears?

Spirit-led, yet tempted by no less than a Scripture-quoting Satan! So much for thinking that being led by the Spirit will make for a peril-free journey for anyone! And what temptation is offered?

  • To One who is starving: Bread
  • For One who understands his purpose is to make an eternal difference: Authority
  • To One about to begin his ministry and mission: Proof of God’s favor and Denial of his own vulnerability

Now none of the things with which Jesus is tempted is bad, in and of itself. Having enough to eat, being comfortable with personal authority, and wanting evidence of God’s favor are reasonably good things. But Jesus rejects all that Satan offers him because it is Satan who offers. For Jesus, the cost is too high. Instead, he becomes for us

Living Bread,
All Authority,
Proof of God’s favor and Guarantor of our salvation.

The Christ we are invited to follow more closely in this season is willing to be vulnerable and unpopular. He is willing to be hungry in order to bring us to himself. Jesus is the one we can trust to understand and help us in our own hungers and temptations.

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7b–8).                                                                                                                                        Beloved, be welcomed into the holiness of Lent.

Christ’s quiet appeal

Richard Bruckart, administrator, Hope Conference and Renewal Center
Hope, New Jersey, 
February 21, 2010

The story of the temptation of Christ is not really about food, or fame, or death-daring feats. The temptation is not merely about angels and devils, divine commands and heavenly assistance. This story describes a struggle taking place within Christ as he wrestles with how he will use the power that the Father has given him.

Should Christ lower himself to the antics of a crowd-pleasing, self-proclaimed faith healer? Should he perform acts of wonder and amazement, like a street magician self-levitating above the sidewalk or doing cheap card tricks? Should he be content to amaze those who listen, even though such amazement cannot endow them with heartfelt and renewing faith? Will Jesus trade his life’s way of obedience and faithfulness to the Father for the cynical pragmatism of the world embodied in Satan’s temptations, “The end justifies the means”? 

Closer to home, should the Moravian Church adopt this new motto, “The end justifies the means”? Or should it remain true to its motto of unity, liberty and love? Should our church deny its soul and unique witness and instead echo the crowd-pleasing and divisive message of those churches in our communities who have surrendered the good news for a pew-packing message of judgment and exclusion? What is God’s wish and will as we face such questions?

Today, Christ’s appeal to your heart comes not through acts of miracle or wonder, but by the still, small voice within you and through the word, witness and touch of those around you. Christ’s appeal comes not through flashy or faraway preachers, but the loving and faithful (and yes, human) pastors who have been called by Christ and felt led to your congregation.

A circus just came to town. Will you go, or will you stay where you are, and embrace the Lord’s Table and the pastor who stand before you, each witnessing to the good news of God’s love, boundless forgiveness and ever-open arms. May this Table of our Lord bring us greater faith, personal healing and strength to our church.

Lent, a time for growth

Bishop Edwin A. Sawyer
Allentown, Pennsylvania  • February 29, 2004

Lent began this past Wednesday. Forty days (plus Sundays) to get ready for Easter. How shall we use them? Let us think of Lent as a time of opportunity—rather than a time of denial. It can be a time for growth. It should be a time for reflection. What am I doing with my life? Where am I going? It can be a time for getting hold of myself. Maybe some of my life is getting out of hand. It is interesting that in Paul’s list of Christian virtues or fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), the ninth and final one, is self-control.

Might it be that there is a buildup here, and Paul is saying, “Get hold of yourself. Resolve to discipline yourself in self-control, and other virtues will follow: love, joy, peace, and so on”?  During forty days in the wilderness Jesus did just this: he got hold of himself. He met Satan head-on and overcame three successive temptations. Interestingly, Luke 4:1 says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Then verse 14 says that he returned to Galilee “filled with the power of the Spirit.” And by verse 16 Jesus is defining his ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth, beginning with: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”

Perhaps, just perhaps, this Lent could find us in that same succession:

pausing to reflect
gaining self-control
experiencing new power in the Spirit
overcoming temptation with Jesus at our side—

Jesus, who according to Hebrews 4:15 was in all points tempted like us, yet without sin.

Learning in the Desert

Bishop Percival R. Henkelman, retired
Ft. Saskatchewan, Alberta • February 25, 1996

Jesus was alone in the desert, so no one else witnessed this incident. He must have revealed to his disciples the innermost struggles of his soul, so that we might learn from the master teacher when we too are tested!

The temptations follow immediately Jesus’ baptism. Mountaintop experiences are often followed by desolate valley encounters — nor is this to be Jesus’ only recorded temptation.

In Matthew 16:21, Jesus used the same words as to the tempter when he said to Peter, who encouraged him to abandon the way of the cross, “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus again referred to his temptation when he said to his disciples in Luke 22:28, “You are those who stood by me in my trials.” Near the end of his ministry Jesus fought a terrible temptation in Gethsemane (Luke 22:42-44). He asked God to take the cup from him, but he was able to say, “Not my will but yours be done.”

One of our sons wrote his thesis for a university degree after several days in the desert. He chose to be alone and to employ the disciplines of fasting and meditation. He described the struggle but also the experience of “the harmony and rhythm of the desert.” Finally, he portrayed the crystal-clear insights he experienced upon his submission to the greatness of God.

What are the temptations of Jesus in the desert? To bribe potential followers into the kingdom, to resort to sensationalism to gather a following, to lower his standards to meet the world’s expectations.

Let us learn from Jesus, our Master Teacher, that by careful attention to God’s Word, by submission to the will of God, and by denying ourselves and following him, we will meet head-on and conquer the temptations common to all humankind.