“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:1-4 (New Living Translation)
You know the drill – let’s read it again.
“Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: ‘Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.’ Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.’” Matthew 4:1-4 (The Message)
This season of Lent, forty days long (not counting Sundays), is a reflection of the forty days of preparation Jesus spent in the desert prior to being tested by God’s enemy. Before He even began His ministry, Jesus set Himself apart from outside influences, perhaps because He knew that His best shot against Satan would be a steady stream of God’s influence, untainted by the comforts and conveniences of the world.
By resisting the physical need to eat, Jesus was feeding His spiritual hunger at an all-you-can-eat buffet of Scriptural truth at the table of God. Truth that not only came in handy, but won the battle with evil, propelling Jesus into a whirlwind ministry of teaching and preaching that ultimately changed the world.
Jesus was starving – can you imagine going forty days without eating? – and yet He was able to resist the low-hanging fruit of the tempter when it was offered to Him. It’s no accident that this scene unfolds at the start of His ministry, as it is in perfect parallel to the temptation of God’s first people as they stood, naked, in front of that tree in the Garden.
Low-hanging fruit is always the enemy’s Plan A. And it’s no wonder, since we (like Adam and Eve) are always so eager to take a bite.
What’s so appealing about the low-hanging fruit of the enemy, and why are we such easy targets?
Low-hanging fruit feeds our physical appetites. Just as Satan tempted Jesus to give in to His hunger, we are tempted every day to settle for the fruit we can easily reach.
Fruit we don’t have to work hard to obtain.
Fruit that is readily available.
Fruit that is temporarily satisfying.
Our appetites will always lead us into temptation, just as Adam and Eve were drawn to the fruit of the one tree in the Garden that wasn’t theirs; but we don’t have to partake.
We’re easy targets because we aren’t prepared. Jesus – Son of God, Messiah, Lord – spent forty days preparing for Satan’s testing. By denying Himself in the physical realm, Jesus was freed up to be strengthened in the spiritual realm and consequently was ready for battle when Satan appeared on the scene.
We fall to temptation again and again because we fail to take seriously our times of preparation. As long as we are satisfied with dabbling in the Word of God, we will never be satisfied with the hard-to-reach fruit of the Spirit.
If, as Jesus said, “It takes more than bread to stay alive,” then you and I must hunger for that steady stream of God’s Word if we are to allow low-hanging fruit to dangle while we stretch and reach and climb to obtain the fruit that will last.
For you, today, this may mean a fast. A day, a week, or perhaps forty days of refusing to give in to the easily-met desires of the flesh. Often we choose to give up something that is tempting to us as a token offered to the season of Lent; this is not what I’m talking about today.
What you and I most desperately need is to set ourselves apart for the purpose of being prepared – not preparing ourselves, mind you, but dedicating ourselves to being open to the preparation God provides us through His Word.
Until we take Jesus’ words to the enemy literally and choose to draw our very sustenance and spiritual nutrition from God’s Word, we cannot walk the path that Jesus walked. We cannot follow Him.
This is how Jesus’ walk began: with preparation, with temptation, with victory.
In that order.
May it be so for us today.