The Temptations of Jesus Christ in the Wilderness and Being Christian in an Increasingly anti-Christian Culture

In the fragmented and demented culture wars of today, Christians have a Victor and it is only in Jesus Christ that we can survive and thrive in these strange days.

Luke 4:1-13

The Plan:

  1. Stone-to-bread = self-feeding (Material Temptation)
  2. Worship of nations = self-exalting (Sociological Temptation)
  3. Jump-off-temple = controlling God (Theological Temptation)

The three application categories:

  1. Individual level
  2. Church level
  3. Culture level

All of life can be placed in the three categories seen here:

  1. Material world;  Physical
  2. Sociological world;  Relational
  3. Theological world;  Spiritual

So everything either physical, relational or spiritual comes within what Jesus was achieving for us in the wilderness – nothing is left out of these three categories.

Thus there are a billion ways we are tempted to:

  1. Feed ourselves illegitimately – and fail.
  2. Control God without knowing we are doing so.
  3. Self-exalt our-selves at the expense of others

It is rooted in identity.

1st Temptation:

“If you are the Son of God…”

Jesus is the Son of God so doesn’t fall for temptation.

He knows who he is; and he trusts God.

3rd Temptation:

Even though Jesus proved he was the Son of God, Satan asks again:

“IF you are the Son of God…”

Jesus had just proved he was the Son of God in 1st Temptation.

Notice Satan doesn’t ask Jesus this in 2nd Temptation – why?

Because even Satan would never say, “If you are the Son of God, fall down and worship me and I’ll give you the Kingdoms of the world.”

It is because he is, he doesn’t!

It is about identity for Jesus, and so it is for us.

Are you a son or daughter of God?

If so, you will be tempted in these exact ways:

Be a: 

  1.  “Self-feeder”:  

“Look at your hunger!  

God will not provide, so provide for yourself!”

  1.  “God-controller”:

“Look at your passivity!  

God will not intervene, unless you force his hand or take up his power!

  1.  “Self-exalter”:

“Look at your wretchedness!  

God will not raise you up to glory, so raise yourself up to glory!”


The first temptation was not merely about Jesus being hungry and tempted to do some fast-food wilderness magic!

The first temptation is precisely Christ’s victory over resisting the material temptations that we all face “to feed ourselves” illegitimately apart from God.

The Western world, of which we are intricately apart, has systematically failed in the first temptation.

In other words, our culture has failed the first (i.e. physical/material) temptation.

The West has gorged on the world, or to use the biblical phrase, it has turned the stone to bread illegitimately: it has fallen for Satan’s temptation.

Os Guinness (in Renaissance, p.93):  

No generation has come closer than ours to do just that, to live  so self-sufficiently through science alone, technology alone, through management alone and medicine alone.

Part of the problem of the world today, is what happens when humanity turns stones to bread apart from God.

Jurgen Moltman:  “The West has created fortresses of wealth in a sea of mass misery.”

In a nutshell:  On the cultural level, we have consumerism that destroys the earth and leaves millions destitute.  And the economic system is designed that way because the world could not sustain everyone living like the Western world does.

So, in the desert of our living, we do not believe God will feed and care for us, because it seems impossible.

So we lapse into feeding our physical needs apart from God’s providence, and in so doing we displace Communion/Fellowship/Relationship with God, for a strange, often religious imposter. The Bible calls this “idolatry.”

Thus, this form of self-feeding (or self-reliance) distorts and corrupts  our relationship to the created order by a fake identity and abuse that destroys ourselves and others!

BBC iPlayerAdam CurtisHyperNormalisation

Our world is strange and often fake and corrupt.  But we think it’s normal because we can’t see anything else.  HyperNormalisation is the story of how we got here.”

On his own website:

It shows what has happened is that all of us in the West – not just the politicians and the journalists and the experts, but we ourselves – have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world.  But because it is all around us we accept it as normal.”

This “fake-version” he refers to is called a techno-utopia.  

We pretend the wilderness isn’t there by retreating into our fake utopian worlds.

I think gaming, AI and transhumanism speak into this techno-utopia.

This doesn’t have to be just about technology of course.  I met enough people in our churches who retreat into an idealized past and live there, as a means to cope with the world as we find it.

Whether futuristic-techno or idealized past, both represent unreality, a fake identity that distorts and/or corrupts relationships with each other.

And we all know the Golden Rule:

  1.  Love God with all our heart, soul, mind, body and strength.
  2. Love neighbour as yourself.

Consider Native American Wisdom:

I saw a very large house.  They told me it was a bank and white men put money in there to be taken care of, and that, by and by, they got it back with interest.  We are Indians, and we have no such bank, but when we have plenty of money or blankets, we give them away to other Chiefs and people, and by and by, they return them with interest, and our hearts feel good.

Generosity is a Kingdom virtue, but Protectionism is a failure of all three temptations.

When God is marginalized, ignored, sidelined, even and especially in the life of the Christian Church, stones everywhere are being turned to bread.

P. T. Forsyth said:  “What is the value of (the church) praying for the poor, if the rest of our time and interest is given over to becoming rich?

And this is fueled by our failure to trust Jesus, and the world knows this.

Kim Fabricius says, “There are maximum security prisons, and there are maximum insecurity prisons.  Many of the latter are churches.”

Insecurity is an inevitable product of an identity crisis.

And an identity crisis in the wilderness does not have a happy ending.

Most cultural commentators agree that the Church is in a kind of wilderness.  

Even as far back as the Reformation, Martin Luther said the church was “in a Babylonian exile.”

We suspect this is true but don’t want to believe it, so ignore it, retreat into nostalgic idealism of the past, or immerse ourselves into the easily manipulated techno-world that has given rise to fake news and post-truth in our media and politics.

But more than suspect, we know this is true.  

And for Christians in general, churches specifically, and pastors and all those involved in evangelism, etc:  We mustn’t panic and force God’s hand.

We mustn’t “turn the stone to bread” from impatience or even desperate hunger but must wait for God.

Psychologist EriK Erikson said: 

Politics always competes with religion – joining it, tolerating it when it must and absorbing it when it can….”  

A church joined, tolerated or absorbed by “politics (i.e. State), is not a church worth its prophetic salt.

We are called to be true to our Lord.

We live in very strange times.

But when I reflect on that, the times have always been strange.

The simple fact is that it is not business as usual.

And the burden of heart for this post is this:  In the light of all this, we need neither panic nor retreat; neither do we continually celebrate as though nothing is wrong.

The great cultural critic and theologian Os Guinness calls this period of time, this moment 

The Crunch Generation.”  

Because when it comes to the “crunch” things are bound to change.

The world is waiting to see if the church is marching to a different song.

And the wilderness is a tough place to do that – we need Jesus.

The late Jonathon Sachs said:  “Through fear we mug our aspirations.”

  • Through fear we turn stones to bread.
  • Through fear we self-feed.
  • Through fear we control God.
  • Through fear we self-exalt.

Through fear we truly mug our aspirations; and more: God’s aspirations for us!

And thus biblical faith is a prophetic, real, insightful, sharp and powerful reality:  

  • It sees.
  • It trusts. 
  • It believes….Jesus

Forsyth again:  “God is no spectator in the course of things, and no spectator in the result.”

And if this is true, even more so, we dare not, we must not fall for the Satanic lies of the wilderness.

We do face huge challenges.  Yet we walk by faith.

God has given us this place in history to be part of His mission in the world.

I don’t want to keep telling the stories of days gone by (as great as some of them are); 

I want to hear our Christians today telling their stories of what God has done and is doing.  

Maybe the Golden Rule is the Key:

How could we control God if we do love him with every molecule in our body?

How could we exalt ourselves at our neighbour’s expense if we love our neighbour as we love ourselves?

Maybe when de-relationalised church structures are finally overcome with genuine relationships where each individuals unique gifts are encouraged and flourish.

Maybe if we drop slogans and cliché Christianity for actual biblical Christianity and actual biblical content, we will be turning up the music from the Throne room of Heaven, and the world will see and hear our song really is different.

The vision is the Gospel:  we need gospel literacy not gospel slogans. We need Biblical Christianity, not “progressive” Christianity. We need Christ as He is not as we wish Him to be.

Henry David Thoreau writes:  

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes and not a new wearer of clothes.”

Yes! We may be hungry, but it is God who feeds us.

Yes!  We may be tempted to control God to get what we want, but Jesus is Lord and we are not.

Yes!  We may be tempted to exalt ourselves at the expense of others, but we must wait for 

God to lift us up in his time and in his way.

After all, we do say we follow Jesus, the Lord of history.

Unapologetically, Forsyth again:  “The design that history hammers out is redemption.”

So we face two options:

  1. Oscar Wilde:

“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.  Resist it, and your soul grows sick with the longing for the thing it has forbidden to itself.”


  1.  Russell Moore:

“Temptation starts with a question of identity, moves to a confusion of the desires, and ultimately leads to a contest of futures.”

Jesus is the Son of God.

We are sons and daughters of God.

Our identity in Christ shapes everything we are and do.

He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world.”  1 John 4:4

If Jesus had failed, he would have been just like all the other 

Emperors, Kings, Kaisers and Khans of this world.

But Jesus didn’t fail.

Even though “he was tempted in every way that we are yet was without sin.”


Following this mighty, cosmic battle in the wilderness, we see in Matthew 4….

4:16  “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light…”

4:17  That the first words of Jesus after defeating the besetting sins of humanity are:

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

In other words – Return to God, says Jesus, and join me in the work of the Unstoppable Kingdom.

And this is Good News that we are invited to bring to the world.

God’s own invitation to the world and the church to repent for all its material, theological and sociological sins of self-feeding; God-controlling and self-exalting.

So after the light and the command comes the promise:

4:19  “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Because a self-feeder; God controller; & self-exalter does not have time to fish for lost men and women.

“Lord, sanctify us in the truth, your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

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