O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us about the order in which Satan tempted Christ.
For at first he tempted Him to that which men desire, however spiritual they may be—namely, the support of the corporeal nature by food. Secondly, he advanced to that matter in which spiritual men are sometimes found wanting, inasmuch as they do certain things for show, which pertains to vainglory. Thirdly, he led the temptation on to that in which no spiritual men, but only carnal men, have a part—namely, to desire worldly riches and fame, to the extent of holding God in contempt. And so in the first two temptations he said: “If Thou be the Son of God”; but not in the third, which is inapplicable to spiritual men, who are sons of God by adoption, whereas it does apply to the two preceding temptations. (Summa, III, xli. 4)
As we have said, the first temptation was to things earthly and necessary for physical nourishment of our bodies, their clothing, and their comfort. The second temptation was to spiritual self-importance, the protection and security of the holy man and ascetic, or to pride and vainglory. The third temptation seems to be a combination of the first two, where the importance of the earthly man and his pride take precedence over God to the extent that Christ is tempted to sever Himself from His heavenly Father. In the final temptation we hear this:
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and
sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and
saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and
worship me. (Ibid, 8,9)
St. Thomas reminds us that here Satan does not address Christ with If thou be the Son of God since this temptation is for those who will become purely carnal men and not spiritual sons of God by adoption and Grace. Here Satan strives to sever Christ entirely from God. If Christ need perform miracles neither on the body or the soul, neither against nature nor reason, then perhaps Satan has finally reduced Christ to the pure potential of becoming His own God severed from the Father. Perhaps Satan now can convince Christ to move beyond good and evil, beyond right and wrong, beyond any final victory of the one over the other. Perhaps He can become the ruler of a universe where good and evil can find peace, coexist, and live happily ever after together. To worship Satan is to settle for a world in which God and the Devil are opposing forces and mutual antagonists. To worship Satan is to make something of evil that is nothing to God. To God, evil is absolutely without power, meaning, significance, or durability. But perhaps Christ will accept a world with good and evil, God and the Devil, or two realities and not the one reality of God’s rule and governance. I guess this world is not so bad. Some years ago a fellow seminarian commenting on various theological innovations at dinner one evening by repeating the phrase, That doesn’t bother me. An old Welsh Canon finally responded to him with, What does bother you? It doesn’t seem that very much bothers you. You must belong to the ‘that doesn’t bother me school of theology’. The only problem with it is that it is a school of thought that will lead both you and your sheep into Hell. Think how easy it is to become acclimated to the heathen culture that surrounds us. Think how often we can shrug our shoulders and exclaim, What can I do about it? What we can and must do is pray. Everything should bother us.
Christ is here tempted to accept and affirm that sin cannot be overcome by obedience to God’s will. Christ is here tempted to believe that God’s goodness in His heart cannot overcome sin and death. Christ is here tempted to believe that His trust in the Heavenly Father cannot win over, transform, convert, sanctify, and save sinful men. He is tempted to give up and settle for less when God Almighty can always do better and more and always wants better in the service of His best.
Men in all ages want Jesus Christ to be King of this world over and against the demands of the Eternal Kingdom of our Heavenly Father.
When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him
by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself
alone. (St. John vi. 15)
Jesus cannot surrender or sacrifice the demands of His Heavenly Father to the demands of this world. Some, like Judas Iscariot, wanted Jesus to deliver the Jews and Israel from Roman oppression. Modern men want Jesus to deliver the United States of America from the grips of Satan by establishing a kind of Christianity as the state religion –of course, the kind that won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Jesus must be faithful to the Father. He must continue to bring men to the Father through the pattern that leads to His all healing Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.
Jesus Christ is called to resist Satan’s temptations in order to travel up to the throne of His Cross. He must resist this final shortcut. Jesus Christ is called to resist Satan’s temptation in order to give His life a ransom for many. Jesus Christ is called not to compromise with evil not to make peace with Satan but to overcome evil and Satan by the power of that Love and Goodness that lives to die and dies to live
Satan now treats Christ as a mere man and not the Son of God. Evidently, Christ had not proved Himself to Satan as the Son of God. Christ will be a mere man. Behold the Man (St. John xix. 5), Pilate will exclaim. Indeed. The Son of God is satisfied to be treated as a mere man. He is a mere man. He is the new first mere man, the new Adam, who will establish the pattern of our new life for return to God the Father. This is the first day of the new creation. Christ is not troubled by being treated as a mere man. He is honored and privileged to subject Himself to the same law that He decreed for all of us. A true ruler and governor is ruled and governed by the principles which He lays down for his people.
And this ruler and governor comes like no other. He comes to bow down in humility, to serve, to wash the dirty feet of our souls, to minister to us, to give His life for us, and to surrender His own importance and dignity for our sake. He comes to establish a Kingdom also. He will do it quietly and inconspicuously. It will be hidden beneath the layers of the Parable that His life is. His Life is the Pattern and the Pattern is a Parable for those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel. His Life will be the way, the truth, and the life for those who long to find God, for those who long to find in their end their beginning.
Christ says to Satan:
Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord
thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Christ has resisted the final temptation. He invites us into the power of His resistance. It is a power that works from the inside out, from God’s heart into the world, from Heaven down into earth, and from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit into us. It is a power of joyful obedient love that will overcome all evil with good, all hate with love, and all madness with the Divine Wisdom. The pattern is a parable whose inner meaning calls forth our joyful obedience.
Next we read:
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
Behold the Man who has resisted Satan and all his minions. The angels now come and minister unto Him. At last they can be useful. They come to love and comfort Him. They have been cheering Him on all along. They love Him with unceasing love. They know too, however that His work is far from over or done. He desires for another place to lay His head also. Will He lay His head on our hearts? Will we find that we too want to love and minister to Him. He must go to His Cross before this comes to pass. Will we find Him there, down at the Cross? Will the pattern of the parable, the parable of God’s love for us become our reality at the Cross?
Now, He comes down from the mountain. Next, He will ascend the mountain of the Cross. But He comes down to find us again today. How? Through the Holy Spirit. He comes down to find us again today armed as the Word of God. He is with us and for us. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem with Jesus. Let us travel up with Him. May Christ the Word banish the devil from our hearts. May Christ the Word infuse us with His Spirit. May Christ the Word take us up to death and beyond. May Christ the Word embrace us with a love that will never die. No shortcuts.
Let us pray:
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.