Jesus Rebukes the Devil: What the World Says Is ‘No Big Deal,’ God Calls Sin

User’s Guide to the First Sunday of Lent

Ivan Kramskoi, ‘Christ in the Wilderness,’ 1872
Ivan Kramskoi, ‘Christ in the Wilderness,’ 1872 (photo: Public Domain)

Sunday, Feb. 26, is the First Sunday of Lent. Mass readings: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17; Romans 5:12-19 or Romans 5:12, 17-19; Matthew 4:1-11.

In this desert scene, the Lord Jesus faces down three fundamental areas of temptation. Let’s take a look at them. 

Pleasures and Passions

The devil encourages Jesus to turn stones into bread. After such a long fast, the thought of bread is surely a strong temptation. In effect, the devil tells Jesus to “scratch where it itches,” to indulge his desire, to give in to what his body craves. 

We, too, have many desires and are told by the devil in many ways to “scratch where it itches.” We live in a consumer culture. All day long, we are bombarded with advertisements that arouse desire and then advise us that we simply must fulfill those desires. We feel entitled to just about everything. 

Jesus rebukes the devil, saying, Man does not live on bread alone.” In other words, there are things that are just more important than bread, creature comforts and indulgence. Elsewhere, Jesus says, A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Popularity and Power 

Taking Jesus up a high mountain, the devil shows him all the nations and people of the Earth and promises them to him — if Jesus will but bow down and worship him. This is a temptation to both power and popularity. 

As for us, one of the deeper wounds in our souls is the extreme need that most of us have to be liked, to be popular, to be respected, and to fit in. We dread being laughed at, scorned or ridiculed. We cannot stand the thought of feeling minimized in any way.

For many people, the desire for popularity is so strong that they’ll do almost anything to attain it. All of this is a way of bowing before the devil, because it demonstrates that we are willing to sin in order to fit in, to advance or to be popular. 

Jesus says, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” 

The real solution to this terrible temptation of popularity is to fear the Lord. When we fear God, we need fear no one else. 

Presumption and Pride 

Finally, (for now) the devil encourages Jesus to test God’s love for him by casting himself off the highest wall of the Temple Mount. The devil quotes Psalm 91: “With their hands the angels will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” 

In our time, the sin of presumption is epidemic. 

Many people think that they can go on behaving sinfully, recklessly and wantonly and that they will never face punishment: “God is love,” they boldly say. “He would never send people to hell or punish them!” In saying this, they reject literally hundreds of verses of Scripture that say otherwise; they have refashioned God and worship a man-made idol. “God doesn’t care whether I go to church,” they claim. “He doesn’t mind if I live with my girlfriend.” The list of things God “doesn’t mind” continues to grow. 

Jesus rebukes the devil by quoting Deuteronomy: You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” 

We ought to be very careful about presumption, for it is widespread today. This does not mean that we have to retreat into fear and scrupulosity. God loves us and is rich in mercy, but we cannot willfully go on calling “no big deal” what he calls sin. We should be sober about sin and call on the Lord’s mercy, rather than doubting that we that really need it or just presuming that he doesn’t mind.

And with the grace of Christ, we, too, can resist the devil.