Henri Nouwen’s little book In the Name of Jesus, takes a fascinating look at the temptations Jesus encountered in the desert. I’m not going to simply regurgitate or summarise what he says here (you will have to read it for yourself), but here are some thoughts on ways in which the incident might speak to Christian leaders.
Go it alone!
The temptation to ‘go it alone’. When Jesus turns down the opportunity to turn alleviate his hunger by turning stones into bread, he quotes from Deuteronomy 8: we don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. I don’t think that verse means what we usually think it means: he is not saying that, just as we have our breakfast in the morning, so we should make sure to read a verse or two before heading into the day. The context in Deuteronomy seems to teach that this is a lesson in dependence, and that throws light on the nature of the temptation.
It was not the simple fact that they had bread to sustain them that kept the wandering Israelites from starving: it was the fact that God spoke and gave them the bread that kept them from starving. Their lesson was about learning the art of humble dependence on God.
Hence this was a temptation for Jesus to ‘go it alone’. Since he was the Son of God (that’s what God had just said), it was within his power to turn stones into bread. But his reference to Deuteronomy appears to suggest that for him to do so would be to act independently of his Father – and even to use his status as Son to this end.
How often are leaders tempted to ‘go it alone’? To take our gifts and abilities and use them independently of God?
One of the Christian leader’s most significant lessons is the lesson of dependence. At times God allows a leader to get to the end of their resources so they learn to trust him.
The second temptation was the temptation to be spectacular. Imagine an angelic rescue as Jesus fell from the pinnacle of the temple! A sure way to catch the imagination of the people!
How many leaders are lining up to be completely insignificant? How many are indifferent to whether or not they make an impact? The opportunity to look good, to be (even a little bit) spectacular probably carries at least some allure for many leaders. What’s the harm in jumping off a high building if it makes people notice us?!
In this regard, I imagine that many of us are familiar with the adage that ‘excellence honours God and inspires people’: I have no doubt that is true, but I think excellence might be one of those tricky things that forgets its subordinate function and becomes an idol! And the leader is on a quest to be spectacular.
Take a short cut!
The third temptation is the most brash: just fall down and worship and the kingdoms will be yours. Imagine – a short cut to power and glory that sidesteps the cross!
Short cuts that avoid pain and discomfort can be enticing. But leaders cannot afford to sell their souls in a compromise that seems to promise a quick route to success!