It was Henry Nouwen’s little book, In the Name of Jesus, that got me looking at the temptations of Jesus as part of a series of talks I was doing on the making of a leader. Nouwen interprets the three temptations as the temptation to relevance, the temptation to be spectacular and the temptation to be powerful. He juxtaposes each of these temptations with one of the things Jesus said to Peter in the restoration scene at the end of John’s Gospel.
I’ll say more about this tomorrow, but one of the things about the temptation that I think is worth dwelling on – and not least for leaders – is the way the devil opens the first two temptations.
‘If you are the Son of God…’
That is exactly what the voice from heaven affirms immediately prior to the temptation episode.
This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.
The very thing that the Father has just affirmed is what is brought into play.
In my research on leadership journeys I noticed that that some of the leaders I spoke to talked about times where they were assured of the love and purposes of God. For one or, these experiences were quite dramatic.
One person spoke of a dramatic, supernatural experience:
‘The one thing that he did reassure me, more than anything else, was that he loved me, he loved me…. It was just a total assurance of his love. If ever there was a life changing thing that was it.’
For another, during a spiritual crisis at a conference:
‘I had it out with God and just got down on my knees … it was so clear, he says, you just don’t believe that I love you. That was it. And that in itself became so utterly devastating because I thought that’s in my ministry, in my preaching, that’s what I’d been preaching for years. But I’d had no clue what it meant functionally for me…. That was the beginning of the awakening to the love of God and the work of Christ… dealing with all the failure… all of that has already been accomplished, and it opened the door into a freedom and joy that I had never known.’
Spiritual leaders need to know that God loves them and accepts them. It needs to be the basis from which they lead. And (as Jesus’ response to the temptation shows) they do not need to resort to short cuts to prove it to others.