Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Your calling will be contested; you must learn to identify the little words that call it into question.
What a powerful, little word. It is only two letters long, but the very mention of it can dissolve the courage of the greatest saint. “If” you are really who you say you are, “then” things would or should be different.
While the devil is tempting Jesus, it is also clear that, like Israel before him, Jesus is facing a test—and the Spirit has led him into it. This can make us uncomfortable, but the implication is right here in our text. Israel was tested in the wilderness, and Jesus is tested as well.
As N. T. Wright explains: “Luke has just reminded us of Jesus’ membership in the family of Adam. If there had been any doubt about his being really human, Luke underlines his sharing of our flesh and blood in this vivid scene of temptation.”1 In other words, Jesus is of the family of Adam, and the enemy is approaching him the way he would any other human—only knowing the stakes are much, much higher.
And how does the enemy approach you and me? Often with “if/then” statements, woven into our minds as though they are our own thoughts and clear perceptions of reality. In the wild with Jesus, the word “if” is used three times by the devil, for one purpose—to unsettle and uproot the name and vocation given to Jesus in his baptismal waters.
Every day, we hear some version of that word dancing in our own heads, putting a question mark between us and our blessing as the beloved of God—often to get us inwardly deciding once again if God is good, if we are precious, if we matter, and if we will ever find joy in this life.
We must master the implications of this word so that, when it arrives in our mind like a lightning bolt on a stormy evening, we can deflect its power in our weakest and most insecure moments.
Like Jesus, when the enemy speaks an “if” word to you, and your internal answer leaves you feeling lost and without hope in the world, then you know it is not an if from the Lord (like, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray” from 2 Chronicles 7:14).
And every “if” implies a “then,” even if it’s not explicit in the sentence. We compare ourselves to ourselves-as-we-dream-ofbeing, and to others, and we despair. “If” we were really this, “then” that would happen. “If” God is in us, “then” why am I struggling with anxiety and mental health issues?
We struggle because we have not found our identity and vocation in the Father’s blessing as Jesus did; we listen to that if/then statement. Here’s a new one: “If” God loves you, “then” God loves you. Let’s hold on to that one when the clouds come rolling in.
If/then statements are called “conditional statements” in grammar for a reason; they are statements that cause us to consider our conditions and their outcome. Master the “if” coming at your own life right now and learn to discern from where it is emanating. When it’s coming from the enemy, and pride or despair begins to spike in your heart, see it for what it is—a word from the devil—and refuse its unsettling of your trust in your heavenly Father, or yourself, as you walk with Christ.
Lord of the Wild, teach us to discern between when you are calling us to compare ourselves to a higher goal, and that comparison is accompanied by hope, and when the enemy is taunting us to compare ourselves to a proud or fearful dream in our hearts. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Say, “If God loves me, then God loves me” a few times over. What else could you do today to remind yourself that if/then statements that bring a sense of despair or fear are from the enemy? How will you respond when it happens?
For the Awakening,
1. N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, 2004), 42.