“Well, Jesus. You’re marooned and alone on your desert island. Well, perhaps not an island but you’re in the desert and on your own. What are your eight pieces of music? What luxury would you like to have? And what book, apart from the Bible and Shakespeare?”
We are all familiar with the concept behind Desert Island Discs (a famous radio programme from the BBC). Each week a famous person goes along with the fantasy that they have been marooned all alone on a rather nice hot and sunny desert island somewhere in the tropics with an apparently endless supply of food and clean clothing, a decent bed and toilet facilities. I’m assuming those things are all there since no-one ever seems to ask for them for their luxury.
They take part in a discussion about their life, about what has influenced and motivated them. They come up with a list of eight pieces of music they would like to have with them. And they are allowed to choose that one luxury and one book to take with them, as long as the book isn’t the Bible or the works of Shakespeare. And they are on their own – the rules state that you are not allowed to take another human being as your luxury. Except for John Cleese who was allowed to take Michael Palin on the condition that he was dead and stuffed. It’s all a bit of fun.
Jesus is alone in the desert. And this is no fun at all. Eight pieces of music? I’m sure it never even crossed Jesus’ mind. A luxury to take with him? Clearly no luxuries – I think Luke might have mentioned it. No books either. Certainly no Shakespeare as he wouldn’t be born for a long time. But the one things Jesus had was the Bible – or at least the Jewish Scriptures as they then existed. Not in physical form, but in his head, as we shall see.
Today we hear how Jesus found himself in the desert on his own. He was about to begin his public ministry; he had just been baptised by John the Baptist and had received great confirmation from heaven. But then the Spirit, Luke tells us, leads him out into the wilderness. And this was no quiet retreat – an opportunity for quiet reflection and prayer away from the crowds – but an extended period of self-denial in an inhospitable place.
This was not the fun scenario of Desert Island Discs. This was tough, physically and mentally. Imagine doing all this voluntarily – and for forty days.
And that’s when, Luke tells us, the temptations came.
And it was all so subtle.
Three temptations. Three ways of showing everyone who he was. Turn these stones into food. Rule over the whole earth – show people without a doubt who really is boss. Throw yourself off the Temple, and when the angels save you from certain death everyone will know without a doubt who you are.
It would have been so easy for Jesus to give in.
And for Jesus the problem was that while they appear quite big, these three temptations were actually not that a big deal. Because he would go on to show in amazing ways who he was.
Feed people with stones turned into bread? Jesus would later on miraculously feed thousands from a few loaves and a few fish.
Rule the world with power? Well, Jesus would become king – but a different kind of king.
Jump off the Temple to be miraculously saved? He would indeed show by a great miracle how death could be defeated – by being raised from the dead.
We sometimes think of this as big temptations. But these temptations were, in a way, quite small – just different ways of showing who he was, but ways that would have bypassed his ultimate destiny – his journey to the cross.
It’s no wonder that these things crossed his mind. It’s no wonder that he thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be easier if I did things this way?’
And that’s the problem we all face. The difficult temptations are not the big ones – it’s easy for most of us to resist the big ones. It’s the little ones that get us – the ones that seem so insignificant that we think they don’t matter, that nobody will notice, or that we don’t even notice ourselves because we are not familiar with God’s word and they seem to be alright, or that are simply the means to an end that seems good.
So how did Jesus deal with each temptation? He turned to the Scriptures! There he was in the desert. He didn’t have his desert island discs. He didn’t have any luxuries. He didn’t have any books – except one. And that one was in his head. No physical copy of the Scriptures, but he didn’t need one.
Because Jesus knew the Scriptures. He had been brought up to know the Scriptures. What Jesus faced in the desert may have been a far cry from the cosy isolation of Desert Island Discs, but he had his book with him – God’s Word implanted in his memory. He sent Satan packing by invoking the power of God and the power of God’s Word.
We have just begun our six weeks of Lent. This is our time reflect on where we are and where we are going – just as Jesus did in the desert. And our time to take a note of how Jesus coped in the desert, a time to learn from him. Jesus turned to the Scriptures, to God’s Word.
Do we know the Scriptures as well as Jesus did? Probably not! I don’t. But have we fallen into the temptation of thinking it doesn’t matter that much? Because it does! How can we deal with everything life throws at us, how can we know how God wants us to live, if we ignore God’s Word? So here’s my challenge to you for this Lent. Get your Bible off the shelf, or wherever it has been sitting. And open it. And read it. Allow God to speak to you through it. And if you’re not sure where to start, why not this Lent – in this year when in our Sunday readings we work our way through the gospel of Luke – just read through Luke’s gospel. It won’t take you very long – and you’ll soon find that God gives you a very clear picture in Luke’s gospel of what Jesus wants for the world and for us his people.
And being familiar with God’s Word may just make it easier to overcome those temptations that divert you from God’s call on you and God’s will for your life.