January 29, 2024 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Luke 4:1-2 (NRSV)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
When he was tempted by the devil, Jesus did what we would call “inner work.” In this case, the inner work of Jesus had to do with questions such as: Who am I? What is my mission? How am I to act in light of my true identity? Though you and I won’t be working through questions like these as the fully human, fully divine Son of God, we do have to figure out who we are and what is our life’s purpose. Along the way, we often have to reject opportunities that, however tempting they may be, are not what God has for us to do.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Inner Work.
In the third chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is baptized by John. But his baptism was not exactly like the many others John had done because at the moment of Jesus’s being put under the water “the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:21-22). Not only that, but a voice from heaven proclaimed, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” (3:22).
At such a moment of empowerment and affirmation, we might expect Jesus to begin his public ministry as Israel’s Messiah. But that’s not what happened. Rather, Jesus, “full of the Holy Spirit . . . was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (4:1). Rather than beginning to preach and heal immediately after he was filled with the Spirit, Jesus went out into deserted places to be alone. Not only that, but he ate nothing for forty days, experiencing both solitude and extreme hunger. Plus, in his isolation and physical emptiness he was “tempted by the devil” (4:2).
Not surprisingly, the devil began by tempting Jesus to turn a stone into a loaf of bread (4:3). What a powerful temptation that must have been! When Jesus withstood this temptation, the devil tried two more times to get Jesus to take advantage of his unique glory and power as the Son of God. But Jesus refused to give in to these temptations.
Luke does not give us many details we’d love to know. We wonder exactly how and when the temptation of Jesus occurred. Did the devil wait until day 40 when Jesus was unbearably hungry and weak from fasting? Or did the devil whisper in Jesus’s ear throughout the forty days in the wilderness? Unfortunately, we don’t know.
But what we do know is that Jesus’s experience in the wilderness wasn’t just a contest with the devil. It was also a profound time of inner work. As you may recall from yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, Moses’s inner work was a response to an encounter with God through the burning bush. In the case of Jesus, however, his inner work came through an encounter with the devil.
Describing what Jesus experienced in the wilderness as inner work fits the details of the story. Yes, the devil tempted him to do certain things: turn a stone into bread, worship the devil, and throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. But these temptations were not really about the described actions. Rather, they were about Jesus’s understanding of who he really was and what really was his mission. Yes, he was the unique Son of God, but he came not to be glorified, but to be crucified. (The Gospel of John helps us see that Jesus’s crucifixion was, ironically, also his glorification in an ironic sense; see John 12:23-28.)
The inner work of Jesus had to do with questions such as: Who am I? What is my mission? How am I to act in light of my true identity? Though you and I won’t be working through questions like these as the fully human, fully divine Son of God, we do have to figure out who we are and what is our life’s purpose. Along the way, we often have to reject opportunities that, however tempting they may be, are not what God has for us to do.
I’m struck by the fact that Jesus was doing his inner work during a difficult time. He would have been terribly hungry and weakened from so many days of fasting. Moreover, the devil’s temptations were craftily designed to hit Jesus where he was most vulnerable. Yet even in such a hard time, Jesus did well the inner work of clarifying his identity and the implications for his calling. I’m reminded of something Michaela O’Donnell recently wrote in her article, “How to Be a Better Boss”: “Good leaders do their inner work – especially in seasons of difficulty.” By doing his own inner work in a challenging time, Jesus was preparing to take on his true calling as the Son of God who came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
Have you ever felt tempted to work or lead in a way you knew to be wrong? If so, what happened? What did you learn from this experience?
As you think about Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness, what do you envision? How do you imagine that Jesus spent this time?
Have you done significant inner work at key times in your life, times in which you were preparing for some new leadership responsibility?
Talk with a wise friend or your small group about their experiences of inner work as preparation for leadership.
Gracious God, thank you for the story of the temptation of Jesus. Thank you for how this story can teach and inspire us.
Lord Jesus, thank you for withstanding the temptation of the devil. Thank you for doing the inner work of clarifying your identity and mission. Thank you for choosing the way of servanthood rather than earthly glory. Thank you for being with me when I am tempted, helping me to know more truly who I am and what I’m called to do. Amen.
Banner image by Ryan Cheng on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Jesus is Tempted to Abandon Serving God (Luke 4:1-13).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.