Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you', and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ' for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
I remember several instances during seminary when we discussed the life and death of Jesus. Did he know the whole time he was going to die on a cross? Was there ever a chance it wouldn't end in bloodshed?
I can't answer those questions definitively here. But there is something worth noting in the story of Jesus' temptation. Whether we regard this as metaphoric or historic, the choice Jesus made is clear: he chose the hard road of foolish failure over the easy road of success.
Paul explained it best:
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
A wise, strong, ascendant messiah would have chosen the road of dominion, empire, success. Yet Christ chose the way of foolishness, weakness, humility - in the eyes of the world, failure.
As an American I live in a society obsessed with status, with advancement, with prosperity and accumulation, yet I confess faith in and worship a God who chose to turn away from such things and made sacrifice the way of salvation. We who would follow would do well to remember that choice when we are faced with the seductive call of success.