As Jesus healed and fed people during his earthly ministry, signs that indicated (along with exorcisms and raising the dead) that he was the long-awaited Messiah, people were not all that concerned that he was about to be crucified or that he was the Son of God. That he was God's begotten Son, birthed by a woman, did not excite them. That he taught them to not work anymore, have no more courts, and look for signs of the impending end of the world didn't stir up a lot of anxiety, celebration, or questions.
Jesus claimed that he was a vicarious sacrifice for them, but that wasn't as exciting as what he'd done for the sick. He commanded his disciples to drink his blood, but that wasn't as provocative as his feeding of five thousand people. The people listened to everything that Jesus had to say about God, faith, and charity, so long as he kept on providing food, safety, and the hope that soon he would overthrow an oppressive Roman regime.
So long as Jesus healed them, they listened to his preachments about how they'd sinned against God and how God had to atone for their sin. They listened and nodded approvingly when he promised them that death was just a door to eternal life, so long as he fed them. But, as soon as he stopped being miraculous - when the healings stopped, and the feeding stopped, and the raising of the dead stopped - when Jesus turned all his attention towards the cross, they abandoned him. After all, what use did they have for a suicidal prophet?
But it wasn't just the crowds who abandoned Jesus when he was no longer useful to them. We treat him the same way because Jesus rejects what we believe is most necessary, and instead points us to his pain, suffering, death, and self-sacrifice. Or, to put it another way, we reject what Jesus brings to the table because the devil gives us a better offer.
Jesus rejects what we believe is most necessary, and instead points us to his pain, suffering, death, and self-sacrifice.
For example, the first temptation Jesus rejected was bread. He was hungry after forty days of fasting, but when Satan challenged him, telling him that if he was the Son of God he could turn a stone to bread and satisfy his hunger, Jesus refused. Instead, he said that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God's mouth.
What comfort is that to us when we're hungry? How many of us are too weak to live by God's Word when our stomachs are grumbling? If Jesus had turned the stone to bread and offered to do it again and again for everyone's benefit, offering us freedom from hunger, how many Christians would there be today? How full would our churches be on Sunday?
The second temptation Jesus rejected was that he perform a miracle. Satan took Jesus up on a pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. He told Jesus to prove that he was the Messiah by throwing himself off it. If Jesus was really God’s Son the angels would catch him and not allow him to die. But, Jesus refused. Instead, he told Satan that he would not tempt God.
But if Jesus had given us that miracle, if we could witness him jump and then be carried to safety by angels, we would have to worship him as God's Son and our Savior. If he could only show us that he can keep us safe, how many Christians would there be today? How full would our churches be on Sunday?
Finally, the third temptation Jesus rejected was power. Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms in the world and offered him control of them all. Again, Jesus refused. But if Jesus had just accepted Satan's offer he could have set the whole world free to live securely under his power and authority. Instead, he refused to bend a knee to Satan, so the world chose Satan as their ruler and god because, more than anything else, we crave power and control over the people and things in our lives.
As Jesus heals and feeds our body, mind, and soul, we're not excessively concerned that he's the crucified one or that he's God's Son. That he was begotten by God and birthed by a woman doesn't always excite us. That he teaches us to not work anymore, have no more courts, and instead look for signs of the impending end of the world doesn't immediately stir up anxiety, celebration, or even questions. What we care about most is whether or not he's going to continue to provide us with real bread for our table, and keep us safe and secure from personal pain and sorrow.
But, as soon as he stops being miraculous - when the healings, feedings, and raising of the dead stops - when Jesus turns all our attention towards his cross, towards taking up our cross and following him, towards his promises to provide what we need, we abandon him because the devil promises to give us what we want: pleasure, comfort, and life without hardship and heartache.
And yet, despite our continual choice to accept the devil's offer, the Lord still provides for us so that we, "shall neither hunger nor thirst" (Isa 49:8-13). He is faithful and kind, gracious and forgiving. Jesus, the Bread of Life, which we receive at the altar on Sunday morning, the body of Christ together with his precious blood, is a sign that even when we turn away from following him, he will never abandon or forsake us. When we are faithless, he is faithful because he cannot deny himself. He will never fall short of the promises he makes to us. He will never deny us his gifts. He will never cease being our Savior.
Despite our continual choice to accept the devil's offer, the Lord still provides for us so that we, "shall neither hunger nor thirst."
He will seek and save us in his boundless grace, feeding us on his salvation. His Spirit will create and sustain faith in us. He will send preachers of the gospel to us so that we hunger and thirst for eternal life. He forgives us our wickedness and rebellion so that we may receive all we need from him through his word and promises for our body and life, and life eternal.