Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungry.…
Now in many ways the example of Christ may be made a comfort and encouragement to us at this Lenten season of the year. And, first of all, it will be well to insist on the circumstance, that our Lord did thus retire from the world, as confirming to us the like duty, as far as we can observe it. Next, I observe, that our Saviour's fast was but introductory to His temptation. He went into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, but before He was tempted He fasted. Nor, as is worth notice, was this a mere preparation for the conflict, but it was the cause of the conflict in good measure. Instead of its simply arming Him against temptation, it is plain, that in the first instance, His retirement and abstinence exposed Him to it. Fasting was the primary occasion of it. "When He had fasted forty days and forty nights He was afterwards an hungered"; and then the tempter came, bidding Him turn the stones into bread. Satan made use of His fast against Himself. And this is singularly the case with Christians now, who endeavour to imitate Him; and it is well they should know it, for else they will be discouraged when they practise abstinences. It is commonly said that fasting is intended to make us better Christians, to sober us, and to bring us more entirely at Christ's feet in faith and humility. This is true, viewing matters on the whole. On the whole, and at last, this effect will be produced, but it is not at all certain that it will follow at once. On the contrary, such mortifications have at the time very various effects on different persons, and are to be observed, not from their visible benefits, but from faith in the Word of God. Some men, indeed, are subdued by fasting, and brought at once nearer to God; but others find it, however slight, scarcely more than an occasion of temptation. For instance, it is sometimes even made an objection to fasting, as if it were a reason for not practising it. that it makes a man irritable and ill-tempered. I confess it often may do this. Again, what very often follows from it is a feebleness which deprives him of his command over his bodily acts, feelings, and expressions. Thus it makes him seem, for instance, to be out of temper when he is not; I mean, because his tongue, his lips, nay his brain, are not in his power. He does not use the words he wishes to use, nor the accent and tone. He seems sharp when he is not; and the consciousness of this, and the reaction of that consciousness upon his mind, is a temptation, and actually makes him irritable, particularly if people misunderstand him, and think him what he is not. Again, weakness of body may deprive him of self-command in other ways; perhaps he cannot help smiling or laughing when he ought to be serious, which is evidently a most distressing and humbling trial; or when wrong thoughts present themselves his mind cannot throw them off any more than if it were some dead thing, and not spirit; but they then make an impression on him which he is not able to resist. Or again, weakness of body often hinders him from fixing his mind on his prayers instead of making him pray more fervently; or again; weakness of body is often attended with langour and listlessness, and strongly tempts a man to sloth. Yet I have not mentioned the most distressing of the effects which may follow from even the moderate exercise of this great Christian duty. It is undeniably a means of temptation, and I say so, lest persons should be surprised, and despond when they find it so. And this is another point which calls for distinct notice in the history of our Saviour's fasting and temptation, viz., the victory which attended it. He had three temptations, and thrice He conquered — at the last He said, "Get thee behind Me, Satan"; on which " the devil leaveth Him." This conflict and victory in the world unseen is intimated in other passages of Scripture. The most remarkable of these is what our Lord says with reference to the demoniac whom His apostles could not cure (Mark 9:29). And I think there is enough evidence, even in what may be known afterwards of the effects of such exercises upon persons now (not to have recourse to history), to show that these exercises are God's instruments for giving the Christian a high and royal power above and over his fellows. And this is part of the lesson taught us by the long continuance of the Lent fast — that we are not to gain our wishes by one day set apart for humiliation, or by one prayer, however fervent, but by "continuing instant in prayer." This, too, is signified to us in the account of Jacob's conflict. He, like our Saviour, was occupied in it through the night. In like manner Moses passed one of his forty days' fast in confession and intercession for the people who had raised the golden calf (Deuteronomy 9:25, 26). An angel came to Daniel upon his fast; so, too, in our Lord's instance, angels came and ministered unto Him; and so we, too, may well believe, and take comfort in the thought, that even now, angels are especially sent to those who thus seek God.
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.