The hardest word in the English language to teach ourselves to use is “No.” That’s why we have lent. For 40 days before Easter, we pause to deprive ourselves of something so that we can focus on following Jesus. We learn to do what he told us to do: deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him. Even if it’s chocolate, bread, or Facebook, we’re stopping some part of our lives to remind us who’s really the one providing for our lives.
Immediately after his baptism, Jesus spent 40 days saying no. In Matthew 4:1-12, the tempter came, testing him with the very power Jesus had at his disposal. He traded what he could have done—to turn desert stones into earthly bread expediently—so that he could live on the daily routine of God’s promise. He first head that word when God spoke over him at his baptism: “This is my beloved Son. With him, I am well pleased.” That promise gave him the endurance he needed at the cross. When the bystanders tried to tempt him to use his power to take himself down, Jesus stayed faithful to his commitment to his Father.
The temptation scene demonstrates what our God is like. Jesus doesn’t do everything he could do. If he did, he wouldn’t be God. God takes all of that power and humbly shows us how God really works—the Father deprives himself of his Son so that he can have a renewed relationship with humanity. Jesus says no to some things so that he can give the world the best that life can offer.
Jesus’s temptation also shows us how we work at our best. We say no to the expedient—everything we could do, even if we have the ability, desire, money, willingness, wishes, dreams, time, or energy. We set all of that aside. We ask, “Lord what do I really need to do without so that you can work through me?”
When we are willing to say no, we are able to hear God’s yes to us. We hear the words spoken over us at our baptism. They might not have been the same words that the Father said about his Son, but they do echo his words: “You are my beloved son or daughter. I’m pleased with you.” We trust that promise to get us through the moments when we are tempted to satisfy our longings now rather than wait and trust in God’s promise. If these words carried Jesus through the cross, imagine the words that he heard on the other side of the empty tomb. “No” is worth it—every time, because we know God will provide.