We have just journeyed our way through the 40 days of Lent and finished with Holy Week in which humanity was brought to its knees or should I say to the cross. As a Christian, I believe that God came to earth, as the man Jesus, became fully human and yet remained fully Divine. Sometimes, we don’t want to dwell too long on the pain and the tragedy of the cross and instead focus on Easter morning and the resurrection. We are told that Jesus took all of the evil and pain from us and paid our debt with his life. What does that mean? Through his Son Jesus, did God really know all of the pain and suffering like fear, anxiety, depression and doubt that we feel when he took all the sins of the world to the cross and was crucified for our sake? He was God’s Son so what proof might there be that Jesus did suffer like us or was tested like us? I think Gospel of Matthew; Chapter 4 will show us the way.
There are three temptations named in the gospels. The first was about food. Let me remind you that Jesus had been without food for forty days, which would translate to me as “starving to death!” So what does the devil tempt him with? Food! He asks Jesus to turn the stones into bread so that he would no longer be hungry. Because of his divine power, even the devil recognized that Jesus could choose to change the stones to bread however in spite of his weakened state he did not give into the seduction of food (vs.3-4). So how does his temptation of food and his choice not to follow what the devil was asking relate to me? For years, I have been very intentional about eating healthy food and doing regular exercise to stay in shape, but how often have I over-indulged in food that was not good for me? Can you answer how many times you have eaten something that could cause heart disease, kidney failure, high cholesterol, lung cancer and so on? How often have we turned a blind eye to the hungry, the hurting, and the homeless because we were well fed and happy? When we view this temptation as more that just satisfying Christ’s immediate hunger, this simple loaf of bread personifies a much deeper meaning that is intended to feed our souls and not just our stomachs.
The second temptation places the devil and Jesus on the ledge of a high building. The devil insisted that Jesus throw himself off this high perch with his assurance that His Father’s angels would catch him and keep him from harm (vs. 6). Again, how does this contest of wills relate to us? If we step out of our “it is all about me” lens, we can see this story in a different way. In his book, The Way - Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus, Adam Hamilton questions the emotional dilemma like this; “I wonder if Jesus at a very subtle level, might have been tempted to jump, knowing that either God would deliver him, or his life would be over without having to endure the journey that lay ahead.” When I first read that statement, I was shocked to think that Jesus could be THAT vulnerable! However, think about it for a moment. If we believe what the Bible teaches us that, ‘“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed”’ (1 Peter 2:24) then wouldn’t it be plausible that he might have stood on a ledge contemplating the end? Isn’t he putting himself on the ledge with someone who is thinking about suicide? He would know what it is like to be weak, weary and in despair. Hamilton also assures us that, “But Jesus, choosing instead to see the difficult journey ahead through the eyes of faith and realizing that God would redeem his suffering, did not jump.” Wouldn’t it be comforting to anyone standing on a ledge that Jesus understands what he or she might be feeling and that he found hope to choose to live instead.
The third and final recorded temptation describes Satan and Jesus on a very high hill overlooking the kingdom. This scene reminds me of a TV ad with the announcer saying, “This could all be yours for the low asking price of kneeling before me.” The temptation of wealth and power was at at his knees. All he had to do was just bow down and worship, not God, but the “king of the world” (vs. 9). Have you ever found yourself kneeling at the feet of desire for more stuff? More power and prestige? More, just more? Haven’t we all been lured into wanting what we cannot have or afford by overspending our monthly budget, or treating ourselves to a something special because we deserve it regardless of the cost? I have. I am not saying there is anything wrong with wealth, power or status, it is just the focus of how we acquire it and use it that can overshadow good decisions and push us into a “want” versus “need” lifestyle. Jesus could see through the emptiness of what was being promised by the devil and told him, ‘“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”’ (vs. 10).
My conclusion of this passage is that Jesus has a full understanding of the challenges and temptations that we experience. The devil comes in all shapes and sizes and may or not be a little man, however the king of the world is always lurking in and around us. As we struggle minute by minute, day by day with temptations, we can fall back on a promise found in Hebrews 4:15-16 which says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We all can rest in the knowledge that on the cross, Jesus bore all our sins and set us free through the resurrection! Still celebrating Easter…