The first month of a new year is almost over, and I can honestly say I’ve so far been unsuccessful in my attempts to right my spiritual course for the year. I wanted and want to read Scripture with regularity. I usually fail which strikes me as ironic given the anticipation of Jesus that comes with the Christmas season. So, first thing in the new year, I forget all that mess and glory of Christmas and how certain I am of him? Sure, that makes sense.
Nonetheless, I recently have been trudging through Matthew. And for perhaps the first time in my entire life, I think I may have grasped the gravity of the story in chapter four of Jesus temptation.
I’ve always read the story a bit like this:
Jesus goes up into the wilderness to fast and be alone with God. After 40 days of the not eating, he is naturally quite hungry. Lo and behold, the Devil comes striding up to Jesus. Naturally, the Devil is wearing a red cape and carrying a flaming pitchfork. Oh, and he has a forked tongue and red horns and eyes like Ralph Fiennes in the Harry Potter movies. So, he comes bounding up and says to Jesus, “If you’re hungry and if you’re really God’s son, you should be able to turn these rocks here into delicious loaves of bread.” But Jesus answers, “No, bread’s not the only thing that sustains a man.” And while he is having this conversation with the devil, he’s likely thinking, “geez, Satan, you could be a little more subtle…I am after all…Jesus, the Word, Logos, God Incarnate.”
Next, Satan drags him to the Holy City (and Jesus thinks to himself, “Why do I hang out with this guy?”). The Devil takes Jesus up to a high point atop the temple and tells him, “If you’re the son of God, jump off this here building because surely those angel friends of yours will come and rescue you.” And Jesus answers, “Only a fool would test God, and I’m no fool.” (“Side note: I am, however, God, but you already knew that, didn’t you Satan?”)
Finally, the Devil takes Jesus up on a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world. Satan offers to give all the kingdoms to Jesus if Jesus will bow down before the Devil and pledge his allegiance to him. So Jesus says, “Away from me. I’m only worshiping my father. Also, you are so obvious!”
Talk about adventures in missing the point, right? So, a month or so ago, I re-read this passage again. And a light bulb went off.
My whole life, I have skimmed over this part, supposing that any “temptation” of Jesus was hardly tempting to him at all. He’s Jesus, and since Jesus is God, how could he really be tempted in the same way I am tempted? And furthermore, how could anyone, especially Jesus, give in to the temptation presented so blatantly by the devil? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to decline an opportunity to sin when the Devil comes to you as boldly as he does to Jesus in Matthew 4:3. I’ve always felt that after 40 days of hunger in the desert, I could hold off until day 41 if the Devil presented himself in such a flamboyant fashion. It couldn’t have been that hard to wait one more day to eat! Or so I’ve always assumed.
But the truth is, Jesus is a great high priest. And that means he empathizes with our pain and suffering because he has experienced it. So, that led me to ask, how did he experience temptation? Was it really like the story I told myself, or was it more like the temptation I experience? What was I missing from this story?
In looking at Jesus’ hunger in the above story, I think perhaps Jesus was hungry enough to look at stones and say to himself, “Self, you’re the son of God and could turn those stones into bread.” And then confront his flesh with truth of the spirit: “But you know man does not live by bread alone.” The truth is, the temptation he endured was like ours…subtle, conniving, sly…the temptation to elevate the self to a position of equality with God (though, being in very nature God, he knew equality with God was not something to be grasped and so he made himself a servant, Phil. 2:6-7). And that is what we experience every day when we count ourselves as more significant than others (Phil 2: 3) . We are driving through traffic, working, sending emails, interacting with friends and spouses and children, standing in lines at the grocery store and all the while saying to the world, “I’m entitled to this. I deserve this. I am important. Get out of my way.” And no one is immune to this selfishness and pride.
Of course, the main difference between what Jesus experienced in this story and what we experience every day is that he was in his nature God. Meaning he did not possess the nature of Adam. So perhaps it was easier for him to turn down the Devil’s opportunities. But, I know it wasn’t easy for him to do all that he did in confronting flesh for all of us…otherwise he wouldn’t have prayed, “Father, let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39).
Anyway, just my fumbling musings for today.