The Temptations of Christ

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Have you ever walked past the biscuit jar and looked at it and thought to yourself, “I’ll be good today and not have one”, only to walk back past it five minutes later and grab not just one but a whole handful. There is a saying, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”.

When you think about the physical appearance of Jesus, what sort of pictures come into your mind? Do you think of Jesus as most artists do, the beautifully conditioned, long flowing hair, the perfect beard, not a hair out of place? Dressed in neat, clean clothes, a smooth, glowing complexion, soft hands and a young, strong body?  Perhaps you see Jesus as someone who always had a kind of light radiating from him, like a halo, as some artists see him?

Or do you think of him walking along the dusty roads of Galilee, his feet in open, tatty sandals, picking up the dirt? His brow showing drops of sweat from the heat of the sun, mingled with the dust in the air, his clothes, stained, creased and worn? His face showing signs of age, his hands all cracked and dry from his time in the carpenter’s workshop, his beard unkempt and in need of a trim?

Sometimes because Jesus was perfect spiritually we can forget that he was a man, a human being, who walked the earth and did the same sort of things that you and I do. He was subjected to the same laws of nature that we are, the same physical weakness, he encountered all the feelings, emotions, and needs that we have in our lives.

He needed to eat, to drink, to sleep. He got dirty, he needed to wash his feet, have a bath. He cried, he rejoiced, he praised. He had ambitions and desires, there were times of disappointment, times of happiness. Everything that we experience, Jesus experienced too, and that included temptation.

Now imagine how he looked and felt after 40 days in the wilderness, without food, in a dry, dusty land that was lonely and desolate, the kind of place that people tried to avoid whenever possible. He would look and feel much like you and I would if we were put in the same position. I’m sure you don’t need much imagination to imagine how he would have felt or looked.

What Jesus had though, which we may or may not have had if put in the same situation, was an easy way out. It wasn’t that he was tempted into doing something particularly evil, rather throughout the forty days, he had the option in front of him to simply press the escape button and quit the trial that he was enduring, and walk out the door marked “exit”. I suppose he might have been feeling okay for the first few days, before the temptation probably started to creep in, but the thought of having to continue for a further 5 weeks would have made me give up there and then.

The Bible simply says, after the forty days were up, he was hungry. Somewhat of an understatement!

The first temptation was to fulfil his most basic need, a meal. He could have turned the stones into something to eat and keep his strength up, those stones would have been smoothed by the wind and dust, and baked by the sun, they probably looked just like loaves of bread, but he had to resist the temptation and not take the easy way out. There was more to it though than just simply eating because he was hungry.

Jesus could save the world by giving the people what they wanted, he was the bread of life, and he could make them follow him by satisfying their basic needs and desires, turning stones into bread, water into wine, the possibilities were endless. What better way to make people turn to God by effectively bribing them. Of course they needed food, but they also needed the spiritual bread that Jesus could give them, but they needed to listen to his teachings, not because he bribed them with food, but because they wanted the gift of eternal life.

Jesus’ answer was taken from scripture – that it takes more than bread to really live.

The second temptation that Jesus suffered had even wider reaching consequences. The kingdoms of the earth are laid out before Jesus and the temptation is there once again to simply give in to sin and take authority over all those kingdoms. Jesus would rule the world, he would be king and be in control of every nation. Putting the world right would be a swift task, creating peace, and distributing the wealth equally, making sure everyone had enough to live wouldn’t take long. A very tempting idea I’m sure. Not only would it have been the easy way out, it would be like walking through the door marked “Short Cut”.

This wasn’t his Father’s plan though, God had another way in mind that would bring people to Jesus for the right reasons. Jesus would die on the cross as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and be raised from the dead to show that death has no power over him and that sin had been defeated. God wanted Jesus to do the work through his church, where the goal of peace would be a long, drawn-out battle through the people who responded to the call of the gospel.

The temptation was to enter a cheat code and skip to the end level, without having to fight through all the obstacles along the way, with Jesus making the changes himself and skipping out the church and going straight to the end. Sometimes it is easier to do something ourselves, the way we think it should be done, or the quickest way, rather than trust in someone else’s plan, particularly if it means being crucified on a cross.

When I’m helping people use computers, and watching them struggle with problems or concepts, it can be very tempting to step in and do it all for them in just a few moments. It can save quite a lot of frustration, but then would they have learned anything? If Jesus had clicked his fingers and created world peace, then what would we know of establishing peace because Jesus would have done it all for us.

Jesus responded with more scripture “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.” It was necessary to follow the correct path, go the way God wanted him to go and not to try and circle or undermine His plans.

The third temptation was the most dramatic, perhaps on the face of it the most strange. Why would throwing yourself off the temple and waiting to be caught by the angels be a temptation to Jesus. Why would he want to test the angels? Why would he want to test God?

What it shows is that God can be manipulated to do what we want and need, putting him at our service. Such an idea would be appealing, the idea that God will do what he can to keep us successful and safe if we think we are of some value to him. Take the easy way out and get God to do the running around for us instead, bargain with him, make Him give us preferential treatment, or reward us for good works. Because we have accepted the gift of eternal life from God, it would be irresponsible to assume that we are saved and can therefore do anything we like, and let God pick up the pieces and still expect to be saved.

That was the temptation Jesus faced, that he was powerful enough to bend God to his own will, to bargain with God to give himself an easier path, but he remained steadfast and chose the difficult path that had been laid out for him, the route that led to his sacrifice.

Jesus said “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’”

There is a correct faith and an incorrect faith. One of them is having the faith that God will care and provide for you and let Him guide you in your life. The other is hurtling through the city centre in your car at 100 mph and saying you have the faith that God will keep you safe, and when you die, only for one of them can you say you died in faith. One is wise, the other is foolish.

The temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness weren’t inherently evil, not like murdering, stealing, violence, they were more subtle than that, if anything they were worse because they had a much bigger implication for all mankind.

These were temptations that put Jesus in control of our salvation and not God, but God is the one who is in control, he is the one who gives us eternal life. Each of these temptations was about taking the control of salvation away from God and Jesus putting it in his own hands. The easy way out was a real option for Jesus, and must have looked most appealing when you consider what it was that he saw on the path set out before him.

Like the bridge engineer who, once his bridge is finished, will place a load twice what it was designed for in the middle, not so he can break it, but so he can prove to everyone else it won’t break. In the same way the temptations weren’t to try to make Jesus sin, but to prove to others that he wouldn’t sin, even in the worst of circumstances.

Of course these weren’t the only temptations that he faced, and throughout his life he had the same kinds of temptations, to put the world right, chances to avoid going to the cross, in the Garden he prayed that there might be another way, and even as he hung upon the cross he had that one last chance to use the power he had been given to take the easy way out.

Like in the wilderness, Jesus was most exposed to most temptation when he was at his weakest.

Temptation waits until we are hungry and tired. When we are at our spiritual weakest, perhaps when we haven’t been attending church for a few weeks, not involving God in our daily lives, pulled away by distractions, feeling alone or when we are feeling self-confident we let our guard down.

1 Cor 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

When we give in to temptation we can’t say that someone else made us do it, rather it is us seeking the easy way out. Remember, it’s not a sin to be tempted, but it’s when we give in it becomes sin. Temptation can however be resisted by scripture, like Jesus did in the wilderness and God has given us way out, though it might not be the easy way as we’d hoped.

Heb 2:14-18 – Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Heb 4:15-16 – Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

So, do we try to take the easy way out, the way that doesn’t seem too bad, but is much easier?

Have you ever hoped or dreamed to win a large sum of money, instead of working for it? Have you ever tried to make a bargain with God expecting that He does things for you in return for being good?

I think all of us have fallen in this trap of taking the easy way out. Our sinful nature tells us that the easy way is the best way, but is it in the end?

The road that Jesus calls us to follow is a narrow road, a road that is not easy, but difficult. A road where we are to follow him instead of ourselves, a road that asks us to sacrifice ourselves, our time and our energy for him. Jesus asks us to travel the hard road, because at the end of that road is our final reward, it is being kept ready for us heaven, it is eternity with him and his Father in the kingdom on earth.

Will you take the easy way, the way of little effort, or will you follow the example of Jesus and take the way travelled by him, the way of sacrifice, the way of service, the way of the cross?

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