Have you ever been reading the scriptures and a verse, or even just a couple words, really stands out? Like it leaps off the page (or screen) and says, “Hey! Look at me! You need to get this!”
It’s so interesting to me how a verse of scripture that I’ve read or heard so many times before can suddenly take on a new meaning or importance. I attribute this to the work of the Holy Spirit. How humbling it is to realize that as we read the Word, we have a partner, a helper, a translator, that guides us through that sometimes daunting undertaking, when we truly seek understanding, and whispers insight that our natural, earthly minds might not be able to glean otherwise.
I’m so slack in my reading. I hate to admit it. I’m very inconsistent in my study and I’m constantly aware of my need to dedicate more time to the Word. Especially now as we have entered Holy Week, I’m trying to commit to regular Bible reading, and I decided to start again at the beginning of the New Testament.
So, sitting at my desk at work, I took a moment to read (www.blueletterbible.org is my go-to online Bible), and I came to Matthew Chapter 4, which starts out right after Jesus has been baptized. The first verse says this:
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”
Okay. This is a very familiar story. I know this one. I can probably just skim it since I’ve read it so many
times before, and I know I’ve heard it preached at least half a dozen times. Jesus went out into the
desert and Satan came trying to tempt him to sin. But, wait a minute…..
What did that say? He went to the wilderness TO BE tempted? Why have those two words never seemed so important before? Jesus went to the wilderness with the specific purpose of being tempted! He didn’t go there to meditate and happened to be tempted while he was there. He wasn’t going just to fast and pray then Satan suddenly showed up. He went there TO BE TEMPTED! This has probably always been an obvious point to most people, but to me it felt like a revelation. I really had to stop and take it in for a while. The Lord of all creation, in an earthly body, subjected himself to real temptation. This is so difficult to grasp! I want to rationalize that this time of testing Jesus endured really wasn’t much of a test, because Jesus is divine and holy. He has all the power in the universe, so resisting the devil must have been an effortless task. Right? Not quite.
While on this earth, Jesus was 100% God and 100% man at the same time. I know the math doesn’t work, but it’s still true. His temptation in the wilderness was a deliberate surrendering of His divinity, just like He did on the cross when He became sin for us. He supernaturally slipped on the mantle of natural flesh, so he could relate to me and you in our struggles with temptation.
The Holy Spirit explained it for us, through the writing of the Apostle Paul in the book of Hebrews (2:18): “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” The ESV says it this way, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
There is so much to learn from the story of the temptation of Christ. We could talk about the example of how to withstand temptation by being spiritually prepared through prayer and fasting. We could talk about the example of fighting the devil through the power of the Word. Those are great, important take-aways! And I haven’t even talked about the physical and spiritual intensity of the test He endured! (For more study on those points, check out the Study Guide by David Guzik: https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Mat/Mat_4.cfm?a=933001)
But what the Holy Spirit wanted to impress upon me, during this specific reading, was that Christ was tempted purposefully and willingly, and that He did it for me. The temptation of Christ was part of the redemptive plan, just as was the work on the cross. I still can’t fully explain “why” he had to be tempted, since I believe His sacrifice on the cross would have been just as complete without His temptation. But I believe it was a selfless act of love toward mankind. He wanted to know His creation so intimately that He became flesh and endured the feelings of temptation as a man.
"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15
If anybody has some insight to share on this topic, I’d love for you to leave a comment!
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