Temptation in the Desert

As I was studying my bible to prepare something on the humility of Jesus, I got as far as the temptation of Jesus in the desert before I was stopped in my tracks. Sure, I already had a list of things to write about; giving up all the splendor and glory of heaven to come to a world polluted by sin as a fragile man, born to a teenage mother from a hick town with a lineage filled with murderers, prostitutes, and adulterers, emerging into the world in what equates to an animal stinking cave in an outback town, with no one even there to recognize the event other than some redneck shepherds. Sure there is all that, and I could go on and on (because that is just his birth) but when I got to his temptation in the desert I was struck by the level of humility it must have taken to have allowed Satan to tempt him.

Here is this angel that he had created as one of the most beautiful of all creatures, that had been elevated, loved, and probably even praised in heaven.  An angel that had been in the presence of God and had basically spit in his face, been thrown out of heaven, and taken a third of the other angels with him.  Here is this angel that had come to earth, polluted Jesus’ creation with sin, and continued to wander back and forth across it’s face, looking for men to lie to, kill, and destroy. This fallen angel is so puffed up with pride, that he honestly thinks he can tempt God himself.  And Jesus humbled himself, was led by the spirit, and went into the desert to be tempted by him.  That is humility. That is my God and savior, doing everything he can to relate to our situation on earth. There isn’t anything, no matter my situations, that can reach that level of humility.

In my own life there are people that just bug me a little, and I’ll avoid them. In my life there are people that hurt me, and I’ll struggle for a long, long time before I can forgive them. We can hold onto hatred and anger for years, sometimes over something petty, and here is Jesus facing his ultimate enemy, in a spirit of humility, in order to relate to those he loves.

There are numerous scholarly articles and theories that can break down every nuance and verse into some higher philosophical meaning and direction, but let’s just look at the text as it reads in the Bible and I’ll give some of my opinions on it.

The temptation of Christ appears in three of the gospels; Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is at the very beginning of his ministry, and immediately following his baptism. The Bible says that he was led by the Spirit, so we know that even in the midst of this trial, Jesus was not alone. I take comfort in knowing that. I know that the love of Jesus for us, would not allow him to face something that we face, with a weapon that we don’t have access to. If Jesus had the Holy Spirit there with him, to give him strength and encouragement, then I know that we too, can lean into the Holy Spirit in the times of our temptation. It is always there, with us, lifting us up, providing an escape, and basically cheering us on (forgive the simplicity of the metaphor, but I think it’s accurate).

The Bible says that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, without food, being tempted by the devil. Forty days is a long time without food. How he accomplished that, I don’t know. I am starving after a couple of hours. And then to be tempted directly by the devil himself!  While in that condition!  We can learn a great deal from this.  The devil will seek to tempt and destroy us when we are at our weakest.  When we are stressed, hungry and irritable, that is when temptation will show up.

We all have been tempted, every one of us.  But the chances that we have been tempted by Satan himself, is unlikely. Contrary to popular myth, Satan cannot be everywhere at once like God can. He is not omnipresent. He can only be in one place at a time, and I doubt he would waste his time on me. That is what his demons, or fallen angels, are for. Also, we are tempted not only by Satan and his minions but by our very own sinful natures. If no one or nothing ever tempted us again, we would still all be sinners because it is in our nature and has been handed down through all of our ancestors from Adam, all the way down to you and me.  Just try to make an 18-month-old share his favorite toy with you, and you’ll see what I mean.

So anyway, there is Jesus, tired, dirty, hungry and alone in the desert with Satan.  Hebrews 4:15 says that he was tempted in every way, just as we are. In every way. This boggles my mind. I am a Christian, I have the Holy Spirit within me, I pray, I study, Jesus went to the cross for me, I am saved and live a life of freedom because of it. And yet I sin everyday, sometimes at the drop of a hat. Jesus was tempted in every way, by the devil himself mind you, after having no food, sleeping in the dirt with the animals, wandering around in the hot desert, for forty days straight, and yet he did not sin.  Even in those horrible conditions, he did not sin.  I hate to admit it, but I would be screaming at the top of my lungs, cursing everything I saw, wrapped up in my own self-pity, ready to die.  I guess that is why I am not anyone’s savior.

Why would someone, especially Jesus, the son of God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, subject themselves to this kind of torture.  And it was torture. I have specific battles with sin and it is hard, really hard. Now put me in the situation that Christ was in, it was absolute torture. So why did he do it?  Why subject himself to that?  He could have snapped his fingers and been surrounded by a thousand angles. He could have blinked and dismissed Satan. He didn’t have to withstand all this. He was tempted throughout his life, the same as us, and could have lived without sin under the same circumstances that we live in sin, and yet he took it even further.

Why?

I believe that humility is the answer. Jesus had to come to earth under the most humble circumstances and to do battle under the most extreme conditions, for us, not for him.  For us to know that he was truly God and true loved us. He sacrificed whatever comforts that might be available to the Son of God in order to relate to us and show is his love.  He wanted to know our struggles and feel our pain.  He wanted us to know that he wasn’t just some far off, uncaring God that looked down on us with anger and disgust.  No, he was a personal god that loved his creations more than their minds could ever comprehend.  He had to get down into the muck and the mire with us, to show us how much he wanted a relationship.  He did it for us, to serve us, to sacrifice all he has and all he is, so that he could save us.  And he was successful.  We are all blessed every second of our lives, because he cared enough to come down to our level and love us even when we are at our most unlovable.

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