Fully Human 4: Jesus was Tempted
If you ever tried convincing me to do something I did not want to do by offering me black licorice, you would fail. Why? Because I hate black licorice! But if you offered me carne-asada burritos, which I love, then I might actually do whatever it was you wanted me to do.
What do black licorice and burritos have to do with the temptation of Jesus? They show us that we can only be tempted by that which we find desirable or pleasing in some way, but that does not mean those desires are necessarily bad. Unfortunately many Christians misunderstand temptation, believing it to be inherently sinful, and insist that if we were only more holy (like Jesus) we would not feel so tempted. They view Jesus as so perfect, holy, and divine that it was literally impossible for him to sin, and therefore impossible for him to have been tempted. But as we will see below, this contradicts scripture and distorts the biblical view of Jesus.
Hebrews 2:14-18 says of Jesus: “Since the children (human beings) have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death…and free those who…were held in slavery…For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might…make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (NIV).” Two things stand out: 1) Jesus had to share in our humanity “in every way” in order to free us from our own sin and death; 2) He can only help us through our own temptations “because he himself suffered when he was tempted.” So Jesus had to suffer temptation and be like us “in every way,” otherwise he would not be able either to save us or help us when we are tempted; but there is more…
Luke 4:1-2 says Jesus was tempted for 40 days, during which he did not eat, and that afterwards he was hungry. I find it disturbing that Satan can exploit something as ordinary as hunger for his purposes. Hunger is not bad; it just happens to be what Jesus feels, so Satan starts there. It would be much easier to notice and resist Satan if he really did have horns, a pitchfork, and red tights like our popular images portray him; unfortunately, he usually uses the most subtle means available. For Jesus, it was simple hunger.
The first temptation reads, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread (Lk 4:3).” Satan knows Jesus is hungry so he tempts him with the seemingly harmless act of feeding himself. But this temptation hides a deeper struggle: Will Jesus use his authority and power as the “Son of God” to satisfy his own desires, or God’s? Jesus responds with Deuteronomy 8:3 “It is written: ‘man does not live on bread alone’.” The second half reads: “…but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Notice: Jesus is the “Son of God” but does not battle Satan with all-out cosmic warfare. Instead he uses the very human method of grounding his identity, purpose, and calling in God’s word. Jesus battles Satan as an authentic human being; his response shows that he will remain faithful to God’s word alone.
In the second temptation, Satan offers Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world if he will only bow down and worship Satan (Lk 4:5-7). Jesus knew he was God’s promised king who would one day rule over all the nations and earth (Ps 2:6-9). That was his destiny and purpose. So Satan offers Jesus what Jesus already knows will one day be his; but there is a catch: Jesus must switch his allegiance from his Father to Satan. If he is willing to do that, it can all be his instantly. No more pain or suffering. No more shame. No cross. Satan offers Jesus the easy way to the power and authority that awaits him, just as the Emperor did to Annakin Skywalker in “Star Wars.” But where Annakin took the bait and switched his allegiance to the “dark side,” Jesus remains faithful by again grounding his identity, destiny, and purpose in God’s word alone: “It is written: ‘worship the Lord your God and serve him only’ (Lk 4:8).” Jesus’ response amazes me because judging by how much he suffers in the gospels, the thought of instant power and authority without any pain or suffering must have seemed pretty enticing!
In the third temptation, Satan challenges Jesus to test God by throwing himself off the temple to see if God will send His angels to catch him (Lk 4:9-13). Jesus quotes scripture again: “It says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’.” Jesus could have just done this and shut Satan up once and for all, but that would have meant entering into Satan’s twisted world on Satan’s own terms, which Jesus refuses to do. We demonstrate great ignorance when we knowingly step into Satan’s world and then demand that God rescue us once we realize we were wrong.
Knowing Jesus shared in our humanity “in every way” and was tempted like we are makes me appreciate him so much, because it shows that he really was willing to empty and humble himself (Phil 2:5-11) down into the trenches of our human condition to rescue us. And because he was tempted but did not sin, we can trust him to help us through our own temptations (Heb 2:18, 4:15).
How does this affect us?
Too many Christians beat themselves up spiritually because they believe temptation itself is wrong; and because they often feel tempted, they think they are hopelessly sinful or messed up. But that cannot be true because, as we just saw, scripture says Jesus was tempted yet did not sin; so it is not temptation which determines whether we sin or not, but how we respond to temptation. And since Jesus was fully human and like us “in every way,” we can all follow his basic method to conquer our own temptations.
Q. How might you emulate Jesus the next time you are tempted?
Q. How might you ground your identity, destiny, and purpose, in God’s word alone?
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