In my last discussion on Jesus (Tell Me About Jesus), I talked about how trying to make sense of Jesus being both fully God and fully human is critical to our being able to live like Jesus. As an aside, I’ve since learned that this theological discussion is much more complex than I may have given credit to, and many heresies arose from trying to make rational sense of this paradox. Why can’t we just call it a mystery and move on from it? Well, at some point, that may be where you’ll land to some degree, but at least attempting to wrap your mind around it is important if you are to know what is expected of you when Jesus says to you, “Come, follow me.”
Moreover, I’m quite certain that if you are in fact following Jesus, the questions are going to come naturally as you try to make sense of verses like Hebrews 4:15, which says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Do you really believe Jesus understands your weaknesses, that He was tempted just as you are, but didn’t sin, and therefore, if you too have the “mind of Christ”, you also can evade temptation?
If you’re anything like me, you might err on the side of the Docestists. No, I’m not talking about old bearded guys who sat around theorizing all the time. I’m talking about people who tried to make sense of Jesus and came to the conclusion that He only “appeared to be human, but wasn’t really.” It is so hard for me to come to terms with Jesus’ humanity, especially when I think of His temptations, because if I truly believe He was fully God, then how could He be tempted to sin — He had the power of a divine nature on His side! (Just to give it credit, that is actually a much more complex discussion than I’m prepared to launch but stick with me for a little longer).
Yesterday I realized that Jesus’ temptation in the desert actually wasn’t that much different than the temptations I daily face.
If we understand that Jesus subordinated Himself to the Father, and didn’t access His divine powers without the authority of His Father, and that He received that authority through prayer, then Jesus faced the Devil’s temptations in the power of the Holy Spirit, but not in the power of His own divinity. So He’s just like us: dependent on the Father by faith through the Spirit in the practice of prayer. And that’s how He lived His every-day life.
And that is the model of the life humans were meant to live — one of dependence on the Father by faith through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, accessed in the practice of prayer.
So, when the Devil came along to tempt Jesus, he challenged the very core of His existence — and therefore, ours, as believers, as well.
Here’s the first temptation: “Hey, Jesus, you’re hungry, and hey, you’re the second person of the Trinity, so why don’t you just do what you know is best for you, and turn that stone into bread.”
Jesus’ response: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” In other words, “Hey devil, God made man to be dependent on Him to the same extent that man needs physical food. So, no. I’m going to remain dependent on God and wait for Him to decide when it is time for me to satisfy my hunger.”
I must pause the discourse here to point out that Jesus’ affront to the devil’s temptations is completely faith-driven. His dependency on God is done in perfect faith. That is why the author of Hebrews can say in Hebrews 12:2, “[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” — because Jesus lived out His dependence on God through faith, not sight. Jesus did not have some divine communion with God — it was done through faith in the practice of prayer. (I’m gonna keep saying it until it starts to sink in…!)
So the Devil pulls out his next card: “It’s not worth holding out for the Father to come through for you, Jesus. Just turn yourself over to me. Look at everything I’d give you: everything you’re waiting for.”
It must have been so tantalizing to see this grand vision of the power that Jesus knew was rightfully His. But Jesus resisted, remaining loyal to the Father, saying “I do not need to bow the knee to anything other than my Father to have my needs and desires met. He alone is worthy of my worship.”
The devil’s final temptation is pure doubt: “How can you be so sure He’s going to come through for you? If you were really sure, then you’d throw yourself off this cliff here as a proof of your faith and let Him catch you. I mean, He promised to do that, right?” The temptation is two fold: 1) You can never be sure that God is reliable and 2) if you’re going to live this whole faith-based life, then you can always assume that His promises will come true in the way that you decide it should work out. Oh how often I think that way: “But God, you said you’d protect me, why didn’t you protect me?” It’s a fair question, but look at Jesus’ response:
It is a clear indication of His loyalty to the Father: “Don’t put the Lord God to the test.” In other words, “My Father has given me lots of proof of His reliability. Ever read the Old Testament? That’s why He says not to put Him to the test. And by the way, it’s not dependence on God to take His promises and run with them. That’s not waiting on Him in prayer through the Holy Spirit.”
What are you waiting on God for? What promise has He given that seems like He’s not coming through on?
Jesus shows us that we too can keep holding out for God. He may not come through in the way we expect, or the way we interpret His promises, and it may be painful, uncomfortable, and difficult to wait (just think about how hungry Jesus must have been! 40 days without food?!) But God is faithful, and He will come through.
There are a few other things we can learn from Jesus here:
1. It is fair of God to ask us to have faith in Him and live our lives by faith, not by sight. Jesus did it in His perfect humanity, so God must have created humanity to live by faith.
2. God intends humankind to live by faith in complete dependence on Him. Independence is the core of sin, and dependence is the core of righteousness.
3. Dependence means waiting on Him to lead and provide, and not making up our own minds about how His promises that we are basing our faith on should be in our lives. On the contrary, the author of Hebrews says that the models of our faith “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…” (Hebrews 11:13).
This is not an easy calling. This is not an easy standard Jesus has set up for us. But the truth is that we have the power of the Holy Spirit — the same way He did — and we have proof that we can face the same temptations and still walk away.
Next time you are faced with a temptation, and you’re wondering how it is that Jesus faced the same temptation (when TV’s, and internet didn’t exist in His day), consider whether your temptation is one of whether to live in faith-based, prayerful, watchful, listening, waiting, and dependent relationship with God. And then look at Jesus, who faced the same temptations as you, and ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to be just like Jesus.