The Gospels are full of stories and moments that challenge us, as the reader, to take a long hard look at ourselves. The woman caught in adultery (John 8), the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) all challenge the reader to reassess grace, holiness, and mercy in their own lives. One story that I don’t think gets the attention it deserves for it’s challenge to the reader is the story of Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness. It’s found in three of the four Gospels (John never really plays by anyone’s rules)
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really pay much attention to it for a long stretch. I think I got lost in the details of it; fasting for 40 days and a conversation with the devil can make the story feel incredibly unrelatable. I’ve done short fasts, but nothing close to a month. And while I’ve had some incredibly spiritual moments, both good and evil, I can’t say I’ve ever had a direct conversation with the devil.
But if you move past the sensational parts of the story, you can begin to see the true humanity of Christ. And that, after all, is the point of the story.
We’re too quick to dismiss this story out of hand. After all, how tempting can anything be for God? That question neglects the crucial component of Christ which is His humanity. He was one of us. (If you read nothing else, pause and let that thought bounce around in your head for a little bit – Christ was, and is, one of us). The temptations that Jesus faces are temptations that every one of us can relate too. Here’s how:
Jesus faced sensuality – Imagine going just a few days without food. Think about the pain you would feel. Think about how distracting that would be. Think about how agonizing it would be to smell fresh baked chocolate chip cookies or bread. Whenever I’ve fasted for any length, I usually bribe myself with a certain meal or food as a reward.
Then imagine someone walked by you at work or home with a fresh loaf of bread or batch of cookies. What wouldn’t you give for it? What would you do? It’s easy for us to say “no” now, but I’ve watched men and women give $10 for candy bars in the Army because they are desperate for it.
Our senses (sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste) are powerful forces. People will do almost anything for comfort sensually. We have certain music we listen to to cheer us up, certain foods for comfort, and we use sex as a coping mechanism. People have given up decades of marriage for that feeling.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that Christ, being man, was hungry. More than that, He had opportunity to relieve that hunger with little effort. He had the power to feed Himself in a number of ways.
Jesus faced Affirmation – Another powerful motivator for people is the desire to be desired. We long to know that we are loved and cared for. Some of us want to know that our spouses still like us like they used too. Some of us still want our parents to be proud of us. Still others chase the applause of crowds or peers.
Christ was with God in the beginning, helping form and create everything. For all of time, Christ and God were, literally, inseparable. Then one day, Jesus put on flesh, and decided to take a walk. And for thirty years, Jesus lived here, apart from His father.
Think about how difficult it was to move to college, or to move in with your significant other for the first time. Think about how frightening the world felt the first time you had to sign up to get water to your apartment, or schedule your own doctors appointment (or whatever moment freaked you out about being on your own).
There is something about being homesick that makes us crave being reminded of our parents love and affirmation. And Jesus had the chance to relive that. If He put God to the test, if He could make God prove His love for His Son, then Christ could be reminded of that relationship in a way that He hadn’t experienced in thirty years.
Jesus faced Control and Power – If we are completely honest, we all want to be our own little gods. We want to be in control of our lives, at least to some extent. We’d love to make sure we always had enough money, or security. We’d love to have the power to truly change the world and leave it a better place. Or maybe we’re scared of the certain things enough that we want to control them, just to stay safe from them.
Christ came and had every opportunity to seek control and power. If not here, in this story, then later from His followers. Christ had the opportunity to ensure that His closest earthly friends would experience great happiness and wealth. He could have overthrown the government and establish a political kingdom. He could have pulled His followers into a cult-like space and been a king over His tiny, safe, kingdom.
But He didn’t. He gave up control in pursuit of something greater.
It’s easy for us to say that we “could never” fast for forty days, and thus find this story nearly meaningless. But we’d be missing the bigger point.
Every day, you and I are confronted by these same temptations: sensuality, affirmation, and power. And every day, we have to decide what is in control – us, or them.
I don’t think we need to get rid of all sensual pleasure, stop seeking affirmation, or give up all influence and power that we have. But we can’t let those things cost us something greater, which is the Kingdom of God.
This story shows me that I can endure temptation, because Christ endured it.
And remember, I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it…