Tempted and Tried

As the fourth chapter of Matthew opens, we see Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit so that he can be tempted / tested by Satan. This poses a ton of questions for us, not all of which we have answers for. Nevertheless, we can draw some conclusions from this fact alone. First, this process was something that Jesus had to go through, and it would not be easy. He doesn’t just get a free pass because he is Jesus. Second, when we experience tests and temptations and trials, God may not be causing them, but he is allowing them. (See James 1:2,3). Just as Jesus was able to resist temptation, so too are we. We are provided, by God, an escape, if we look for it (See James 1:13). Another interesting point is that the word used here (4:1) for tempt, which appears 39 times in the new testament is more commonly translated to test, such as when the Pharisees asked Jesus a question “testing” him and a related word is used in James 1:2 as “trial.”

Through these temptations Jesus is given an option of demonstrating just what type of Messiah he is going to be and if he is going to follow the way of the Father or the way of the world. Each test presents a different challenge and how both Jesus and Satan respond to each tells us much about both. It’s also to be remembered that this testing follows 40 days of fasting on the part of Jesus. Whether this was a literal 40-day period or a phrase meaning a given length of time, the result is the same. Jesus had spent a length of time alone in the wilderness with his Father preparing for his public ministry. While there would be times when Jesus would go out by himself, never again are we told in the gospels about such a time as this. By the end he was physically weak due to the fasting, as we are reminded of his humanity, and it is no wonder that Satan would choose a time such as this to try Jesus. It is often when we find ourselves at a low point that the Devil will come at us, hoping to exploit our frailty.  Jesus had spent this time in perfect communion with the Father and thus they were linked, as only the Father and Son could be in the God head. It is another point that Satan will often try to disrupt that link we have between ourselves and God, and the closer we move toward God, the more Satan will try and pull or push us away.

The first test…. turn the stone into bread. Not much of a test, Jesus is hungry, and Jesus can command nature and we know that later he will supernaturally feed the multitude with fish and bread. So why would Jesus not do this and why is it a test at all? First, because it would be selfish and based on personal gain and benefit. Jesus is alone. This isn’t about having compassion on the multitude which have gathered. This isn’t about providing for starving persons as God did in the wilderness with manna, but about satisfying personal want. Secondly, it points to the idea of impressing people by giving them stuff – buying their vote, if you will. Sure, Jesus could get people to rally to his side if he gave them free food, or free stuff to meet their material needs, but that doesn’t do anything for their heart. After all, what we have in this world is not permanent and Jesus is looking to give people eternity. We are also reminded that even though God did feed the Israelite’s in the wilderness, it did not build faith. They ultimately wanted more and grumbled over their meager provisions, forgetting that they were previously worried about starving. Jesus reminds the Devil that people need more than bread, they need God. Let us remember the same when we are tempted to give up on God because we don’t have all we “want” or think we need, rather that God has given us far more in his son who died for us. God wants us to love him because he is (just as he loves us) not because of what he can do for us (give us bread, grant wishes). Jesus as a messiah was going to meet peoples’ deepest need for a restored relationship with God, not simply buy their affection. Don’t let Satan fool us into believing material prosperity equals happiness, fulfillment, or joy. All the world has to offer will be left behind one day. As Jesus would later say, what good does it do to gain the world but lose your soul?

Law of Love

In the 13th chapter of John, following the last supper, Jesus lays out a new commandment for all who would follow him, both the disciples present in the room and any who would come after. Following on a discussion of the 10 commandments this is most prescient as it continues the revelation of God to his people through the laws that he gives. This command is one to do something, namely love each other or love others. So just like the 10 before, being unloving would break this law / commandment.

This commandment actually sets the bar pretty high as it is literally to love others / each other, as Jesus loved, which most would agree is way more than the average person loves anyone else. This type and level of love is only possible with a heart change brought about through the work of the Holy Spirit in a person following their adoption into the family of God through Jesus.

This love we are talking about is not the gushy romantic love of books and movies nor is it the self-affirming love of condoning and accepting all behaviors, beliefs, and lifestyles of modern human secularism, but it is the selfless unconditional love that is a love of will and intention. This is the key difference, the person that loves this way doesn’t love because they “feel” like it or because they have an emotional attachment to the object, but because they “choose” to love. This is perhaps one of the most striking aspects of this kind of love. Most of us like or love something because of the “objects” ability to provide us with something and if the object is no longer able to provide that, at best our love wanes. The love that Jesus speaks of is the person making a choice to love the object simply because the object is, not because the object can or does provide anything. It may very well do that, but again this is not the point. So as a reminder, Jesus loves you simply because you exist and it is his nature to be loving. Therefore He wants only the best for you at all times and will work towards that end, which he did by sacrificing himself for you.

The next part of this love is it is sacrificial. It is willing to deal with pain and hurt and still endure. This is no fair weather love but one that will endure and when the going gets tough it shines all the more. Relationships of all kinds can be messy, difficult, and require hard work. Many people are OK as long as things are going well, but as soon as it turns painful or difficult they are out the door looking for the next best thing (grass is greener approach). This love says, yes hard times may come and it may not always be fun, but I’m going to stick in anyway, why because I love —- and they are worth it.

Part of this is because this love is understanding. That is it is not blind, it sees all the faults and failures of a person and will love them anyway. It recognizes that we all at some points hurt and fail the people we care about, we make poor choices and that’s just life. This love says, I get all that and I’m going to stick around anyway. Jesus knew you were going to do all the things you have done and died for you anyway. It doesn’t mean that it’s ok to continue to hurt people, but it does mean you don’t let their actions dictate if you love them or not.

Lastly this love is forgiving. Love does not mean never having to say you’re sorry, it means saying you’re sorry a lot. We recognize that our choices have consequences and in that we hurt people. So own up to it and admit it, and then the other side is to forgive. After all Jesus forgave us for a lot more than we have done to most people. To receive such grace yet being unwilling to be gracious just doesn’t fit.

Now we can see how and why this love is supernatural and comes from somewhere beyond humanity. For the Christian this is the law and living this out will help others to see the beauty and glory that is Jesus.