Really dealing with temptation
I have never found a deep connection to the story of Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4:1-11. I experience temptation all the time, but this is not where I go when I need help. To be honest, it seems too mechanical– temptation gets presented, Jesus neatly bats it away with a clever and germane Deuteronomy quote, then a skip across the desert to the next temptation– like some diabolical mini-golf course.
My temptations seem so much more visceral and agonizing. I rarely have the right word in the moment. I often feel desperate to make the ‘right’ choice. The beginning of 2 Corinthians 6 or Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”) feels more descriptive of the struggle I feel. God, Help! Get me out of this!
Jesus the Pastor
What helped me turn the corner on those wilderness temptations was the realization that Jesus had to tell his disciples the story, because none of them were there! It was just Jesus and the devil and the wilderness. So at some point, Jesus decided, ‘this is the time to tell my disciples about the wilderness and what happened with those temptations.’ When He told them, the Gospel writers recognized ‘a keeper’. They included it in their particular stories (See Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13).
When was that moment? What was going on in the experience of the disciples and the crowds who were following such that Jesus said, ‘this is when I need to tell that wilderness story’.
I have no idea.
But I know that imagining Him deciding WHEN He would tell it makes me love Him and trust Him. It tells me He is sensitive to my needs. It tells me He is deliberate in His instruction. It tells me that He wants me to know what He has accomplished FOR ME so that I can live in His reign of grace.
The Reign of Grace
Winston Churchill famously said,
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
As we think about all that Jesus has accomplished, it would be more accurate to say, [Never have] ‘so many owed so much to just one person.’
Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote,
“God has always dealt with mankind through a head and representative. The whole story of the human race can be summed up in terms of what has happened because of Adam, and what has happened and will yet happen because of Christ.”
It is Romans 5:12-21 where Paul carefully draws the analogy between the work and results of Adam and the new Adam, Jesus. It is this chapter where Paul explains the effect of one person on the many.
The reason Jesus chose the moment He did to tell His disciples about the wilderness is because He wanted them to know what He had accomplished for them. Jesus’ work of saying no to temptation created the way for us to say no to our own temptations. He ‘represents us’ as we engage our personal battles against the Tempter. His work accomplished so much for us. It was a grace.
And now, those of us who follow Jesus, live in a reign of grace. As John Stott writes,
Nothing could sum up better the blessings of being in Christ than the expression ‘the reign of grace’. For grace forgives sins through the cross, and bestows on the sinner both righteousness and eternal life. Grace satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry with good things. Grace sanctifies sinners, shaping them into the image of Christ. Grace perseveres even with the recalcitrant, determining to complete what it has begun. And one day grace will destroy death and consummate the kingdom. So when we are convinced that ‘grace reigns’, we will remember that God’s throne is a ‘throne of grace’, and we will come to it boldly to receive mercy and to find grace for every need.
At some point, the disciples needed to know the story of the wilderness– because their connection to Jesus made it their own story as well.
May the reality of being connected to Jesus, our representative and head, give us courage to enter the wilderness of Lent and live under The Reign of Grace.