This blog series studies the words and actions of Jesus throughout the four Gospels and applies them to us today. If you would like to start at the beginning, go here.
Jesus in the Wilderness – Matthew 4:1-11/Mark 1:12-13/Luke 4:1-13
Just prior to this (as we talked about in the last post), Jesus was standing in the Jordan river being baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on Him, and God Himself splits the sky and speaks blessing and promise over Him. God loves Jesus, and He is well pleased with Him! Pretty amazing, right? If you were standing there watching all of this happen (or reading this part of the Bible for the first time), you would think, This guy has it made and has no idea how difficult real life is. I mean, He is God’s Son and heir to all His blessings and promises, He has legions of angels at His command and the Holy Spirit is resting on Him. He is set. No more worries, stress, anxiety, fear, trials, suffering…. Just comfort and peace from here on out. Whereas you and I live in reality, where every day is a wilderness.
But that is not what happened, praise God. Immediately after this overflow of blessing and proclamation of God’s love, Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. We might call it the “desert” or “valley” in today’s verbiage, but it is a dark place of the soul where suffering, hunger, trial, temptation and anguish are found. The crazy thing is, the Holy Spirit leads Him there! “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.“
Why? Why was Jesus subjected to this? Jesus was not sent to Earth to stand above the muck and mire, wagging His finger at us and shaming us for our sinful condition. Hebrews 4:15 says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus went through this so that the next time you and I are tempted and suffer, we know that our Savior and Lord KNOWS what we are going through, understands the pain and loss and sorrow, has felt the overwhelming urge to just give in to sin just to have some scrap of comfort and happiness and security. He doesn’t just stand up on a pedestal and condemn us for being dirty little children. He is not an elitist.
Jesus has been down in the mud and felt the same as we have … and yet, He did not give into sin. This small difference has HUGE implications. It is not meant to make you feel like a failure because you have not resisted sin. It is meant to preach the Gospel to you! Tim Keller says it this way: “Jesus lived the perfect life you SHOULD have lived (but couldn’t because of sin) and died the death you SHOULD have died (because of my sin). Jesus is victorious over sin and death SO THAT, by believing and trusting in Jesus, I, too, can be victorious over sin and death. Isn’t that amazing?
But why are WE subjected to this? Why do bad things happen to ME? Why isn’t it enough for Jesus to go through trials, and just leave me out of it? This question is as old as dirt. It’s been around ever since we have been around. I am not going to answer this question without Scripture, so if you do not believe in the Bible, I can’t help you. There are not practical answers for this question that make sense without God, Jesus, sin, holiness and God’s redemptive plan. You may ascribe to popular beliefs like, “If it doesn’t kill you, it will only make you stronger!” But what if it cripples you for the rest of your life? What do you do with that? If you do believe in God and the Bible as His Word, TAKE COMFORT in these verses. They will sustain you. Here goes:
- 1 Thessalonians 3:3 -“None of you should be moved by your affliction. You yourselves know that such persecutions are part of God’s will for us.”
- Acts 14:22 – “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
- James 1:12 – “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
- 1 Peter 4:12-13 – “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
- John 15:18-20 – “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
- 1 Peter 4:1 – “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
- 1 Peter 1:6-7 – “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
- James 1:2-4 – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
- 2 Timothy 1:8 – “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God ….”
Incredible. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. Never in all of my life would I think to associate suffering and trials with blessing, with making me more into the image of Christ, with a sign and symbol of my BELONGING to Jesus. What an amazing perspective and truth to hold in our hearts. This is the power of the Gospel of Jesus – it takes my weaknesses and inadequacies, and makes them the qualifications for my belonging to Jesus. Accepting and admitting my weaknesses and failures is a necessary step on the path to accepting Christ’s strengths and triumphs. WHEN I am weak, Jesus is strong.
And it’s not just that Jesus went into the wilderness, but the circumstances are incredible. He doesn’t eat for 40 days. He is sleeping on the ground, when He sleeps at all – exposed to rain, wind, sun and wild animals. At the end of this grueling time, the devil visits Jesus. Isn’t that just like the devil? He waits until we are at our weakest point, and then pounces. Most of us cannot run a marathon on our first day of practice or free scale Mount Everest on our first climb. Jesus, however, starts His ministry by facing Satan, the Prince of the powers of the air. He is the oldest and strongest enemy we have, and there is nothing he will not do to achieve his evil purposes.
I say all of this is to get across this idea – If you are surprised at your trials and suffering, your expectations may be off. We should EXPECT trials, suffering, temptation…. The Bible promises it to us. Tim Keller says that before we knew Jesus, we had one Enemy, and He was benevolent and lovely and died for us on the Cross to save us … while we were His enemy. And this enemy is Jesus. But after we accept Jesus, we have legions and hosts of enemies, all of whom are evil and bent on our destruction. So we should not be surprised to hear that the Christian life makes life HARDER, not EASIER! Maybe your expectations need to change. Buckle up, because it doesn’t get easier. It gets sweeter and richer, but not easier.
Notice something amazing – Jesus, God’s Son, the “Word” does not argue or debate with Satan. He does not rationalize or justify Himself. That’s what you and I do, isn’t it? That’s what gets us into trouble – we rely on our own wisdom and strength to face temptation. Jesus quotes Scripture. For every temptation Satan throws at Jesus, Jesus fires back with a promise of God. There is nothing you will face that is not covered by God’s promises. There is nothing you are struggling with that remains unanswered by God. God gives you His Word to resist the devil. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” How are you going to avoid sin and stay close to God if you don’t know His word? Deuteronomy 6 tells us to surround ourselves with God’s Word. Memorize it. Study it. Apply it. The Bible is not some dusty old book that made sense for people in the past, but it applies to you. Now. Today. So learn it. Study it. Memorize it. It is a sword to be used against your enemies, a weapon to push back the darkness that creeps into your life.
My next blog will cover John 1:35-42, the calling of the first disciples. It begs the question, “What do you want? What are you seeking?” It’s good stuff. See you soon.