Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sunday of Lent: Jesus is Tempted

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has in every respect been tempted as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15

Today's Gospel is astonishing. We don't typically think of it that way, though. If you were raised in a Christian home, and especially in a Christian home in which Lent was observed, you've more than likely heard the story of Jesus going into the desert for 40 days to fast. This is the background for Lent; that Christ fasted for us and denied Himself earthly pleasures for us, and during Lent we, in turn, do likewise in order to grow closer to Him and more perfect in imitating Him.

But that isn't what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about His determination to imitate us.

Because Jesus didn't just fast for 40 days in the desert; he was tempted. He subjected Himself to 40 days of torment at the hands of Satan himself before beginning His public ministry. I wonder if this was intentional. Certainly God, being God, intellectually knows, and closely observes, the daily struggles we face, and in His compassion He extends mercy. But before taking on human flesh, God had never been tempted.

At this pivotal moment in salvation history, the same God who aligned the stars and spoke the earth into motion and formed the flesh of man became Himself subject to the allure of the world which He had created and which Adam had brought to ruin. He not only felt the pangs of loneliness, frustration, hunger, but the lures of temptation. He was tempted in every way we are, ever have been, or ever will be.

Satan hates God, and Satan hates man. Imagine his delight in taunting the God-man. He was unrelenting, even taking to Scripture to harass the Son of God. But, as the story so often goes, Satan's tactics were not only to no avail, they endured a profound backfiring.

In taking on flesh, Jesus Christ had given new meaning to the human experience. In dying, Christ would destroy death. In rising, Christ would restore life and give us a share in His own in glory. Man is blessed for eternity by sharing common flesh with Him and woman is blessed for eternity by being the means through which He became one with humanity. Everything Jesus touches He makes new.

Even our experience of temptation.

This is not to say that Jesus has made temptation "good." But, in overcoming temptation as a man, Jesus made temptation something to be overcome. His powerful witness presents an extraordinary example of faithfulness and perseverance. It is important here to emphasize that He was tempted. This is not some fancy language we created to poetically describe something lesser than our experience. No. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, was tempted to sin, and in every way we are.

He was tempted by the things that tempt you. He was tempted by the things that tempt me. He proves to us, in His own perfect humanity, that it is human to be tempted; we aren't disgusting, we aren't worthless. We are human.

And He proves to us that, even if we can't overcome our temptations, He can. Jesus wasn't tempted for no reason. Jesus was tempted for us. He was tempted before He began to minister. He was tempted in order to not only know our experiences but to know them from our perspective. He was tempted that we might trust Him, not only as someone who speaks the truth, but as someone who has been where we are.

It is often our first inclination in our temptation or our sin to hide in shame. But we don't need to. Jesus is with us in the deserts of our lives. His scandalous love has been exposed to all the things our senses have been exposed to.

We are not too dirty for Him. We do not make God unclean by touching Him. He makes us holy by embracing us, even in the midst of our sin.

"Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16

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