A devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Friday, August 7, 2020
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Before many great endeavors there is often a period of training, preparation, and trial. When my brother joined the US Army, his Army Infantry Basic Combat Training began with Red Phase, two weeks of system-shock designed to break down a civilian and rebuild them as a soldier. Red Phase is not the most physically demanding aspect of basic, but it is said to be the most mentally and emotionally challenging. Many recruits do not survive past Red Phase, not because they have been pushed beyond their bodily limitations, but due to cracking under the extreme stress of being constantly berated, deprived of sleep and food, and faced with the ever present uncertainty of the next horror that awaits them. The goal of Red Phase is not necessarily to weed out the inferior, although that does happen, but to reorient the will and mind off of self and onto the team. Those who survive the 22 weeks of One Station Unit Training emerge as lean, mean, fighting machines.
Following Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, before the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus was led by the Spirit out even further into the wilderness for forty days of fasting and prayer. As the fast was ending, Satan appeared and began to tempt Jesus in the moment he believed Him to be the most vulnerable. After nearly 6 weeks without food, although Jesus’ body was weakened, His mind and spirit were sharp and focused on the the will and plan of His Heavenly Father. Jesus doesn’t go looking for temptation, He doesn’t set out to find the devil. He is fasting and praying, spending time with the Father, preparing for the work that lies ahead.
What lies ahead for Jesus, why the need for intense preparation? The public ministry of Jesus would be a wild roller coaster of excitement and rejection. The masses will gather, the crowds will press in, demands will be made, expectations will be high, and everyone will want a piece of Jesus. On the other side, the dark spiritual forces of the world will be revealed, opposition will emerge from the least expected places, He will have no place to lay His head, and ultimately His life will be demanded of Him.
We often think that just because Jesus is God that His temptations were easier than the ones that we face, however Hebrews 4:15 states that this is not the case: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been temped as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus’ temptations were no less real than ours, and 1 John 2:16 tells us that all temptation occurs in one of at least three ways: (1) “the desires of the flesh” (2) “the desires of the eyes” and(3) “pride of life.” The gospels of Matthew and Luke inform us that Jesus’ temptations perfectly parallel ours: (1) to alleviate His physical hunger by making bread from a stone, (2) to be given authority over the kingdoms of the world by bowing down and worshipping Satan, and (3) to be caught by angels after throwing Himself from the top of the temple. In each instance, the temptation from Satan would have had great appeal.
Although at this point in His fast Jesus would have been beyond the point of feeling hunger, He was right at the edge of His physical limits. Doctors say that in the 35-40 day mark of a water-only fast the body’s fat reserves are used up and muscles and organs beginning to break-down and fail from starvation. Just a morsel of bread could begin to restore His strength, to bow to Satan and be given the world would have meant there was no need for Jesus to endure the cross, and to be caught in the temple courtyard by the angels would have meant acceptance and approval instead of derision and scorn from the religious elite, but in each instance Jesus understood that His divine power was not to be used to fulfill His personal desires but to reveal the glory of God. Not only does Jesus refuse to succumb, but He actually refutes the partial-truth of Satan with the proper handling of God’s word.
In Jesus’s baptism and temptation, He is proving Himself as the new and better Israel. In the wilderness after the Exodus, on the cusp of the Promised Land, the people of God failed their trial. The disobedience and rebellion of Israel brought upon them death, destruction, and delay. The generation that witnessed the mighty hand of God liberate them from cruel hand of Pharaoh was without excuse, suffering for their forgetfulness and unfaithfulness. Jesus, however, remained faithful in the wilderness. With every excuse to cave, Jesus was perfectly obedient. Jesus was affirmed by God, sustained by angels, and prepared for the task that lie ahead.
We will all face testing and trials in our lives, and there will be moments for all of us when it feels as if there is no way out. But instead of surrendering to the moment, or succumbing to temptation, the Lord wants to use those moments to remind us that our own strength and our own efforts will never be enough. Trials and temptation are not matters of strength or matters of the will, but opportunities to surrender ourselves completely to the Lord. For those who have placed their hope and trust in Jesus, He has promised that He will provide and He will prevail.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we thank You that You are our great High Priest, the One who came to live and dwell among us. You are sympathetic and compassionate because You know what it means to walk in our shoes, to be tempted and tried in every way. Although we are not without sin, You have graciously made the way for us to be restored and to enjoy the righteousness and glory that rightly belong to You alone. Help us to surrender all that we are to You and to Your will. We pray this in Your perfect name, Amen.