At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him (Mark 1:12-13).
The idea that Jesus was tempted trips up many Christians. It is difficult for us to imagine that Jesus was even tempted to do wrong; after all we say, he was God on earth. How can God be tempted? But the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness had to be real temptations. Jesus truly had to have the option of giving in to Satan’s offerings. Otherwise, this story is of no use to us; for it offers no hope that we, like our Lord, can resist the temptations that come our way.
The mystery of the Incarnation, that is, the mystery of God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, is a mystery that cannot be completely explained in human terms. But we can say that if Jesus, God in the flesh, became hungry, tired, and died upon a cross, surely that same Jesus could undergo temptation. We must never forget that Jesus was not only fully divine, but also fully human. We must not so emphasize Jesus’ deity that his humanity is overshadowed, nor must we focus so exclusively on his humanity, that we forget that in Jesus God walked with us on this earth.
Too often we neglect our calling, not because we fail to get what we want, but because we get what we have longed for, what we have desired. The wild beasts in our wilderness are not those things we fear, but those things we desire. We foolishly believe that if we finally own them that we can tame them, but in reality we discover that they have tamed us.
Most of the time, sin is a distortion, a misuse of God’s gifts to us. Having money in and of itself is not a sin; it can be used for the glory of God. All too often, however, what we have is misused and God is not glorified in our stewardship. Sex is a good gift from God to be shared in the covenant of marriage. All too often, however, it is misused and our bodies are no longer temples to the Holy Spirit, but sanctuaries in service to the devil. Hobbies and leisure time are good gifts from God for the purpose of renewal and refreshment that we might remain vital in our service to Christ. All too often, however, we let our leisure become the main focus of life, which makes us lazy disciples. Sin is using the gifts of God for our purposes and not his.
But the good news for us today is that as Jesus has tamed the wild beasts in the wilderness of his temptations, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so can we. We are not left to wander in the desert without hope of exit. Jesus, as the writer to the Hebrews states, was tempted in all ways as we are tempted, yet he did not give in to sin.
But, we say, Jesus was God in the flesh. How can we be expected to resist temptation in the way Jesus did? In one sense, we have even less of an excuse; for we, like Jesus, not only had the Holy Spirit, but we have what Jesus did not-- his example of how to face the beasts in the wilderness and prevail.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)