Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13
God feels furthest away when we’re in the middle of a temptation. And of course he’d feel far away at those times. He’s perfect. And our own sinfulness is never writ so large as when we are struggling with some temptation.
Beyond that, being tempted, it’s a lonely time. I might know intellectually that everyone in the world is sinful, but I surely don’t want them to know how sinful I am. This isn’t a time where it’s easy to reach out and talk to people. This isn’t a time where it’s easy to reach out and feel close to God.
It’s interesting then that he went through exactly the same kind of temptations. When we look at when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil it initially looks a little bit alien to us. The temptations that he dealt with were strange at first glance. The devil telling him to change rocks into bread the devil telling him to throw himself off a building or offering the world in exchange for a bow. They don’t look like the kind of temptations that we experience, but when we drill down to their core we see that the doubts here are actually really familiar.
In that first temptation the devil comes to Jesus and effectively says you’re not looking so good. You’re not looking so strong. Are you actually sure that you are who you claim to be? That you can do the things that you’re saying that you’re going to do? Prove, prove to me your power. Turn these rocks into bread. Make yourself look better. Feel better.
We know this same doubt. Anytime you’ve spent up late at night wondering about that moment of death and what would happen afterwards. We’re succumbing to this same doubt. Doubting that Jesus had the power to do the thing that he came to do. Well, Jesus answers him with scripture.
The devil says Oh, scripture. Yeah, I’m familiar with that. That says a lot of things. That says a lot of odd things. In fact, there’s this one part where it says he will send his Angels concerning you lest you strike your foot against a stone. Am I seriously supposed to believe that God is going to prevent you from experiencing any harm? Here, prove that part of scripture to me. Throw yourself off the roof and let’s see what happens.
This again is a familiar doubt to us. We look at scripture and see some things that are tough to believe. And beyond that we hear the voices of the world pointing out how crazy, how unbelievable some portions of this book on which we base our faith seem to be.
Again, Jesus answers him with scripture.
Finally, the devil’s getting frustrated. He takes Jesus up on top of a very high mountain shows him the nations of the world. He says look at everything here Jesus. Do you seriously think God’s in control here? Look at the nations of the world. I’m obviously in charge. If you just acknowledge that, I’ll share it with you.
Again a familiar doubt. A familiar temptation. We look at the world around us and it can be hard to see God at work in it. Beyond that it can make it so easy for me to accept the little sins that nag at me. The world has set such a low bar of evil I can do something pretty bad and know that based on how bad the world around me is nobody is going to call me out on it. Nobody’s going to look twice.
Jesus again answers with Scripture. Now when Jesus does these things, when he answers these temptations perfectly, he’s doing more than just modeling for us. He’s showing us a great way to get out of temptation: to answer temptation with scripture, but more than just that, he is answering perfectly for me.
For every single time that I have faced a temptation and reached for that perfect word, for that perfect piece of scripture, for that perfect pathway out of the sin and not found it, Jesus answered for me. For every single time that I’ve struggled and tried to stand and fallen. Jesus answered for me. For every time that I’ve broken the commandments of God. For every punishment that I rightly deserve. Jesus went to the cross and paid that punishment for me. Every time I look into my future and see a dark frightening grave, Jesus shows his empty tomb of victory for me.
When we face these dark times, when we face temptations, Jesus might feel very far away. We might not feel very Christ like. But he went through exactly the same things. And beyond that even though he might feel far away, he never feels far away from us. When we fall he is standing there reaching down, raising up, and giving us another chance to stand together with him. Amen.