As Jack wrote in his Ash Wednesday post, Lent is a time of testing and waiting. It’s also a time when we can actively pursue getting some spiritual exercise and prepare for Easter. But how do we prepare for Easter?
The traditional weeks of Lent take us on a journey through repentance, fasting, prayer and reflection, and giving to others. The forty days begin with an inward focus to help us recognize how we might be putting ourselves at the center of the universe in place of God, focusing too much on ourselves. Slowing down enough to even notice this in our busy world is a great start.
Looking inward helps us repent for things we’ve done or left undone, and fasting can be a spiritual discipline to help us grow closer to God. Fasting can seem like a strange practice because with each rumble of our stomachs, we become very aware of our bodies’ weakness and constant need for replenishment. Doesn’t fasting make us focus more on our own needs? Paradoxically, fasting can somehow gradually loosen our attention on ourselves and shift it to something beyond us—if we let it—to Jesus.
In Matthew 4, we’re allowed to see how Jesus, himself, prepared for difficult times ahead—like when he was about to be tempted by the devil. The Spirit led him into the Judean desert, into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days. Although he had recently been baptized by John the Baptist and the Spirit of God had descended on him like a dove, filling him, this time in the wilderness would severely test him.
Hit From Different Angles
Jesus chose to experience all that it is to be human; he was tired, alone, hungry, and weakened after forty days without food. And that’s when the enemy showed up. Ever practical, the devil started in with the simplest of temptations—Jesus’s physical hunger and weakness.
“If you are the Son of God,” the devil said, “command these stone to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
The devil then took Jesus to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
The devil had switched tactics: shifting from pinpointing the weakness of Jesus’s physical needs to trying to exploit Jesus’s strengths—his calling and his power—in wrong ways. The temple was the religious center of Jewish faith, where people expected the Messiah to appear and restore Israel. The devil had succeeded in tempting Adam and Eve away from God’s plan for humanity. He intended to do it again, to divert Jesus from his mission as the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God, who would restore us into right relationship with God.
But Jesus said, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Then the devil took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus replied, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then, the devil left him, and angels came and took care of Jesus.
Following His Example
Jesus always sought the will of God, his Father, to put him first. He used Scripture in response to every temptation. He not only knew it; he obeyed it under the most extreme conditions. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus did not succumb to temptation. He withstood the attacks on his physical human weaknesses as well as his divine strengths. He set the standard for how a human can overcome temptation. Through true obedience, he showed that he was the Son of God. Soon after this testing in the desert, Jesus began his public ministry. He was ready.
Testing will undoubtedly come our way, too—temptations in the form of physical desires, possessions, power, and pride…probably even in our calling. The enemy hasn’t changed his tactics. He will try to exploit our weaknesses as well as our strengths. To prepare for it, we can follow Jesus’s example and learn the Scriptures so well that when God’s Word is being twisted, we will (hopefully) recognize it. Knowing and obeying God’s Word is a weapon to wield.
A Way Out
And thank goodness, God promises to provide a way out of temptation. When you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13
We can’t withstand the enemy on our own; we need God’s strength to do it. But notice he says, “a way out.” A friend once described letting yourself stay in situations of temptation as playing a sort of hopscotch over an open manhole. Eventually, you will stumble and fall in. Don’t stay when you have a way out.
And again, thank goodness—even when we fail, God’s grace allows us to confess our weaknesses and return to his open arms.
Thank you, Lord, for always providing a way out of temptation. Please help us discern the right path to take, and give us the strength to avoid or escape the wrong ones. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on you and your will for our lives.
The temptation of Jesus is told in the following gospels: Matthew 4:1–11, Mark: 1:11–23, Luke: 4:1–14