We are all tempted and often fail. Only Jesus has been perfectly obedient.
Stephen G. Helwig
Have you ever fasted 40 days and 40 nights out in the wilderness? Have you ever been taken to the highest point of the temple with no safety net, just you and the devil, 450 feet above a ravine? Have you ever stood on top of a mountain with a panoramic view of all the kingdoms of the world and been told that they could all be yours, free, painless, quick—just get down on a knee in front of me? Ever been tempted like that? No, of course not.
But do you even find those temptations all that tempting? Are they really all that hard to resist? Turn stones into bread? You’re hungry! What’s the harm in that? Jump off the temple? Who would stand on the ledge of a tall building and then jump off? Angels or no angels, is that all that big of a temptation? Worship the devil? Bend a knee to Satan? For what? Something that doesn’t even belong to him in the first place. Like he’d really follow through on his end of the bargain anyway!
At first glance, these temptations might not be all that difficult to resist. But let’s be honest, it wasn’t really about eating or jumping or worshiping Satan. What was Satan really up to? Understanding those things will give us a greater appreciation of who Jesus is and what he did to save us. When we understand that, it will open our eyes to the temptations that Satan places before us. That will help us appreciate our righteous robe and Jesus’ sinless sacrifice. It will also empower us to fight against the temptations that we face every day.
A deeper look
God had a plan for Jesus. He became a human being. He became obedient to his heavenly Father, the way we are supposed to obey. As a perfect human, Jesus did not have the right to question God or to change his plan. He became like us. Jesus was there in the wilderness, hungry as he was, trusting that his Father would take care of him. So, no miracles. No bread. Just complete trust—and perfect obedience.
Ever been tempted like that? Ever been tempted to think that God won’t provide for you? Ever been tempted to wonder why God hasn’t helped you? Ever been tempted to question God’s will for your life? What possible purpose could he have for your illness, your grief, your pain, your loss?
Yes, we have been tempted. Yes, we have given in. Yes, we have sinned. But Jesus didn’t.
God had a plan for Jesus, and, yes, that plan was to die—but not there, not then, not in that way. But was this temptation even about dying? “Hey, Jesus, you’re the Son of God. Your Father isn’t going to let anything happen to you before the appointed time. He has his angels. He will command them to guard you. Prove God’s love for you. Prove that angels do indeed exist. Prove it to yourself. Prove it to the world. Prove it to me. Jump.”
But Jesus had nothing to prove. Not about himself. Not about God. Not about angels. He completely trusted his heavenly Father. He would not put God to the test by acting foolishly or recklessly.
Have we ever been tempted to act recklessly? Have we ever done that? Get behind the wheel after one beer too many? Drive too fast for conditions? Listening to the little voice telling you that God will take care of you no matter how foolish your actions? Tempting God?
God had a plan for Jesus, and that plan was to put all his enemies under his feet and to have every knee bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. But such a position and such power would come at a price. Jesus would have to suffer. Jesus would have to die. Abuse, suffering, pain. Abandonment, hell, death. Satan said he had a better way, an easier way. “Don’t do that, Jesus. You don’t need to suffer. You can have all this without the abuse, suffering, and pain; without the abandonment, hell, and death. It’ll just take a second. It won’t hurt a bit. Just take a knee. Bow down to me. This will all be yours, and you can avoid the cross.”
Ever been tempted like that? To take the easy way out? What’s easier: Putting your offering in the plate or spending that money on yourself? What’s easier: Obeying God when tempted or doing what others want, even if it is wrong? Do we give up our desire to love God in order to make friends and be accepted? We don’t want to be ridiculed. We don’t want to be judged. We don’t want to lose a friend. The way of the cross, the way of Christ—living and sharing our faith—will come with its share of suffering. Our sinful flesh wants to avoid that suffering, so we take the easy way out.
Clothed with Christ’s perfect obedience
Yes, we have been tempted. Yes, we have given in. Yes, we have sinned. But Jesus didn’t. “[He] has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Satan was not successful. Jesus resisted him. Jesus used God’s Word to put the devil in his place.
Jesus didn’t die at the bottom of the Kidron Valley 450 feet below the temple, but he did die on top of Calvary nailed to a cross—a lamb, the Lamb, without blemish or defect; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The innocent One was covered with the guilt of all—all the failures of all people, all the times we have yielded to temptation. The Son whom God loved was abandoned and forsaken. The eternal One died. Jesus’ perfect obedience is ours. In Jesus, God declares us not guilty. As Paul writes, “Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
The sinful are now covered with holiness. The guilty are now covered with innocence. Those deserving to die will live forever. That’s you. That’s me. That’s all who believe in Jesus.
Temptations will continue to come, but God’s Word encourages us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). He has to. He has been defeated. And, in Christ, you have been crowned the victor!
For further study
“To feel temptation is therefore a far different thing from consenting or yielding to it. . . . Therefore, we Christians must be armed and daily expect to be incessantly attacked” (Book of Concord, Large Catechism, 107,109).
“Believers can’t stop temptations from coming into their lives. They can, however, by the power of the gospel, stop sin from taking over their lives” (God So Loved the World, p. 329).
Book of Concord,
Luther’s Large Catechism:
The Sixth Petition
The Splendor of
These books are available from Northwestern Publishing House, nph.net, 800-662-6022.
Author: Stephen Helwig
Volume 107, Number 03
Issue: March 2020