Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Lead us not into Temptation; but Lead Jesus Instead

For last week's newspapers, I answered a question about the Holy Spirit's role in Jesus' wilderness temptation:

Q:  If it is Satan who is responsible for the temptations we face, and not God, then why do Matthew and Luke say that the Holy Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted after His Baptism?

These details do seem to be in conflict with each other on the surface, but if we wanted to be very detailed in looking at the sentence, we could note that the Spirit simply leads Jesus into the wilderness, where Satan does the actual tempting. 

But that answer is not necessarily adequate, because we still see the Holy Spirit serving to lead Jesus into temptation when James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his epistle, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” This seems to place the temptation far too close to the Holy Spirit’s work of leading Jesus for the comfort of most. 

Since the words tempt and temptation do not refer only to sin, but also to other various types of tests, trials, and tragedies, some have used the same kinds of explanations here that are often used by pastors when people face hard times in life.  Among these are explanations like that God does not tempt people, but allows people to be tempted or tested to achieve a greater good.  While explanations like this may be comforting and may be true, they still seem less than satisfying in this instance. 

When reading the details that Matthew and Luke give about Jesus’ temptation, it is interesting that there are repeated Old Testament connections made by the events of Jesus temptation which point us in the right direction about what is happening there: 

The best example might be that the temptation lasts 40 days.  The number 40 shows up dozens of times in Old Testament history and in the life of Jesus.  The most relevant here would be that Moses was on Mount Sinai 40 days when He received the Law in God’s Ten Commandments, and the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness 40 years on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land, giving in to many temptations along the way. 

Jesus, on the other hand, spends His 40 days in the wilderness perfectly resisting temptation, and while the Law revealed by Moses brought only the bad news that we have sinned and fall short of God’s demands, Jesus spent His 40 day temptation, and all of His earthly life, fulfilling God’s Law in our place.  His perfect record under temptation is a reversal of our failure to resist sin. 

In another case, an Old Testament Sacrifice on the Day of Atonement involved sacrificing two goats.  One was slaughtered as a Sacrifice for sin, while a family would confess their sins while laying their hands on the goat’s head, after which they would lead it into the wilderness and abandon it never to be seen again, pointing forward to this temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. 

These among many others, point Israel, and us with them, to the work of Jesus as the Savior who lives and dies in our place.  Because of this office as Messiah and Savior, Jesus is different from us in His relation to God.  Just as He suffers the cross in our place to exchange our well-deserved punishment for His perfect rewards, it is necessary that He be tempted, and so the Spirit leads Him to it in a way that might not be true for us. 

Jesus temptation was done to fulfill the righteousness God demands and to achieve God’s will which is that people would rely on Him for forgiveness and be give eternal life through Him.  Likewise for us, even when we do face tests and trials in life, we trust that they occur for the greater purpose of pointing us to God’s salvation and an eternal, resurrected life in which there will be neither temptation nor suffering of any kind.  

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