Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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The Temptation of Jesus
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).
God cannot be tempted and he does not tempt anyone to do evil (James 1:13). Temptation is, however, an unavoidable part of the human condition following the fall of man. Satan has been given the right to tempt human beings and he does so with a vengeance. James says that, "each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:14-15). At the same time, we must always say that while temptation is inevitable, giving in to it — sin — is not. Much of what the apostle John wrote was written so that we do not sin (see 1 John 2:1), so avoidance of sin must be possible. And, Paul says that,
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Temptation is part of being human. No one is immune. And, whatever you and I are tempted to do is something that others have been tempted to do as well. We are not facing anything new or more difficult than anyone has faced before. The good news is that we don't have to face any temptation on our own. We need to realize that when we try, we will fail miserably. God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you together with him have the ability to resist. God does not tempt you, but even Satan cannot tempt you without God's permission. And God always provides a way out. We do not have to sin!
Why then do we find it so easy to sin? We are weak. And, have you ever noticed how temptation intensifies when you are feeling beat up or dragged out? Satan, like a roaring lion prowls about looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), and like a beast of prey, he will look for the weak of the flock. Jesus knows our weaknesses and sympathizes with them — he doesn't judge us for being weak. He comes to help us to stand. We'll get to that in a minute.
Jesus was tempted in every way. I was struck by this in a new way a couple of days ago. In every way. Jesus was tempted to do every single sinful thing imaginable! I always knew that he was tempted to be selfish or lie or things like that. The temptations to do what we consider small or insignificant sins. But I had to admit that Jesus was also tempted with everything else as well. Have you ever thought that Jesus was tempted to murder, steal, cheat, rape, and all of the other horrible things that humanity has done to man, woman, and children throughout history? And, he was not tempted as God, for God cannot be tempted, he was tempted as a man, exactly as we are. In some way that I don't totally understand, he desired to do evil and was tempted to do it, however, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, he did not sin. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth" (1 Peter 2:22 quoting Isaiah 53:9). He did not sin, but he was tempted with every single sin that ever was or could be.
That means that we have no excuse to sin! We don't have to! God has provided the way out of every temptation. And this is what is referred to in Hebrews 4:16. Because of what Jesus did with respect to temptation, we are to approach the throne of grace with confidence. We can make it! We can be better than we have been! We can overcome each and every temptation! As we approach God's throne, we receive mercy — this is the forgiveness part for when we do give in to temptation and thank God that that is ours! — and we receive grace — the ability of Christ to stand against temptation and to not give in — to help us in our time of need — the times when we are tempted by anything at all.
When we walk away from the throne and try to go it on our own, we will fall. In the verse just before the one quoted, Paul says, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1 Corinthians 10:12). Satan is out to get us and temptation is our common lot. But God has provided a way out through Jesus our sympathetic high priest who has gone before us and the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. There is abundant grace and mercy at his throne. He wants and expects us to ask for his help. And he will give it in abundant supply. Jesus has shown us the way to victory!
"This is the victory that has overcome the world [and everything that is a part of that including temptation], even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that [puts their faith in] Jesus is the Son of God" (1 John 5:4-5).
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