12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
– Mark 1:12-13
|Temptation of Christ by Ary Scheffer, 1854|
I was recently reading through Mark on my slow (slow because of me, not the study) – but steady – journey through the New Testament Survey course that Michelle and I are taking, when I came across these verses that struck me. What struck me is the idea that the Holy Spirit led Jesus out to the desert, knowing that He would be tempted by Satan over those forty days. This seems like an odd thing, for the Spirit to lead anyone into a situation where it is known that the person will be tempted by Satan – since we know that Satan’s temping is intended to lead us to turn away from God. Maybe the intention here was purely to teach us a lesson on how to face temptation when it comes our way. What better Teacher than Jesus to show us by example how we are to respond to the temptations we will face.
Since before I became a Christian I had struggled with a certain area of sin in my life that I had been trying to figure out how to get past, I felt like the sin had a constant hold on me even though I knew I had freedom in Christ. In those years of trying to “morally restrain my will”, I never found any amount of effort or list of “to don’ts” that would ever have any real affect on getting me past that large obstacle of sin.
Enter the process that God has graciously led me through over the past couple-plus years, the truth of replacing my focus. What do I mean? Well, you see, the main focus I had all those years before the coins really dropped (ask if you don’t get what this means), was on not doing things that would lead me into the sin or sinful activity I struggled with… unfortunately, putting the focus on the things I shouldn’t do, meant I spent a lot of time thinking about those things that I shouldn’t do. I was focusing on the negative while all along my focus should have beeen on something good rather than bad. That focus should really be on God – the ultimate good – and only when my gaze started to turn more to Him (only by His grace) have I actually been able to experience the freedom I have had all along (big praise God here is ok, :-)).
So, by now, you might be wondering how this ties into this passage from Mark 1:12-13, hang in there I am getting to it… I am sure I am not the only one that thinks temptation is not a good thing, after all it is something that is used by our biggest adversary to try and turn our attention away from where it should be – God. So if this is the case, why did the Spirit lead Jesus out to the desert in order to be tempted? Well what is funny is that I initially went in to writing this blog post with a whole different idea, but as I followed the Spirits lead, something else has taken form… It turns out that my focus was initially on the idea that temptation is bad, rather than what amazing thing God was doing with the temptation and forty days in the desert that Jesus was to face.
The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would put it, is told in the correlating passages from the gospels of Matthew (in 4:1-11) and Luke (in 4:1-13) which share more of the detail of some of the temptations that Jesus actually faced, and how He combated the temptations Satan threw at Him. This context shows us, in my opinion, the reason that the Spirit led Jesus to be tempted – to teach us how to face temptation ourselves.
What Jesus does to resist these temptations is not focus on what He should avoid so as to not sin in the way Satan is tempting Jesus, but instead Jesus focuses on God and the Word of God – literally the scriptures. Of course anything Jesus said could be considered the word of God, but He chose to specifically quote scriptures that men at the time would have access to. Look a little deeper at the scripture that Jesus quotes and you will see that the verses are from Deuteronomy. This is important because of the correlation between the context of what Jesus is quoting compared to the situation Jesus is in. Jesus is in the midst of spending forty days in the desert, sounds similar to the forty years in the wilderness that Israel experienced, which happened to be a desert wilderness in possibly the exact same place in which Jesus was during His forty days. On top of the location, Satan tempts Jesus in areas that the Israelites had fallen and turned against God. Jesus is showing us how, through the leading of the Holy Spirit (which He gave us all as a gift, see John 7:38-39 and Acts 2:38-39), we are capable of resisting temptation and focusing on and following God. Unlike Israel who instead focused on the bad, they focused on the hard trials rather than focusing on God. Jesus shows by example that through the power of the Holy Spirit as well as through the sword (His word) which He has given us, we can remain focused on God even in the midst of the most trying of temptations.
Again, the focus of Jesus’ response to the temptations that He faces here is on God. More specifically, Jesus focuses on the Truth that responds directly to the temptations being sent His way. Following Jesus’ example I am of course not saying to ignore the fact that we have an adversary that is attacking us, but when we recognize the temptations or know we are going into a situation that we might face temptations, we should look to God and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. We should focus on God, His character, His goodness.
I am so thankful for what God has brought me through and continues to teach me every day. It has been amazing to experience the freedom that I knew I had in Him, but was just not living in that freedom. Of course I still have sin and areas to grow, but getting freedom in this area that has been a heavy ball and chain for most of my life is so, well, freeing! I hope and pray that these words communicate the truth that I have experienced through the amazing work of the Holy Spirit in my life, and allow the coins to drop for you in order to make a turning point in your life just as God has begun for me.
The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have…”
– Judges 6:14