The Temptations in the Wilderness

An old Chinese proverb has this to say:

‘You cannot stop birds flying around you head, but you can prevent them from making a nest in your hair.’

Isn’t it comforting to know that no-one is exempt from being tempted, and that temptation is not a sin!

To actually let that temptation take up residence, and give it space and fuel, and to entertain it, then embrace it that’s when it becomes a sin, that’s when the nest is firmly built in the hair, so to speak.

So how can we best stand against temptation, we who are so weak and vulnerable at the best of times.

Jesus was greatly tempted in the wilderness, and I’ve been wondering whether the temptations he endured were tailor-made for him.

If you know that your destiny was mapped out as the one who would save this world from their sins, who would become a Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, what better temptations than those which would bring him to overshoot the runway or go overboard and cause his fall though pride and visions of grandeur.

Here he was at the beginning of his ministry, were whispers suggesting that he misuse his powers, test them out…(Command these stones to become loaves of bread…) in other words satisfy your every whim, what else are your powers for?

Then came thoughts of actually challenging God, and putting him to the test, seeing if he could and would help in any kind of future trouble or danger.

(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)

Then we have the magnetic pull of power, prestige, fame, recognition and popularity.All this I will give you, if you will only bow down and worship me…..

How many promising and gifted people especially in this day and age have had their lives destroyed reaching out for goals such as these?

Perhaps Jesus knew that ahead of him a different path had been marked out…the way of humility, submission, and absolute trust in God’s eternal plan for him.

I like to think that Jesus replies weren’t immediate ones, I want him to have struggled as any human would do, although we’re not given any idea of this in the text itself.

But this he did do :-

  1. He believed a power of evil lay behind these thoughts and recognised the source as such.

  2. He fought his battle well, using the sword of the spirit for the fight…which is the Word of God, with all its power to save…

  3. He responded thoughtfully and carefully, he didn’t jump in with both feet and make hasty and emotional responses.

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

‘Worship the Lord, your God and serve only him.’

These words silenced the devil, and sent him packing.

  • It’s also interesting, that it was when Jesus was at his weakest moment, when he was hungry, thirsty and quite possibly run down because of his fasting, when the force of evil struck. It’s usually at our tirest moments that we too are vulnerable.

  • Also he didn’t rise to the bait, If you are the Son of God! He kept calm and responded wisely. The fiery darts just passed over him.

How many of us, hear…’if you were a real Christian, you wouldn’t say or do that’…how many of us panic or get depressed, because we feel like failures and that we’ve let God down?

How many of us fail time after time to live up to our calling?

Lots of us I would imagine. I know I do.

So what can be done, the next time a trial or test comes our way? How best can we deal with it.

Story of holy monk in the cave..none of the demons managed to convice him to sin or have evil thoughts, until the more senior demon, sidled up to him and whispered, ‘Your brother has just been made bishop’

We each may have to put up with ‘tailor made temptations’:-

…that sudden intake of breath when someone angers us, and immediately cruel and hurtful words spring to mind that we throw back in retaliation. Words that will do just as much damage if not more.

Or just imagine the test of a betrayal, when it enters our minds to withdraw into ourselves, and retreat from the world in self pity and humiliation.

Imagine a test whereby we have sought praise and appreciation for our labours, and none has been forthcoming, and we withdraw our much needed gifts in order to punish the offender.

Let me offer some suggestions, on how to protect ourselves from temptation, suggestions which have been known to work for others:

Firstly let us arm ourselves with some well known promises of scripture which will help ward off the attack as if IN the same kind of battle Jesus was in.

Words such as,

Cast your cares upon him for he cares for you…

Humble yourself…and he will lift you up…

Resist the devil and he will flee from you

Forgive one another as I have forgiven you…

And so on.

Search them out, highlight them as you read God’s word. Have them to hand, to pick up when you need to use them, and you’ll be surprised when the attack diminishes.

And secondly why don’t we recognise the onslaught for exactly what it is… a Test

Let’s not react immediately, let’s try keeping calm, and responding wisely, through God’s words or promises to us, just as Jesus did himself…and reflect, first of all

a) What is going to happen if I give in to the temptation?

b) What is going to happen if I listen to God word, and act upon it, rather than give in to this temptation?

Compare the two, before reacting, visualise each scenario, and pray to see a real difference in our lives and a real victory won in our witness to our faith.

Thirdly, let us begin to see evil as a very real force even in this day and age, and take St Peter’s advice mentioned in his first epistle, that we begin see the devil as a roaring lion, prowling round looking for someone to devour. He tells us ‘Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings…’

or take St Paul’s advice to put our Christian armour on to be able to withstand the attack i.e. the armour of right living, faith, truth, witness, salvation and God’s word.

Or let us be comforted with these words:-

Heb 4.14

And thank God that we have been sent a great high priest, who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God,

Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but whave 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.