If you want to know Jesus, you need to know that He was tempted by the devil.
What brings two people close together? One of the best things to bring people close together are shared experiences, especially if those experiences are trying. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is an old expression. We could also say “What doesn’t kill us will bring us closer together.” We did it. We made it. We got through it. Whatever the it is that we’ve overcome (or at least, endured), we’re closer to each other for having overcome or endured that thing together.
Because of our sinful natures we can’t draw closer to God on our own, but God can draw closer to us, and He did this when His Son Jesus became a human being like us. Whether we realize it or not, we are engaged in a spiritual battle. We can choose God and His way – the way of love – or we can rebel against God like Satan and the fallen angels did and thereby reject love and everything good that goes with it.
By becoming a human being, Jesus became like us in all things but sin. While He never sinned, He was tempted by the devil. Following His baptism, He spends forty days alone in the desert, fasting and preparing for His healing ministry. Satan attempts to pry Him from God at the conclusion of this time. He first tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. This seems harmless enough. Jesus must be very hungry, and it’s not a sin to eat. The temptation here is a subtle one. Satan is tempting Jesus to use His supernatural abilities to satisfy His own needs, rather than using them to save us. This is often the strategy of the devil. The temptation begins with something that seems trivial, but if we give in, our consciences become dulled little by little, and we begin to give in to bigger and bigger sins. Jesus, despite His great hunger, shuts down Satan quickly: “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
The devil goes bigger with his second try, offering Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He will bow down and worship him. Note that the devil says all the kingdoms of the world have been given to him, to give to whomever he wishes. There’s an implication here that worldly power, pursued for its own sake, will inevitably corrupt us. We are meant to trust in our loving Father and accept whatever He gives us. At times He may place us in positions of authority. Conversely, in many stages of life we will be in positions where we need to practice obedience, to our parents, teachers, supervisors at work, and civic authorities. We are also bound to obey God’s laws in all circumstances. Jesus says as much to the devil, telling him that He shall serve God alone.
In the third temptation, Satan dares Jesus to throw Himself off the parapet of the Temple, relying on God to save Him. The temptation here is to treat God as a sort of wish-granting genie, ready and willing to respond to our every beck and call. God doesn’t work that way, and we have no right to expect it of Him. God will not give us everything we want, but He will give us everything we need for the salvation of our souls. Jesus again counters the devil succinctly: “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'”
We will all be tempted to sin, to hurt God and our neighbor, at different times and in different ways. We are not immune to this test. Jesus wasn’t either. When we are tempted, we can ask Jesus to help us, to give us the strength we need to follow God’s ways and not to succumb to our selfish desires, or to the wiles of the devil. And when we ask Him for help, when we turn to Him for strength, we grow closer to Him. Because He’s faced that trial as well.
“Christ took him [the devil] captive by meekness, He overcame him by humility. Do thou also, when thou seest a man who has become a devil coming to meet thee, subdue him in like manner. Teach thy soul to conform its words to those of Christ.” — Saint John Chrysostom
Image: Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoy (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).