Jesus was a man.
Among many other things, Jesus was a man.
This should complicate the reasoning of agnostic and atheist writers and philosophers. When arguing against the existence of God, they cannot always do so in a theoretical vacuum. At some point, they must account for the historical, human Jesus. They must account for that person from whose death we measure the passing of years.
To try to deny that the historical Jesus existed would require calling into question all of the history of the period. If Jesus never existed perhaps the Roman Empire never existed either. Perhaps the Jewish people never existed. Perhaps pre-Christian philosophers like Plato never existed. It would be a massive task to prove any of these things.
Our agnostic and atheist friends might acknowledge the possible existence of someone named Jesus but blithely deny his divinity, his miracles and his resurrection. Very well, we Christians will acknowledge and accept that a faith relationship with Jesus requires just that: faith. We are reaching toward a realm that is greater than mere human existence.
In his remarkable book Prayer, Hans Urs von Balthasar writes:
Contemplation starts at the point where the believing mind begins to perceive a dawning light in the abyss of the mystery, where the mystery begins to reveal itself in all its vast proportions. Not in the sense of doubt, of loosening the tautness of the dogmatic affirmation, but in an astonishment which reaches to the very roots of our being. For we must be aware, at every moment, that the mystery of Jesus Christ transcends all the experience of God accessible to natural man and man as he is in history. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press) 1986. Page 158. Translated by Graham Harrison.
It can be somewhat frightening to consider the enormity of God, the power of God. If it were not for the joyful nature of the gospel, it is hard to see how the human mind could cope with God at all. We know that there has been much controversy and division in the Christian Church throughout the ages. Perhaps one reason would be that it is easier to squabble amongst ourselves about the nature of God than it is to face God, quietly and in solitude.
Jesus was a man. Among many other things, Jesus was a man. Let us learn from Jesus. Let us turn to Matthew 4:1-11:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, "'He will command his angels concerning you,' and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him "All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.''"
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (ESV).
Jesus spent forty days in the desert, fasting and praying. He is tempted by Satan three different ways and he resists, using three different responses, always from the Scriptures. There is much we can learn from this and apply to our own lives.
Firstly, we should observe the circumstances of these temptations. They occur in the wilderness, and shortly after Jesus was baptized. Matthew Henry comments that Christ withdrew into the wilderness "to gain advantage for himself":
Retirement gives an opportunity for meditation and communion with God; even they who are called to the most active life must yet have their contemplative hours, and must find time to be alone with God. (Matthew Henry's Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 1960. Page 1214.
Henry goes on to say that this gave leave to Satan to "do his worst" so that Christ might "do his best" and that he "might be exalted in his own strength (page 1214)." In our own lives, we can see how solitary meditation can be good; however we should not expect to be free from temptations. They will follow us wherever we go.
We should therefore look very carefully at how Jesus responds to Satan. Without trying to add or subtract anything from Scripture, we can imagine how hot, tired, hungry and thirsty Jesus must have been after forty days. Perhaps he also felt lonely-it would be human to feel such an emotion. At our lowest ebb, we can crave the company of God or succumb to temptation. We know that Jesus was led by the Spirit to be in the desert, but could it be possible that he asked "why am I here?" the same way so many of us ask who are in lonely or difficult circumstances?
As to the question "why," we cannot, of course, know the mind of God. Luke T. Johnson, however, points out an interesting parallel between the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness and the forty years wandered by Israel: "Jesus is the faithful, obedient son of God. He represents the child God always wanted in Israel, and he perfectly fulfills the righteousness demanded by Torah." The Writings of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress) 1986. Page 180. Just after his baptism and just prior to his adult ministry, Jesus is being tested.
There is an irony here, a reversal of expectations. We might normally think that a meditative person seeking solitude is seeking a kind of escape. Such a person might, in fact, be walking into battle, or the toughest trial, or test, of his or her life.
There is a three-fold doctrine revealed in the temptations of Jesus. First, we do not live by bread alone, but by the word of God. Secondly, we do not put the Lord God to the test. Thirdly, we shall worship the Lord God only and him only shall we serve. These three ideas represent only a fraction of all of the teachings of Jesus. They appear, nevertheless, to be foundational principles from which he proceeds. For those of us who have felt the pull of such temptations as materialism or pride, they are particularly useful principles upon which to meditate.
We do not live by food, money, or things, alone. Our lives would consist of meaningless consumption if we did. This is abundantly obvious to most of us. Too bad most of us still spend most of our waking hours concerned with food, money or things.
We do not put the Lord "to the test." It is God who puts us "to the test," not the other way around. There is a sophisticated, complex explanation for this: he is God; we are not. Take it further if you can.
The concept of "testing" is of course an interesting idea. Perhaps it is part of our human nature to want to push our prerogatives; to provoke what we feel are the duties and responsibilities of others to our benefit. It is clear, nevertheless, that it would be inappropriate and counterproductive for children to put their parents to the test. It would be reckless and irresponsible for citizens to put their fire departments to the test. It would be time-wasting and foolish for swimmers to put life-guards to the test. It is all the more logical that the faithful, blessed as they are with countless gifts, should not put their infinitely wise God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, to the test.
This concept of not testing the Lord has implications for how we pray and how we live. A thoughtful Christian will accept the hardships of life, not merely as "bumps on the road," but as ways and means of getting closer to God. Along these lines, Thomas Merton offers us a paradoxical but fascinating description of contemplative prayer:
Contemplative prayer is, in a way, simply the preference for the desert, for emptiness, for poverty. One has begun to know the meaning of contemplation when he intuitively and spontaneously seeks the dark and unknown path of aridity in preference to every other way. The contemplative is one who would rather not know than know. Rather not enjoy than enjoy. Rather not have proof that God loves him. He accepts the love of God on faith, in defiance of all apparent evidence. This is the necessary condition, and a very paradoxical condition, for the mystical experience of the reality of God's presence and of his love for us. Only when we are able to "let go" of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionizes our entire inner life. Contemplative Prayer (New York: Doubleday) 1996. Page 89.
As peculiar as this may seem to most of us, it nevertheless seems possibly consistent with how Jesus the man may have approached his journey into the desert so many years ago.
Jesus was a man. Among many other things, Jesus was a man. Why is it so important to remember this? This "temptation" episode of the Bible shows the dynamic interaction of the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert. There, he resists temptations by resorting to God the Father, and in particular by what is written by and about God the Father. He is clearly setting an example for us, sharing our humanity, sharing our pain, and inspiring us to have faith.
This also sets the stage for the later episodes of the life of Jesus. Yes, we should remember Jesus was a man when he was beaten and nailed to the cross. We should remember he was a man when he uttered the heart-breaking words:" My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)." We need not dwell on this. It is too painful.
Let us dwell instead on the words uttered by the man who could only be the Son of God: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)." Let us dwell instead on the unspeakable joy of his resurrection. Let us dwell instead on the promise we have, through Jesus Christ, of eternal life.
Let us remember that third principle of the temptations, that we shall worship and serve God and God alone; and do it joyfully. Worship is the oasis of relief in the hot, hard desert of temptation and contemplation. We can worship with friends and family and neighbors in joyful fellowship:
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
Praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
In faith and fellowship,