I’ve been reading through Matthew, observing the movement of Jesus through a social context; placing myself, as much as possible within the cultural mindset of his time. I may be lacking in a comprehensive cultural perspective but trust in the instructional leading of the Holy Spirit, crossing the bridge of interpretation to life application.
Matthew 4 begins with what we know about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. My favorite words are in the beginning verses where Jesus comes out of a 40 day/40 night fast and scripture records these words ‘he was hungry’. Seriously, I have always thought these were a wasted of words; a redundant statement. Who would not be hungry after fasting for that long, right? But believing that all scripture is inspired and profitable for reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness, I began to look more closely at these words.
This event in the life of Jesus is often connected to the words in Hebrew 4:14 that say ‘he, speaking of Jesus, was tempted in all manner as we are, yet without sin.’ Certainly Jesus faced other temptations in his ministry/life but these three were head-on full frontal conflict with the devil and have significance for not only our behaviors but perceptions and thoughts as well.
Jesus was hungry. This was a felt, real need. Few of us know real hunger especially if we live in the United States. But this was 40 days without food. I can barely go a meal before I whine about being hungry let alone 40 day and nights. The devil’s solution for his hunger was turn objects into substance to meet a need. When I sat with that for a bit, I realized the devil tempts me with the same thing. Turn things into something that meets a felt need. For example, my felt need for security I feed with food or spending or controlling behaviors. A ‘no-thing’to satisfy a felt need. Note too, the devil suggested he make more than he needed. ‘Stones to loaves of bread’, where one loaf would have met his felt need of hunger. How many times do we over-indulge and stockpile rather than simply meet the need? In a world of over-stimulation, we hardly know where need ends and indulgence begins. Everything in this world primes us to over-indulge, to satisfy ourselves after all we are entitled.
Next, look what happens after Jesus counters the devil with the word of God in Matthew 4:11. After the devil left him, God met his need through his angels, his messengers; a method out of Jesus’s control. Jesus has to wait. I think this speak to delayed gratification which is an element of spiritual discipline.
Finally, Jesus’ antidote for the devil in this temptation back in Matthew 4:4 is ‘man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’. My take on this defense is first, when the choice is trust your feelings, real, as in Jesus hunger or imagined, as in my insecurity, trust what God says in his word. If you don’t know what that is, go search for it, find a mentor, coach or spiritual director but seek out God’s truth. Feelings are based in situations and environments and are not very trustworthy. What we know about feelings is that often they drive behaviors and for many of us those may be self-destructive or at a minimum self-defeating. Your perception may not be reality but like Jesus, the devil wants you to believe it is reality and wants you to fix it for yourself. Second, wait on God. Trust his word. While you wait and pray for wisdom and examine your feelings. Is the devil tempting you to substitute objects or activities or relationships to meet a need only God can fill completely? A need God longs to fill if you’ll just wait on him?
Does Jesus really get me? I think he understand what it means to be tempted to meet my own needs with anything other than God. He had the chance to do the same but he chose to wait and trust; to press through the tension of his felt need and believe his Father had a plan and purpose. He was tempted with the same things we’re tempted with, yet without sin. Like the ultimate coach who has been there and succeeded, we can follow his example and trust him.