God’s Spirit tested Jesus in the desert by the temptations of an abusive conscience called, in those days, Satan. The experience became the pathway of obedience to the will of God.
The Fantasies of Christ
Exhausted, starving and beaten down by the shattering heat and piercing cold of the desert after 40 days and nights who wouldn’t be on the edge of sanity? Who wouldn’t be unbalanced? Who wouldn’t have fantasies?
Jesus has three:
, he’s God’s son, he’s a long way from his mother’s cooking, in fact he might never get back to Nazareth so time for some self-preservation, those stones could easily be loaves of bread and he can think of a bit of scripture to back up what he could do.
, he’s God’s son, he’s going to have to face the crowds, he’ll do something spectacularly stupid like jump off a tower and God will have to do something for him; it’s there in the bible.
, he’s God’s son, he needs allies, he could hardly be blamed; when you want something done in this life you team up with those who can make it happen even if they threaten your own integrity, the bible told him so.
These are the fantasies of Christ
: Take control of the situation in the way it suits you.
: Force God’s hand.
: Make a deal with the people who can really make a difference.
Putting them another way, they were the fantasies of Israel in the desert
: let’s go back to Egypt, we might have been slaves but at least we were fed
: God put us in this position, we expect him to get us out of it
: We are not so special, let’s find help wherever we can get it.
Putting them another way, they are also the fantasies of the Church
: let’s make it easier for ourselves
: let’s jump into the unknown and leave the rest to God
: let’s create helpful partnerships within anyone.
They are born of desperation.
They arise from the frailty of human nature.
They arise from a distorted understanding of God.
So how does the story of Jesus’s temptations help us? It offers this guidance:
: be careful what you choose to rely on from scripture - it may not be true to God
: check out your expectations of God, they may not just be unrealistic and not founded in truth.
: beware what partnerships you make, they may end up taking you away from your allegiance to God and the Kingdom.
: the calling of God will take us into desert times of dryness and cheerless faith – and then carry us through
: there’s no turning back and it may be longer than you wish
: difficult times expose your true motives, be ready to have them challenged
: the way to tackle an abusive conscience is to keep in touch with God - through worship, obedience to the path of Christ and putting into practice purity of mind and spirit.
: and finally
God can take the believer out of the desert but God won’t take the desert experience out of the believer.
Our hardest times as a believer will stay with us. They are to be remembered and cherished.
Fantasies never think they’ve had their day.
Trust God, they have been overcome, when Jesus died he cleared out all the negative things that lead to death; for your health's-sake you better believe it.
God of big skies and shady paths you have given us our faith in you. Help us not to dwell on our weakness and foolishness. Help us to relish the opportunity to know the direction that your Spirit gives to our life. Turn us away from the temptation to think it’s all about us. Turn us toward the purpose you have for your world and our place in it.
The Revd John Rackley is minister of Manvers Street Baptist Church in Bath
Picture: Temptations of Christ (San Marco), Wikimedia Commons