Temptation (1 of 3)

by Chad Barron, LMFT

We’re all after something, and often in that pursuit of whatever-it-is we find ourselves, depressed that we have not found it, anxious that we never will, and struggling to hold on to hope that it could ever be different. 

There are many ways of understanding what “whatever-it-is” is. Purpose. Meaning. Belonging. Peace. Maybe a little bit of all of these and more. Sometimes we even spend our whole lives pursuing something, finally get it, and find that it wasn’t at all what we thought it would be. Red herrings and wild goose chases abound and we begin to wonder, “what’s the point of it all?” How can we be sure we are pursuing something that is actually worthwhile? 

The temptation of Christ is found in all 3 of the Synoptic Gospels. In Luke, it is in chapter 4. Jesus has just been baptized and is led by the Holy Spirit into the Wilderness to be tempted by the devil. I don’t know about you, but for me as a youngster, it was easy to miss the significance of this event. Jesus is God after all, how hard could it have been? I overemphasized Jesus’ divine nature and discounted his human nature. Word become flesh. Fully God and fully man. A living, breathing, paradox of sorts. Volumes of books have explored this mystery, but for today, it’s worth emphasizing that this was not a camping trip for Jesus. Over and above the discomfort of being in the wilderness without food or water, Satan makes a direct attack on Jesus’ human nature in some very sinister ways. The same ways he often tempts us today. Here we see played out before us what the author of the book of Hebrews refers to when he writes, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Heb 4:15, New International Version) And while you may not have ever been tempted to turn a rock into a banana nut muffin, I’m certain you have wondered who you are, and what your purpose is, and–if you happen to have found it–maybe even lost sight of that from time to time. 

That’s exactly what Satan does here, he’s not just poking at Jesus’ hunger. He begins, “If you are the son of God…” (v. 3, emphasis added). Satan is calling into question Jesus’ very identity. Are you really God’s son? Can you really believe that voice at the Jordan? And IF that’s the case, shouldn’t the son of God be deserving of a little…comfort?

What’s wrong with a little comfort? It’s even a food group! Comfort food. Heaven knows I enjoy a hearty helping of comfort food every now and then. Are we not supposed to ever be comfortable? Is the Christ Life to be all desert and no…dessert? 

Maybe comfort isn’t necessarily the villain here. After all, as a counselor/therapist, isn’t that my job? To come alongside those who are suffering and help them find a measure of comfort? Absolutely. What we see here is Satan doing what Satan does best. Taking something good and twisting it just enough to make it dangerous. Comfort is not the problem here, it’s the simple truth that saying “yes” to something is inherently saying “no” to A LOT  of other things. Satan, is serving comfort up on a platter, and asking Jesus to choose it OVER HIS MISSION. 

In John 4, the disciples are stressing out about finding food to eat, and Jesus throws them into a fit of confusion in saying, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about… My food… is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:32, 34, NIV). Jesus thwarts Satan’s trap by reminding himself that to say yes to some temporary comfort would be saying “no” to his mission, to his purpose. He sees the bigger picture, and realizes how costly some temporary comfort could be.

Comfort is not inherently bad. God promises us comfort after all (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). It’s when we chose comfort over and against our purpose that we find ourselves stuck. Stuck in bad habits. Stuck in selfishness. Stuck in gluttony, greed, over-indulgence, addiction, and ultimately, misery. Because a life that seeks comfort for comfort’s sake will find itself always wanting and never filled.

As Christians, our identity as a child of God and the purpose and meaning found there, is what grounds us. It makes distress less distressing. Discomfort more comfortable. Pain more endurable. It teaches us—if we let it—to say “no” when saying “yes” would keep us from our mission. To know the contentment, assurance, and peace that comes from knowing we are living out our purpose, is to have food that this world knows nothing about. Real comfort food. 

“Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them. Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33, New Century Version)

Chad Barron, LMFT