One of the hard things we human beings deal with is temptation. Everyone faces temptation in their lives, but how do we deal with it? Do we try resist temptation purely with our own willpower? Many of us know from personal experience that that doesn’t work and then we struggle with guilt or shame because of our failures. If willpower doesn’t work, then what do we do when temptation comes upon us? Thankfully, Jesus has a better way for us to live which is recorded for us in Matthew 4:1-11.
Just prior to this passage, Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, but we do. Jesus is fully human and fully God, and he is perfect and sinless in his humanity. And yet he underwent baptism by John to identify with us sinful humans and take our place to make all things right. The Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus in the form of a dove and Jesus is both commissioned and affirmed by his Father in heaven with these words, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Mt. 3:17)
Everything should be great from here on, right? But it’s not. Why? Ever since our first parents succumbed to temptation and disobeyed God, temptation has been a big problem in the world. And if Jesus Christ is going to save the world, then he needs to overcome temptation for humanity, and that is exactly what is going on here. And as Jesus stands in the place of all humanity, he is doing so in a very special way. God chose Abraham’s family, the Israelites, to be a blessing and a light that reflected God’s love and character into the world. But invariably, whenever they faced temptation, God’s people failed, much like we do today. So Jesus refutes the temptations of the devil with passages from Deuteronomy 6-8, at time when the Israelites were struggling with temptation in the wilderness, and Jesus stays in the desert for 40 days to parallel the 40 years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness. Jesus is showing us that he is the new Israel. Everything that Israel did in the past and failed, Jesus is now doing again and succeeding. And Jesus’ actions reverberate back in history to the Israelites and beyond to our first parents Adam and Eve, and all the way forward in history to the present day to undo all our failures of the past and give us a way to live in the freedom of his forgiveness now and always. Jesus is our strength when we are tempted.