The Strength We Need Now.
Not another like him, number nine.
One day in May, 2019, as Danny and I began a college tour in Boston, the guide said, ‘My pronouns today are he, him, his…that is how I identify.’ That was a first for me. In the last several years, the word ‘identify’ has been coopted.
Jesus, on the other hand, chose to identify with all of who we are as human beings, fully identifying with you, me, we, us from the start--stepping into our human condition. He could have walked onto the scene in a convincing position of power, but instead went through the same birthing and nurturing we humans do. Jesus chose to humble himself for our sakes.
As we watched through the reeds on the shore of the Jordan River, we saw Jesus come out of the water met by the presence of the Holy Spirit and the affirming voice of the Father. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”1 ‘Why, Jesus? Why was that the first thing you did? What’s the point?’ How many times have I wondered that?! Today we learn the reason.
We remember that Jesus chose to be baptized by John to identify with us, and then he chose to fast and submitted himself to temptation . . . that was also to identify with us. Yes, Jesus showed us that he ‘got’ and experienced anything that would ever come our way including testing, trials and temptations, retold by Matthew in chapter four of his gospel.
During the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness, he fasted - refrained from food - which tremendously weakened him. Of course, Satan zeroed in on that first to test our Lord as he reminded him how easily his hunger could be satisfied, by his turning rocks into bread. Even then, Jesus stood up to the intensity of the situation and countered with “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”2
Next, Satan dared Jesus “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ''He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.''3
Note: Did you know that Satan knows scripture himself? Any wonder Jesus called him a liar and a deceiver, twisting scripture as he did, hurling my beloved Psalm 91 at Jesus? Jesus countered with “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”4
And to the challenge to bow down and worship the devil, Jesus counters with “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’.”5
Hmmm…forty. What is up with the number forty? In my Bible reading, I am in the book of Deuteronomy. In chapter two, Moses recounts the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert.6 While it was certainly a time of testing, we also have the record of God’s faithfulness to them as he fed them and daily guided them by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. It is interesting to note that the number 40 in the Bible seems to be associated with testing or trials. Moses himself had been in the desert 40 years after fleeing Egypt because he killed an Egyptian who had been beating a fellow Israelite. But God did not leave him in the wilderness - after 40 years, he pressed him into service. Then too there was Elijah!7
But for you and me, Jesus willingly went into the wilderness where he faced great temptation by Satan. In those 40 days, Jesus identified with both our testing [trials, worries, fear, heartache, sickness] and any temptation we will face. And not from his comfortable home by the way, not with any family or friends around, but all by himself. How did he do it? And what are we to take from it?
Jesus answered each temptation with Scripture.
It was the truth of the scripture he spoke that gave him strength, it was the truth of the scripture that stopped the enemy in his tracks and it was the truth of the scripture that gave Jesus firm ground upon which to stand.
And Because he himself suffered when he was tested, he stands ready to help those who are being tested.8 You and I can cry out to God for help and then stand on the truth of Scripture to meet or defeat any situation we are up against as well.
Maybe all you can muster in your weakened state is ‘Help me!’ Or perhaps you cry out to God an eight-word prayer, ‘O God, O God, O God, O God!’ He knows what you need and hears your prayers. And He is with you.
You have this assurance >if you ‘draw near to God, he will draw near to you.’9
Hear me - whatever you are going through, no matter how weak you feel: God loves you, he will never leave you alone and will give you the strength you need.
Be strong in the Lord,
1 - Matthew 4.1
2 - Deuteronomy 8.3; Matthew 4.4
3 - Psalm 91.12
4 - Deuteronomy 6.16; Matthew 4.7
5 - Deuteronomy 6.13; Matthew 4.10
6 - Deuteronomy 2.7 - The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.
7 - 1 Kings 19 - I guess if Elijah’s faith could grow weak, so could ours, right?
8 - Hebrews 2.18
9 - James 4.8