(Here is a blog I wrote a year ago while still in Africa. I did not have the time to post it for Easter, so I decided to save it until this year. Here it is with only a few minor edits from it’s original form)
Well it’s officially Easter time everyone!!! And when Easter comes, we all have a tendency to think about Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Those along with Jesus’ birth are, after all, His most common topics known to the world. I discussed three years ago on Easter the question that was pressing most on my mind at the time, which was very early in my new Christian life. The question, in all it’s simple complexity, was this: “What was the purpose of the Resurrection of Jesus?”
At the time, I just really didn’t understand it. I fully understood the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross three days earlier. His death meant that my sins had been erased – both past and future – because He had nullified them by being the perfect sacrifice. However for me, this event was what Easter had always been about for my whole life, so I really didn’t know what to think about the redemptive quality of the Resurrection. Obviously, I knew that God was smart (duh) and had a special reason for raising Jesus from the dead, but I couldn’t quite grasp that reason.
Upon investigating this in many different ways, I discovered something that kind of surprised me – Jesus’ Resurrection was the confirmation of the transaction that He had made for our lives. But now three years later, I wonder if I fully realized just how true that statement was. You see, Jesus’ sacrifice indeed has taken our wrongdoings away. He removed from our lives these sins by taking them on Himself and then taking the punishment for them – death – though He had lived a perfect life.
But His Resurrection from the dead conquered the punishment of death, permanently ensuring our ability to live eternally with God.
All this being said, I think there is still more about Jesus’ sacrifice that we may not yet see; and that is probably because we are looking in the wrong place. Around Easter time, we focus a lot on the Crucifixion and Resurrection, but not much on the life of Jesus. I think this is a partial mistake, because you can learn a lot more about a person through their life than in their death; for the obvious reason that their life is much longer in this world.
Specifically, I would like to look at one of Jesus’ first actions as He began His 3-year ministry. This is the event that I personally see as the beginning of His ministry on Earth that led to His death three years later. Jesus’ Temptations in the desert.
1st temptation – Turning Rocks into Bread.
“And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But He answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”‘” Matthew 4:3-4
Well that’s a weird first temptation. Why would the devil think that Jesus had any desire to turn stones in bread? The answer comes in the verse before which says that Jesus had been fasting in the desert for forty days. It ends with the words “He was hungry.”
This is such an awesome temptation. Not because of the temptation, necessarily, but because of what it reveals to us about Jesus! He was hungry. He was a man just like you and me. He experienced pain and hunger and thirst and loss and sorrow just like you and I both do. Jesus experienced life in the same way that we know it today. The man who claimed to be God Himself was truly human.
But just as odd as the temptation seemed, so also does Jesus’ response seem. In my mind this is reminiscent of when Moses was on top of the mountain for 40 days, writing down the law as God gave it to Him. The Bible says that he did not eat or drink anything (Exodus 34:28), but the LORD sustained him. This is to say that food and drink do not keep a man alive, but the will and word of God Himself is what gives life and takes it away.
2nd Temptation – Jumping from a great height
“Then the devil took Him up to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, “He will command His angels concerning You,” and “On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.”‘ Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.”‘” Matthew 4:5-7
Alright, well this is a pretty radical temptation. I have to admit, I struggled for a little while trying to discern what the point of this temptation was.
First, I struggled with figuring out why it was a temptation for Jesus. Throwing Himself off of a great height such as the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem doesn’t really seem like as much of a temptation as it does an act of faith. But for Jesus it was a temptation. Why? Well I tend to think that it was a temptation for Jesus because He truly longed for people to know Him and follow Him. Think about it. The Holy City. The temple itself. That has got to be one crowded area and I am sure that there were people who looked up and saw the crazy person on top of the temple looking down on them. Imagine how quickly their opinion of Him would have changed if He had jumped off and suddenly started floating in midair.
So why would this have been a sin for Jesus to perform this miracle? I mean after all, He performed miracles all throughout His ministry. What’s one more going to hurt? This was my second struggle. but then I looked at His miracles. Jesus was not in the business of proving His Deity to those around Him. He was in the business of rewarding those who had faith in his Deity. Recall His rebuke of Thomas when Thomas doubted that he had been raised from the dead and appeared to the rest of the disciples. (For a slightly different and perhaps deeper explanation, consider what Jesus says in John 5:19).
The only miracle that I can think of that did not involve the faith of the people involved was His turning water into wine at a wedding. But this was a different kind of miracle. Jesus’ response to Satan shows us as much. Jumping off of the temple would have been putting the LORD to the test whereas Jesus used His own power granted to Him by God to turn water into wine. But there is another, much deeper aspect to this part of the temptation that i want to explain after we discuss the 3rd temptation.
3rd Temptation – Worshiping the Enemy
“Again the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only you shall serve.”‘” Matthew 4:8-10
This is definitely my favorite temptation of Jesus if I have to have a favorite. It doesn’t make any sense does it? It’s rather stupid, actually – on behalf of Satan, that is. Why the heck would he tempt the Son of God to worship him? Telling God to worship pure evil is like…well there is no comparison. It’s more ridiculous than trying to make two north poles of magnets stick together or to make a battery work with only two negatively-charged compartments.
But here’s the kicker. Satan seemed to guess something much more awesome about Jesus than we would be able to guess at this point – His desire to be reunited to us. You see when we sinned, Satan was given dominion over the earth, because the earth became a sinful place – a place where evil could dwell. Satan seems to actually have had the authority to give the kingdoms of the earth over to Jesus. And he knew that Jesus wanted us back desperately. That’s why this was a temptation to Jesus. As much as He knew it was complete evil to worship the devil, His purpose for coming to this earth would have been accomplished in one quick, easy stroke, or so it seems. But Jesus was stronger than that and did not give in, despite knowing the path that His next three years of living would lead Him toward.
Two more notes:
In the second temptation, Jesus responds to Satan’s desire to have Jesus jump off the temple height by saying that one should not put the LORD to the test. To me this has a twofold meaning. First as I said before, Jesus is saying that it would be a sin for Him to jump off the temple height because He would be putting God to the test. But second, I see it as a warning to Satan. Jesus cautions Satan against testing Him any further. But in doing so, He also claims His own Deity by speaking of Himself as God.
Now I want to finish by saying one more thing concerning these three temptations all put together.
In the first temptation, we see that Jesus was a man experiencing life in the same way we experience it, with temptations and pain and human feelings just like us. Then as I just said in the second temptation, Jesus also claims his Deity. This makes Jesus both fully man and fully God. But then in the third temptation, Jesus talks about worshiping the Lord and serving Him only as if He is not the LORD. And in the same way Jesus speaks in the second temptation as if He would be putting God to the test by jumping off of the temple height.
I don’t get it. So if Jesus was fully God as well as fully man, how come it seems like He is apart from God?
Jesus does have His claim to the Trinity that is God (in the form of the Son), but when He came to earth, He gave up a part of this unity with God to come here and be sacrificed for us. This separation manifests itself in the last week of Jesus. His sweating of blood in the garden of Gethsemane and His cry “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” show the worst suffering of Jesus that many of us don’t fully realize. Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” shows the human suffering that Jesus had to endure. But that was nothing compared to the spiritual suffering that Jesus had to endure when His separation from God reached it’s pinnacle. God turned His back on Jesus. Not only was Jesus separated from God, but God had now abandoned Him as all of our sins were heaped on Him like all the dirt of the earth being heaped, ton after ton, into one spot. The spiritual pain that Jesus went through is something that none of us, no matter how evil, will ever have to endure in this life, thanks to Him.
Have a wonderful Easter everyone.