It’s easy to think of Jesus resisting temptation in quantitative terms—He was able to do more than we could. We could have resisted up to a point, but Jesus resisted all of the way. There’s truth to this of course, but it’s not the whole truth and consequently if we treat it like the whole truth it ends up becoming distorted and gives us a false picture of Jesus. We end up looking at like Him in the same way we look at an athlete or musician with vastly superior ability. And while there’s much that’s enjoyable (and entertaining) about watching someone of special ability, there’s more to Jesus than someone who makes us say, “Wow!” He’s more than an elite athlete or top shelf entertainer. There’s more to understanding the temptations than simply the raw ability to resist.
The truth often overlooked is the qualitative one—that Jesus did more than we could because He had different relationship with God than we do. He found joy and delight in His will. He found freedom and liberation in loving Him and His creation. He had this unbroken, unblemished confidence in His Father—and the courage that comes from such confidence. When temptation strikes us we close our eyes and hold our breath until it passes; Jesus looked it right in the eye and kept right on breathing. Overcoming temptation wasn’t merely a matter of what He did but of who He was. Who is He? He is the son of David going out to face the giant after 40 days. But He’s more than that. If you read the story of David you don’t really get the idea there was much temptation involved in that particular incident (unless you count Saul’s offer of his armor). Jesus is a mature man who is fully and completely tempted and yet vanquishes His foe.
All of this says to us that the answer isn’t always to try harder—but to trust deeper and perhaps differently than we have before. Looking at ourselves (and our limitations), looking at whatever is enticing us—that’s clearly not the answer. Looking at and leaning upon God is.
Aretha Franklin was known for her huge voice, dynamic performances, her participation in the civil rights movement and lots of other things. There’s a clip of her singing “O Holy Night” with Billy Preston accompanying her on the piano I came across about a decade ago that is just mesmerizing. One of the quirkier things she did was that she always carried her purse onstage with her. Often it was on top of the piano while she was playing but if she moved to the center of the stage, she took her purse with her and just dropped it in the middle of the stage.
The back story is that she always demanded a certain portion of her fee to be paid in cash up front before her performance. She did that because she had seen a lot of musicians ripped off and mistreated so by getting cash and having it with her at all times—she was ready to leave if things ever went south. The thing is, she did this long after there wasn’t any need to worry about anything like that happening. Old habits die hard—especially when they are linked to surviving in a world that can be harsh and cruel.
There’s some of that in all of us, isn’t there? It’s hard to be in the wilderness and not have some of the wilderness in you. The wilderness is a tough place—a nation fell there, their leader stumbled there and it was just generally inhospitable to life. When temptation comes calling, think of Jesus, look to God and let go of whatever it is you are holding on to.