Friday, 19 September 2014
Seeing Jesus When I’m Tempted
How do I see Jesus when I’m tempted? Do I picture him irritated, shaking his head at my constant weakness? Do I see him as disappointed, turning away from one who strays so often?
I have a friend who tells me she’s afraid of Jesus. She’s a Christian, but she’s afraid of Jesus. His parables make her puzzled. His stinging words to the Pharisees make her fearful. Why would she want to turn to him when she’s tempted?
The short answer is because he wants her to see him more clearly.
It’s Tuesday. I’m tempted.
Temptation is an everyday thing. It’s not just for weekends. I can wake up any day of the week and be tempted to think, say, or do things I know are wrong. Or not do things I know are right.
This morning I wasn’t tempted to anything scandalous, so I’ll share. I just want to be God. Oops. Did I say that out loud? I figure that’s what I want when I look at the things that deflate me and the things that exhilarate me. I write a blog post and three people read it. My mom says good job. I’m tempted to quit. The next day Someone Who Matters gives me a boost on social media. The numbers rise into the hundreds. I’m tempted to strut. The numbers are my minions, supporting my throne. I check my stats one more time.
Then I realize how enslaved I am and I really do want to quit. It feels like the only safe thing to do.
Seeing the Strong Man
When I’m being tempted it’s not just a mind game, I’m up against the strong man. The tempter isn’t just strong, he’s deceptive and persistent. He’s perceptive and personal. He knows my weak spots. Watch him go after the woman with a combination of half truths, denial, flattery, and slander:
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
…But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1, 4-5
What chance do I have against such an enemy when he
- calls God’s words into question?
- calls God’s integrity into question?
- calls God’s motives into question?
These volleys attack the foundation of my faith: my confidence in his word, my clarity about his truth, my childlike trust in his goodness. Before I know it I’m seeing the temptation more fully than I’m seeing God. Desire goes haywire:
- What’s good? that tree (not God)
- What’s beautiful? that fruit is eye candy (not God)
- What’s best for me? to be like God (not God)
If this is what I’m up against, it’s scary. The devil know how to get in my head, and he knows how to play along with my other two enemies, the siren world and my weak flesh.
Seeing One Stronger
I need to see Jesus in a very specific way right now. He has many names, but today I need to see him as the Stronger Man. There was a day during his life when he revealed himself that way. He was helping another poor wretch, a mute man who had been silenced by a demon. As the man began to speak it was evident that Jesus’ power was more than a match for the evil spirit. Right away he shows me that he’s strong.
But is he good? Some people in the crowd (the Pharisees we’re told in another gospel) accuse him of getting his power from the devil (Beelzebub to be precise). Other people aren’t satisfied and ask for a sign from heaven, as if this miracle weren’t enough. What was Jesus going to do now? Turn around and blast them? Or shake the dust off his sandals and leave them?
Neither. He reasons with them first. And then he stunningly reveals himself to them and invites them to join him:
When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Luke 11:21-23
What they didn’t know was that the “One Who is Stronger” would attack and overcome the strong man as he hung on the cross bearing our sin. As he hung there, naked and suffering, he was stripping the armor off the enemy. And when he breathed his last, he plundered the enemy’s house.
I am the spoil he took that day. And so are all who are “with him.” We don’t need to fall to temptation or hide to keep ourselves safe. We are with the One Stronger.