For some reason, I have never gotten all that excited in the past about Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and the subsequent temptations from Satan. I am not sure why. I guess I always felt like it was the story of a Man who almost had superhuman strength and He did something that the rest of us could never do. I mean, 40 days without food?
But just recently I have realized the incredible import of this wonderful event. You see, what this wonderful story shows us is that we, as human beings, do not have to be ruled by our appetites, our feelings, our pride. Truthfully, I had always kind of intellectually recognized this, but it didn’t click until recently.
Think about it: Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days and doesn’t eat. And then the devil comes and meets Him, knowing He is incredibly weak, and invites Him to turn stones into bread for a highly-nutritious meal. Now, previous to this, I thought to myself, “What would be wrong with Jesus accepting the devil’s invitation? After all, there is nothing wrong with eating!” His refusal almost seemed arbitrary. But Jesus was on a mission—and the devil knew it. His mission was to show that we, as human beings, are endowed with one of the greatest and most powerful weapons in the Universe. And one of the devil’s greatest missions is to try to convince us that we are not endowed with this great and powerful weapon.
And what is that “weapon”? Quite simply, it is the power of choice.
And so, instead of giving into the devil’s temptation, Jesus showed that humans do not have to be governed by their flesh. He showed that, no matter what the circumstances are that befall us, we always have a choice. We do not have to be ruled by temptation, by appetite, by passion or emotion. And instead of being governed by His flesh, Jesus chose to believe in Scripture, “Man shall not live by bread alone,” He said, “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
And this is great news for us! When I walk by that television and I feel an almost irresistible urge to watch “Must See TV,” I realize I have a choice in the matter. When I have missed a meal—notice: one meal, not 40 days’ worth of meals—and I am tempted to devour some unhealthy item because I am “starving,” I do not have to be ruled by such cravings. I have a choice in the matter and, by God’s grace, I can overcome. When I am lonely and long for companionship, I do not have to give in to the seemingly irresistible craving to get into bed with my boyfriend. I have a choice in the matter. When someone disagrees with me at the Board Meeting and I just want to snap back and lay into them, I have a choice in the matter and can respond with patience and love. When someone wrongs me and I feel like I have been treated unjustly, I do not have to throw a “pity party” for myself and get down and discouraged, building walls between me and that person. I can choose to continue to shower him or her with God’s grace, in spite of my personal feelings.
What incredible liberation this is for all of us! God has given us the capacity to, in the shadows of—what we think—are insurmountable temptations, take a step back and objectively consider the situation. We do not have to be ruled by our temperament, our emotions, our feelings, our cravings. We can fortify our minds with the truth and that truth can set us free.