The wilderness

This week we will be reflecting again on the temptations Jesus faced at the beginning of his ministry. All the gospels include the baptism of Jesus as he sets out on his ministry. Here was a moment of huge significance and a time surely when Jesus felt the full approval of God the Father as the affirmation from heaven comes, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Yet in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the affirmation of the Holy Spirit coming at Jesus’ baptism is followed by a version of these words: ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.’ This is not the sort of Holy Spirit filling we look for – ging into the wild and being tempted by the evil one! In fact it is in complete contradiction of the gospel frequently heard: God wants you to prosper (meaning financially), or God wants you to be happy, or God doesn’t want you to suffer. There is an obvious response to all these versions of the gospel and being a Christian – look at Jesus! Just reading the gospels and immersing ourselves in the life of Jesus negates anything that says life from now on is going to be a breeze. In fact we don’t have to go back 2000 years to realise those gospels are not true (although it is always best to begin with Jesus). Christians in Ukraine are not experiencing these versions of the gospel. In fact if you are a Baptist Christian in the Ukraine – and the country has the largest federation of Baptist congregations in Europe – even before the war you would have faced persecution. In other places, life is just as difficult as a Christian. The friend from Iran with whom I am in contact, now has his internet access limited and is under constant surveillance by the authorities, because he is a Christian. 

Hebrews 2 talks of Jesus the high priest who has been tempted in every way and who understands our weaknesses. 

For this reason he had to be made…fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:17-18

Not only does Jesus understand the temptations we all face, he also understands the extreme suffering that some face. Reflect on the agonising of Jesus in Gethsemane. Perhaps here he faced the greatest temptation – to walk away from the mission he had been given, and in doing so walk away from torture, ridicule, humiliation and death. The fact that he faced the temptations at the beginning of his ministry and extreme suffering at the end means

We do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16