Friday, April 22, 2011

40 days of fasting and Jesus' temptation

After spending devotional time this month reading passages about repentance and confession, I went back to think about what Lent is about, and was struck (I'd honestly forgotten) that the 40 days of fasting echoes Jesus being tempted in the wilderness after fasting for 40 days. So, I picked up commentaries and various other resources from Isaac's overly large theological library and started studying the temptation of Jesus.

Temptations of Christ

Wow, what a passage to actually study rather than just read. Sometimes I forget how much we miss because we don't know the Jewish context. I'd never thought before what it would mean to the Jews to hear that Jesus went into the wilderness and wandered for 40 days. Hello.... do you hear the echo of the nation of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years? Israel passed through the waters and were led by the Spirit into the desert, and Jesus is baptized in the waters and then led by the spirit into the desert. And when Satan comes and tells him to make bread for himself, do you see the similarity to the situation in Exodus 16, where the nation of Israel calls out, "You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." Every time Jesus responds to the devil it is with scripture pulled directly from the Deuteronomy 6-8 passages of covenant law after the wandering and before they enter the promised land.

It's amazing, actually, what I've missed in previous readings. This happens right after Jesus' baptism, when the voice God speaks from heaven and says, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
And then the devil says, "If you are the Son of God..." So here is Satan, immediately taking that newly revealed identity and responding. My commentary says that this version of the word "if" shows that "Satan is not inviting Jesus to doubt his sonship but to reflect on its meaning. Sonship of the living God, he suggested, surely means Jesus has the power and right to satisfy his own needs."

Jesus' response fascinates me in two ways. First, in those wilderness wandering passages that Jesus' experience is reflecting, it says, "And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna... that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every world that comes from the mouth of the Lord."

That's what Jesus quotes to Satan here. It seems like where the nation of Israel failed because they did not
trust God and did not first seek fulfillment in their God (by the way, when manna is given to them God says it is so that they will know that He is God), Jesus is fulfilling this story by being the perfect Son where Israel was imperfect. Satan seeks to mold a Son of God who serves Himself.  Jesus, the perfect Servant and Son of God, is fulfilled and submissive to the Father alone.

My small group recently finished a study on the book of John, and over and over and over again in John Jesus says that he doesn't speak his own words, but only the words of the Father. He doesn't do his own thing, he only does what the Father tells him to do. "I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me." (Jn 8:28) The repetition of this idea is striking. That's what it seems like Jesus is doing in response to this temptation. He exists on "every world that comes from the mouth of God."

It's a little hard to relate to it because of course we are human and we need food. The point, though, is that we should be utterly dependent on our Father if we too are children of God. That is part of the Lenten fast - to have our hunger remind us to hunger for and depend on the spiritual food of the Father. Do I exist on every word that comes from the mouth of God?

It's amazing, actually, how the response of Jesus to each temptation is pure scripture. He quotes the Torah, and they are all various renderings of passages from Deuteronomy as the Law is given to the people before they enter the promised land. When Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will just worship him, Jesus quotes from this passage, but the passage as a whole is even more striking to me:

"And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give - with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill,... and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods... for the Lord your God is a jealous God."

What I love about this is that Jesus already, of course, owns the kingdoms of the world. But what Satan offers is that all the kingdoms of the world will be Jesus' without the cross. And... the way that God has chosen is the cross. Death and total sacrifice. So while Jesus is heir to all of the great things and much more than are described in the Deuteronomy passage, if He claims them all for himself then he bypasses the cross. When Jesus claims total submission to the Father and worship of Him alone, He is choosing the cross.

Israel has covenanted with God, but they are too afraid to enter the land. Jesus, the Covenant Son, has obediently entered Earth. Where they complained of hunger, He submits. Where they asked for privilege, He sacrifices all to gain worship for the Father. Where they test God, Jesus gives up his rights.

And so, as I fast, what does this mean for me? It seems that the primary thing to draw out of Jesus' temptation is that He has clearly shown that His  that was just proclaimed at His baptism is in total submission and service to the Father. He is on God's mission, and never acting for "self". What of me?

1 comment:

Mark Spohn said...

Your blog came up during my keyword search this morning; "Jesus 40 day fast". I agree, to study instead of just read reveals so much depth and the "echo" you speak of in His wilderness experience is some of the depth I also am discovering. I am just posting you a comment to tell you what else I've been pondering during the last 40 days of my fast from alcohol and video poker. I decided to extend my 28 day fast to break those habits to 40 days because it seemed to me that 40 days has weightier significance in the Bible so likely also to the Holy Spirit to help me. Anyway, let me ask you a question, what did Jesus teach just following that experience? I have imagined that Jesus had spiritual hallucinations in the desert; seeing rocks as bread? Snakes in a stream as fish? Scorpions as eggs? And almost mockingly teaches us "lead us not into temptation". It's like Jesus was saying 'what ever you do, don't do what I did and find yourself being tempted and starving for bread every day!' Anyway, I thought you'd appreciate that and I am grateful to find confirmation from your insight. Peace