Christ’s Temptation and the 800-Pound Gorilla

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800 lb gorilla

There is an acronym around recovery that serves as a reminder for things that can be triggers—things that can set off addictive behaviors: HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). Self-awareness of our vulnerabilities is an important way to keep away from temptation and put us in situations that foster virtue.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus Christ goes into the desert for forty days and (I’ll assume) opens himself up to all four of these states of being. He is certainly hungry after fasting the entire time (Luke 4:2), probably a little bit perturbed by the presence of the devil, he’s alone, and sleeping conditions certainly are not optimal. Through all of this, though, he stays steadfast in deflecting the temptations thrown at him by Satan.

A closer look at these three “temptations”, or things that Satan requests from Jesus, reveals some parallels to the things that we ask for from God:

  • “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:4). In other words, if you are an all-powerful God, don’t you have the means to feed all of those that hunger?
  • “Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, ‘I shall give to you all this power and glory’” (Luke 4:5-7). We all ask for a just and perfect ruler over our lands, one that will create on earth what we may find in Heaven (early polls have shown that these prayers are on pace to break every record during this election year).
  • “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here” (Luke 4:9), requests Satan as he cites scripture promising the Lord’s safety from such a fall. Basically, he’s telling Jesus to do something so amazing and miraculous that would reveal himself as Lord. Sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself asking for one moment without doubt, where the evidence of God’s existence is so clear that the entire world would have no option other to bow down to Him?

During his forty days in the desert (a fortifying time in Christ’s life preparing Him for his public ministry), Jesus does not give in to Satan’s temptations. Although he is physically and emotionally in a position that we would characterize as being incredibly vulnerable, Christ does not give in to these requests. Given the seemingly good-nature of feeding the hungry, taking possession of the earth from the devil, and revealing his divine nature, why doesn’t He?!?

Because he loves you way too much.

Yes, Jesus is merciful and gracious to those who suffer. Yes, Jesus defies the broken nature of political rule. Yes, Jesus does work miracles. But none of those are his primary mission, and He knew that giving into each of Satan’s temptations in the desert would take away from his primary purpose.

That is, to be our savior.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Now, I can’t comment on the Gospel reading for this First Sunday of Lent without saying a word or two about primates.

The temptation of Jesus in the desert serves as a great example of how we can grow spiritually while fasting from physical and emotional comforts. The closing verse of this scripture passage reads, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). This is a somewhat frightening closing to our Gospel reading, but is a great reminder of the relentless fervor that is required in the spiritual life.

When I was in the early stages of sobriety from alcohol and drug addiction, I heard someone in a meeting say, “As I sit here in this meeting I am free. However, my addiction is an 800-pound gorilla sitting outside that door doing push-ups. He is always waiting for me and is very patient and cunning.” Much like the devil in pursuit of Jesus, the gorilla waits until an opportune time. Sometimes that can be in moments of hunger, anger, loneliness, or tiredness. Although, sometimes we are most vulnerable when all is going according to plan. The gifts of success and comfort ransack the rigor that gave us new life if we do not remember where they come from.

Temptations can be strong. “Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power—that One is God. May you find Him now!” (Big Book p. 59)

Photo Credit: Valerie