The purpose of temptation

He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:13

Remember the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are? Maurice Sendak tells the story of Max, a boy who learns to manage his anger by entering his imagination and taming the wild things he finds there. Max went to the place where the wild things ruled, Jesus went to the wilderness where the wild beasts lived; we must look within and deal with the wild beasts we meet roaming and ruling the uncivilized places of our soul.

It was in the wilderness that Jesus faced down the primary temptations that would attempt to pull him off course. He met the temptations, wrestled with their attraction, and willfully decided to trust God. This is the formula for transformation, it is this process that shapes our character into the image of Jesus.

What are our wild beasts? Simply speaking, anything that tempts us to not trust God. They take many forms and sometimes hide in plain sight. I’m sure ours are variations of the tricks Satan used to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11. Here’s one way of looking at Satan’s provocative invitations to leave the Kingdom.

I will be tempted to:

  1.  provide for myself, take care of my own needs
  2. keep myself protected and unharmed by controlling my environment and relationships.
  3. make sure I’m noticed, appreciated, elevated.

The first is about sustenance, the next about safety, and the third is about significance.

All of the temptations are rooted in Satan’s attempts to nullify our identity as God’s children and demean God’s character. “If you are the son of God…” “If God was a loving God…” “If God’s so powerful, then why…”

These are the wild beasts we must tame. How do we do this? First, we have to want it. Do you want to be transformed into the image of Jesus? Then keep in mind that Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to go looking for the wild beasts, God’s love allows them to cross your path so you can wrestle with these temptations. This is where you make choices that lead you from death to life.

Ask God for eyes to see the wild beasts (they are pretty good at camouflaging themselves). The eyes of faith exposes them. Learn to notice when you have the feeling that it’s all up to you to provide, protect or insure your reputation. These are the wild beasts you must face. Like Jesus, hide yourself in God’s word and in God’s presence and dismiss the impulse, naming it for what it is – Satan’s attempt to lure you from God’s love.

Jesus resisted the temptations perfectly, we won’t. So be as patient with yourself as God is with you. Commit yourself again to saying, “no” to Satan’s suggestions; and begin again, and again, and again. I take great comfort in the fact that “God’s mercies are new every morning.” We can always begin afresh.

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Wild beasts and angels

What wild beasts live within you?

On his way from the Baptism waters to the ministry he came to dispense, Jesus passed through the wilderness of temptation. It wasn’t his idea, In fact, Mark tells us that he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. Something needful took place during the 40 days and nights he spent being tempted by Satan. This means that our imitation of Jesus will also send us into a place of desert and temptation. There’s no getting around it, the path to the Kingdom life passes from our Baptism identity through the wilderness of temptation. It’s a direct road.

In describing Jesus’ temptation, Mark is the Hemingway of the gospel writers; fast paced, sparse words, facts presented, details neglected. Thank goodness Matthew’s account gives the the details of what happened between Jesus and Satan in the desert. Because of his narrative we know the nature of Satan’s temptations, always questioning our identity, God’s power and God’s plan. Mark tells only the necessary facts, with no explanation: the amount of time he was there, that he was with tempted by Satan, was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him.

What do we do with that?

The Holy Spirit leaves this telling sparse, so we can project our own experience with temptation into the story. We, too, are going to enter the wilderness, but ours will not be the specific barren landscape of Judea, instead our wilderness exists within the vastness of our hearts. We enter the wilderness every time we are tempted to doubt our identity of God’s beloved, disbelieve God’s power or distrust God’s good character.

Your heart is crowded with wild beasts; undomesticated, threatening, dangerous. Animals that freely roam, roaring, devouring, frightening you into doubting God. It is with these internal beasts you must wrestle. They represent the parts of your soul yet to be tamed by the love of God and trained to live for the love of God. These beasts must be faced, defeated and managed. Your temptation will be to avoid them, (which would cause you to live from fear and limit the love of God from reaching all of you); to pretend they aren’t there, (which would keep you in denial and cause your kingdom life to be shallow and narrow); make a spectacle of them, like putting them on display in the zoo, (which would hurt you, because although you think you have them under control, they are still wild and dangerous at heart and would hurt you if they had the chance. You’d have to live constantly on guard.)

The temptation is to think that God is not loving, powerful or intentional enough to strengthen you to tame these beasts. Believing that you remain captive, ineffective and full of fear. With God’s help, and with your agreement and cooperation, these beasts are able to be defeated. God sent angels to minister to Jesus. He’s sent you the Holy Spirit.

Will you join Jesus with the wild beasts and angels?