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Jesus Christ - Your Friend in Temptation

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Staying with God

Chapter 11—The Lord Jesus: A Friend in Temptation

For this reason he had to be made like his brothers 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.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15-16

Sometimes going it alone is going nowhere. If you name a handicap, a medical condition, or a life-disrupting situation, you'll probably find a support group ready to help people with that problem. There are an estimated half-million support groups in the United States serving upward of fifteen million people. Some of these are highly structured. Others are informal. Some meet on a regular basis—once a week, once a month. Others do not have regular meetings, but provide support in other ways. However they differ, they share a common goal. They bring together people of similar experiences who, by sharing, find strength and support from one another.

There are groups for widespread illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. There are groups for relatively unknown conditions such as sarcoidosis, a chronic skin disease. Candle-lighters is a group for parents of children with leukemia. Pil-Anon offers aid to families of persons addicted to mood-altering drugs. There are support groups for parents who lose a child, and groups for people with brain injuries, genetic defects, chronic metabolic diseases, burns, and diabetes.

The names of these groups are sometimes symbolic. Mended Hearts is the group for those with heart surgery. The Phoenix Society is for recovering burn victims. For those who lose a baby there is Empty Cradle. Then there's the grandparent of all American self-help organizations, Alcoholics Anonymous.

These groups indicate that going it alone is often going nowhere. When life's crises strike, most of us seek help from someone with similar experience. But where do we ultimately go when faced with spiritual crisis? Where do we go when temptation beckons? We may confess temptation to one another; but that is not enough. We need the One who has the world's most extensive experience with temptation. The Hebrew letter repeatedly emphasizes the identity and sympathy of the Lord Jesus with you in temptation. He cannot identify with you in sin. That is foreign to Him; He has no experience of sin except suddenly bearing it on the cross. But He has the most extensive experience of temptation anyone ever had.

When we come back to God, we may believe that nothing will ever lure us away from His presence again. But that is not always the case. Temptation is an integral part of our earthly life. When it whispers to us, two passages in Hebrews 2 and 4 indicate three ways Jesus helps us turn our backs to the devil—and stay with God.

Jesus helps us do this by His identification with us, His sympathy for us, and His provision for us in temptation. Jesus Christ is our best friend in temptation. We have access to Him if we know Him. Take advantage of that access for help. Doing so is the assurance that you will stay after you come back to God.

Understanding Christ's Identification with Us

Jesus identifies with us in a broader sense than in just our temptations. He identifies with the entire situation of human life. "He had to be made like his brothers in every way . . ." (Heb. 2:17). Our salvation is because of His identification with us. To build a bridge to God and to pay for sin, He had to identify with us. He was bound, obligated, felt the necessity, was under the imperative to identify with us in every way. This does not mean that He had to identify with us against His own will. It does mean that once He undertook the task to be Savior, this identification with us was an obligation that went along with the task.

It means that He could never have helped us from remoteness, aloofness, or isolation. His involvement is illustrated by the story of an ancient Roman general who had legions upon legions at his command. Among his officers was his own son, who already bore the signs of greatness. When the battle was about to be fought, his son urged a certain strategy. "Do this," he said. "Advance in this way. We shall have success, and it will only cost five thousand men." The old general turned solemnly to his son and put the quiet question: "Will you be one of the five thousand?" When Jesus Christ pondered the salvation of humans, he did not do it from behind the lines, counting the casualties of others in a comfortable heavenly headquarters. When the Father asked if He would be one of them, fighting the war with them, He said, "I delight to do your will, Lord."

There was not only a necessity in this identification, but also a totality—"in every way." Not a single ingredient was left out in His identification with our situation. He identifies with us in a genuine struggle to seek, find, and do the will of God. Luke 2:52 tells us that Jesus "grew." The word itself speaks of an extension by blows, as a blacksmith stretches metal with hammers. It also refers to a scout hacking his way through underbrush in advance of an army. Christ struggled, wrestled—and stood in solidarity with us. Hebrews 5:8 tells us that "he learned obedience from what he suffered."

There is no aspect of your life with which He cannot identify. What are your circumstances? Did you come from obscurity? He came from Nazareth. Did you come from a humble background? He came from peasant parents. Do you have limited education? He had very little formal training outside His home. Have you ever faced rejection? He knew it unabated— His own home town, religious leaders, the general population, government—all rejected Him. Have you been misunderstood? No one has ever been as misjudged as He. Has life been awfully unfair to you? The Cross was the greatest injustice of history. Have you been betrayed by a friend? He was betrayed by His own disciple. Have you felt abandoned? He cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34, NKJV).

Have you had problems with your family? Look at His relationships. His own mother, brothers, and sisters did not understand Him. Have you ever lost someone you loved? He loved and lost Lazarus—and wept. Have you ever suffered the extreme pain of unrequited love—have you loved someone who did not love you in return? Love flowed out of His mouth, streamed from His eyes, reached out from His heart—only to be spurned.

Look at His physical life. He knew fatigue, tiredness, lack of accommodation, absence of food. He entered into all of the sordid, earthly qualities of life as a struggle for existence.

Let no one say, "He does not understand me. As the glorified prince of heaven, he cannot understand my situation." No! Where we have felt a pound of humanity He has lifted a ton. Where we have swallowed a drop, He has swallowed an ocean. You can never turn your face toward heaven only to hear Him say, "I do not understand."

You would think that it would have been enough for Him to identify with the human situation, that subjecting Himself to the mere struggle would seem like enough. But He descended further than that. He identifies with us in temptation: "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted . . ." (2:18), "tempted in every way, just as we are" (4:15). The emphasis rests on the reality of His temptation. It was no mock battle, no shadowboxing, no charade. The stress falls on the duration of His temptations. Throughout His life He faced them. In the wilderness, in the suggestion of Peter, in the request of His own family to abandon His mission, and in the final great temptation in Gethsemane.

He faced temptation in the same categories we face it. But beyond that, He faced an additional peculiar sort of temptation because of His mission. He faced the constant temptation to turn away from it, to follow an easier path. In Gethsemane God's will was clearly not what He wanted. In the strongest language, He contrasted His personal will with that of the Father: "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42, KJV; see also Matt. 26:39 and Mark 14:36). In John 5:30 he said, "I seek not to please myself but him who sent me" and in John 6:38, "I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." Romans 15:3 tells us that "even Christ did not please himself."

Jesus Christ was continually engaged in a struggle between His will and the will of the Father, the duration and extent of which are beyond our ability to know or understand.

But beyond the reality and the extent of Christ's temptation, there was also the intensity of temptation to become alienated from God in His world. Jesus was like someone with perfect pitch always having to listen to terrible disharmony. He was like someone with a perfect eye for art having to view a terrible mixture of the wrong colors. Because of this, only Jesus could really know what temptation is.

In the spiritual realm, Jesus was like a man who feels in his body the warning of pain, seeks medical advice, and receives remedial treatment. The rest of us are like those who do not recognize sickness, who conceal and deny it until the illness is ready to leap out like an enemy to overwhelm us when we least expect it. Jesus was constantly aware of the symptoms of temptation and constantly battling them. We who have been so often defeated by temptation are so deafened, blinded, anesthetized, and insensitive that we do not even feel a fraction of the temptation that Jesus felt.

There was an exception in Jesus' temptation, though: "yet was without sin" (4:15). Second Corinthians 5:21 states He "had no sin." First Peter 2:22 affirms "He committed no sin." He could ask, "Which of you convicts me of sin?" and no one in history could lay a finger on Him. How close to sinning did Jesus ever get? In a desperately long battle a soldier may yearn with every muscle in his weary body to gain the relief of desertion; but it is possible for him at the same time never to deviate a hair's breadth from the "set" of his loyalty to his country's cause. There were moments when Jesus yearned to desert, but He set His will to do the Father's will above all else.

Such identification shocks us and helps us. Beulah Lund, a fifty-year-old mother of four from Deer Park, Washington, found that out in her own way. Beulah is married to a successful contractor and lives in a spacious farmhouse set on 171 acres twenty-two miles north of Spokane. When she visited the nation's capital she was haunted by the scores of street people she saw. The image so haunted her that she told her husband of thirty-two years that she was going to go back and live like a street person in order to understand their world.

She flew from Seattle to Washington, D.C. and took a crash course on street survival from a shelter worker; then the ordeal started immediately. One day she trudged the streets for six hours just looking for a drink of water. As darkness came she could not find the shelter. And when she did find it, the shelter was dirty, vulgar, and drug-ridden. During one of the nine nights she spent in the shelter, her life was threatened with a pair of scissors at her throat. She started to live on the streets, eating the remains of sandwiches and pasta that secretaries threw away on their lunch hours. She did her laundry in public fountains and dried it on the spotlights pointed at the Washington Monument. Incoherent, with high fever and strep throat, she went home—but returned four days later to finish her effort at identification.

When she finally returned home, she began to lecture publicly on the problems of street people. She is now an effective advocate for the homeless because of her personal identification with them. (People Weekly, 16 February 1987, pp. 32-34)

In much the same sense, the Lord Jesus Christ did what Beulah Lund did in order to return home as an effective advocate. He clothed Himself like us, slept where we sleep, ate what we eat, faced the cold nights of our own human existence— and overcame it all. You may turn to Him in any temptation as the One who knows. He left heaven to become a street person on earth.

Accepting Christ's Compassion

Christ's identity with us extends as compassion for us in our temptation. In Hebrews 2:17, He is described as a "merciful and faithful high priest." We can understand the word "priest" better if we take it literally. The Latin word for priest is pontifex. It means a "bridge builder." Jesus is our faithful bridge builder. In the Old Testament the high priest had a very specialized function on one significant day, recorded in Leviticus 16. That was the Day of Atonement. On that day the high priest went into God's presence to offer a collective sacrifice for the sins of all the people. Everyone depended upon his being a faithful bridge builder between God and man.

Yet this high priest often did not know every member of the congregation. He was a remote and aristocratic figure. While he performed a function of eternal significance, he often did not know those for whom he performed it. He could have no personal compassion for them. He was building a bridge to God but did not know those who would pass over it.

In contrast, our high priest—Jesus—is merciful. In relationship to each tempted person He feels pity and compassion. The word suggests a feeling of mercy for those who are in a wretched situation. So often the Old Testament priests failed at the point of mercy. During the time of Jesus, there were twenty-eight high priests in 107 years. They were cruel, insolent, and greedy. In the days of Caiaphas, worshipers were run out of the temple area by priests wielding sticks when it got too crowded. People longed for someone to build a bridge to God who felt compassion for them.

Jesus is faithful as well as merciful. We can trust Him with absolute confidence. In all of His relationships to us, He is always the same. His compassion is based on His position as merciful and faithful high priest, and bridge builder. The Simon and Garfunkel song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was really not a religious song. But it struck a chord in the hearts of a generation that desperately wanted somebody to care and to bridge trouble. All of us need a bridge builder when we are struggling with temptation.

Christ's compassion for us also comes from His sympathy: "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses . . ." (Heb. 4:15). This statement anticipates an objection. For example, one might wonder, How can Jesus Christ, the Son of God enthroned in glory at the right hand of the Father, have sympathy with the weaknesses of my little life? How can a powerful king in a palace sympathize with the weakness of a sick, poor man?

This passage affirms that our Lord has habitual sympathy. The word does not mean the compassion of one who regards sympathy from without. It refers to One who enters into someone else's suffering and makes it His own. His feeling toward us is not pity; it is not feeling for us, but feeling with us. He has what we might call "fellow-feelings." He is touched. He shares our infirmity, our feeble flesh. This does not say that He has only sympathy with our heroic moments, our great deeds, our noble sacrifices. He also feels with us our abject weaknesses.

Is there a man who all the days of his life controls anger, temper, and rage? Who fights it, disciplines it—and sometimes loses it? Our Lord feels the man's weakness, and has compassion. Is there a woman who fights the fatigue that comes from career and family and endless responsibility? Our Lord feels her weakness, and has compassion.

There is no one who can help me like someone who shares my experience. That's the enduring foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was started in 1935 by two alcoholics: a doctor named Bob, and a stockbroker named Bill W. There are now more than fifty-three thousand AA groups worldwide with more than one million members.

Born in 1895, Bill W. was in a home torn apart by arguments. At age ten his parents divorced and Bill was left with his maternal grandparents. He became an obsessive over-compensator in every area of life. He did not take a drink until he was a twenty-two-year-old army officer stationed at New Bedford, Massachusetts. But right from the start, he was a black-out drinker. It ruined his career as a stock analyst and speculator and caused him to flunk his final exam at Brooklyn Law School. The 1929 stock market crash wrecked him financially and finished off what drinking had not already ruined. Then an old drinking friend, Ebby Thatcher, contacted him and told him of an experience with God that had changed his life. Out of the sympathy of someone who knew from the inside what he faced, Bill W.'s life began to change.

Bill W., in turn, contacted Dr. Bob, a desperate alcoholic who had tried to stop but could not. On June 10, 1935, Dr. Bob took his last drink. And that was the day Alcoholics Anonymous was born—born on the basis of people with the same experience sharing out of knowledge and compassion. No one can help anyone like someone who has been there.

Another example of this kind of sympathetic compassion is found in the story of Martha Morrison, a bright student who careened through the drug culture, starting at age twelve. Although she was an across-the-spectrum drug abuser, she graduated from the University of Arkansas and from medical school. Finally, after years of struggling with her addiction, she consented to go to the famous Ridgeview Institute in Smyrna, Georgia—where she tried to hang herself thirty-six hours after entering. In group therapy with others who had the same problem, she began to find wholeness. She met the grace of God. Now, at age thirty-one, she is the associate director of Ridgeview's highly regarded adolescent chemical-dependency unit, helping others with a sympathy from experience.

Jesus is not the founder of "Sinners Anonymous," because He never sinned. But He is the one who is full of mercy and compassion for those who resist temptation. He has walked where you walk. He knows the full force of your every temptation. He does not feel for you, he feels with you. When you are faced with temptation, do not consider Him a remote judge. Stop and consider: Jesus Christ does not condone my sin. But He understands my weakness. He knows the fierce heat of temptation.

With Jesus beside you, when you come back to God—you can stay.

Homesick for God.

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