By Matt Gordon
Ever wonder how long it took Adam and Eve to sin in the garden? I often think it was millions of years. Of course, without death, time would have been much different. But they just lived on in blissful, secluded harmony, an unknowing preview of what is to come in the new creation.
Of course, it could have been like ten minutes too. Adam is created; he longs for a friend; God joins Adam and Eve; they go on their first date; and BAM! temptation, sin, curse, brokenness.
We don’t really know the timeframe of their surrender to temptation, but I know the timeline in my life is far closer to the ten-minute picture than the gentle, meandering one. When it comes to temptation, seldom is there a modicum of blissful harmony for me.
In that first story, Satan slinked in and enticed the first man with knowledge. He used FOMO as a tool, creating a sense of longing not for God but from God. Sound familiar? For me this is still how temptation plays out. I think I am missing out on something, and rather than becoming more aware of all God is in His overflowing abundance, I focus on all I’m not and try to fill the holes myself. I’m the man in the boat who finds a hole that is letting in water, and decides to puncture a new hole in order to let the amassing waters drain. And then I lie to myself and the world about the fact that I am all wet and sinking.
Fortunately, my floating on is not dependent on my own work or even the work of Adam, “the first man.” Jesus, sometimes called the second Adam, sets to rectify all the miscues of the first Adam and every Adam (and Eve) since. Part of overcoming the world and making us overcomers of the world happens through overcoming temptation.
There is no disputing the timeframes of Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4.
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came . . .”
I love the juxtaposition between Jesus and Adam here. Adam was in a lush paradise; Jesus, a desert wilderness. Adam was full; Jesus was empty.
Here is our first truth, if we’ll have it: Jesus at his worst is stronger than me at my best.
This sounds basic and simple, yet I don’t in daily life believe it. One, I overestimate what I am at my best, and tend to grade very generously as to when I am at my best. In other words, I am the last to know when I am being tempted and how very prime I am to take up the fruit of deception and let the seeds of sin take root in my heart.
Whatever or whenever, Jesus is better. Turn to him. Trust him. Be honest with him.
Jesus, hungry, is then tempted with food. This, too, creates a beautiful symmetry with the temptation of Adam, tempted also by food. Jesus was in great need of nourishment, but kept his spiritual eyes open. Adam was not in need at all, but closed his spiritual eyes tight at the advent of physical pleasure.
There is much we could say to this, but the simplest truth comes from the mouth of Jesus: “Man shall not live on bread alone.”
Temptation preys upon and is spurred along by misaligned, misguided values. And what we tend to value most are creature comforts that benefit us immediately. Think about the temptations in your own life and when you give into lust and greed and anger and despondency? Often these things win the day when our hearts lose the battle of waiting on the Lord. We need to know right now or feel better this second, and we succumb to our vice of choice. Add to all this our susceptibility to be spiritually weak when we are physically weak, and you arrive at a further correlation. I think of all the bridges I’ve excused myself from burning because I was “hangry.” Behind that is a value claim—that my physical needs and well-being trumps my spiritual condition; I live like it is okay to harm my soul for the sake of my body. Jesus, though, so valued the spiritual, it became a safeguard even from hangriness. So Satan moves along to new ploy—he always does.
As Matthew 4 treads on, Jesus allows himself to be taken to the holy city and challenged to prove his power. This is no different than Satan’s attack of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Here he flatters Jesus’ power with the goal of turning strength to a weakness. For the first couple, Satan uses their dialogue with God against them. He, a creature without amiable relationship to God, uses their loving relationship with God against Adam and Eve.
And the truth is obvious: Divorced from an active relationship with God, bound up in love, our strengths will destroy us.
Jesus here is tempted to use his Divine strength to undermine his Divine goodness, and, in so doing, invalidate his status as the perfect second Adam. He overcomes this temptation, and Satan makes a final attempt.
Finally, in desperation, Satan promises to give Jesus that which is not Satan’s to give. He promises all the world, neglecting that “without him [Jesus] nothing has been made that has been made.” Satan tries to pay Jesus from Jesus’ own account.
With Adam and Eve—and you and me—he does the same. He promises Adam and Eve a knowledge of God that is not his to give away. Scripture tells us that those who choose Jesus become sons and daughters of God and share in his inheritance, and that we sons and daughters have ALL things in Christ.
A fourth truth then: Don’t sell your soul for something you’ve been given for free.
Fulfillment? Peace? Joy? Love? All these are lavished upon us. A temptation is a self-deceptive shortcut that leads away from that which our heart truly and desperately has been made to crave.
God is present fully in both narratives (Genesis 3 and Matthew 4). For Jesus, God is there in temptation, a focal foundation of strength and perseverance, a strength amid weakness. For Adam, God comes after the fall, with curses in tow. Either way, God shows up. Our choice then, in this season as we anticipate Easter and the coming of the King, is when we have God enter temptation with us and, hence, how we face Him. Do we invoke and invite Him as an alongsider who empowers and delivers us? Or do we choose, after running and hiding and shame, to cower, covered in muck and mire, before Him? Grace abounds regardless, but to paraphrase CS Lewis, it makes all the difference in the world to you whether you serve like John or Judas.
God wants us to prevail. He wants to be with us in the fire. He has given us a way out of every temptation, and He has given us Jesus to show us the way.