Let’s assume that the average healthy person can walk 20 miles a day. At a 20-minute mile pace, this would take approximately seven hours. Now let’s say you are that healthy person walking 20 miles a day and you do it for 40 days. That would be a total of 800 miles. Where would you go? From my home in Rochester, NY, I could make it all the way to Georgia, Minnesota, or Missouri.
But I don’t think I’d care to try. It would be incredibly difficult and would take a lot of discipline and determination. I’d probably develop blisters and chafing, bad posture, and a lot of fear. Would I walk in the dark? Where would I sleep?
Jesus had a similar experience. He removed himself from civilization and spent 40 days in the wilderness. Alone. Hungry. Weak. And like an ultra-marathoner pushing himself to His limits, Jesus did it for the purpose of being tested. It tested His body, yes, but it mostly tested His spirit; His obedience to God the Father.
The temptation of Jesus is recorded in Luke 4:1-13, Mark 1:12-13, and Matthew 4:1-11. In these passages you’ll find Jesus being led by the Spirit to go into the wilderness where He ate no food for 40 days and, in His weakened state, was tempted by the devil.
In 1 John 2:16, three categories of temptation are defined: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. While in the wilderness, Jesus experienced all three. He was tempted to turn rocks into bread (lust of the flesh), to prove his deity and gain recognition (lust of the eyes), and to receive worship from all the nations (pride of life).
You may ask, what’s wrong with that? Jesus is God! If He’s hungry, why not turn rocks into bread? Why shouldn’t He prove who He is? The nations should worship Hm! But that wasn’t the plan. The devil was appealing to Jesus’ humanity, trying to get Him to act of his own accord, outside of God’s will.
This takes us back to the Garden of Eden where the devil tempted Eve with the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). Eve saw that the fruit was beautiful (lust of the flesh), looked delicious (lust of the eyes), and would give her wisdom (pride of life). She was deceived and she ate it. Sin entered the world.
With sin came great heartache and pain. Adam and Eve were forced out of the garden. They were separated from the presence of God. But even then, before they were sent on their way, God showed them mercy. He provided them with clothes made from animal skins to cover the nakedness that they were now aware of. The animal was sacrificed to cover their sin.
From then on, God’s people offered animal sacrifices as a means of atonement. Perhaps the best image of this is the “passover lamb.” As the Israelites prepared to leave their captivity in Egypt, God instructed them to kill a spotless lamb and paint its blood on the doorposts of their homes. A time of reckoning and judgement was coming to Egypt and if the Israelites wanted to be spared from this death, they must sacrifice a perfect lamb. As the angel of God went across the land, killing the first born sons, he would see stained door frames and know that blood had been shed there. A sacrifice was already made. He would pass over that home and spare the people inside (Exodus 11 and 12).
So what does all this wilderness business mean for us? It means this:
Jesus did not come to take pleasure in the flesh, gain recognition, or be worshipped. He came to be our passover lamb. For 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus prepared himself to be that sacrifice. He was and is the perfect, spotless lamb and it is only His blood that can cover our sins and save us from death. Had the devil succeeded in tempting Jesus, then the sacrifice He came to offer never would have been made. We would still be under the law, enslaved to our sin.
Jesus is not like us. Though He was tempted in every way, He did not sin. Even when physically weak His Spirit was strong. When we could not remain faithful, He did. He stood in the gap and paid the price for our unfaithfulness with His own life.
And this is why Lent is celebrated. It is a time to reflect on the temptation of Jesus and His complete victory over sin. When you choose to give something up for 40 days, you are doing it to remind yourself of your great need to rely on God in your weakness. This weakened state is meant to produce humility so that you remember just how much you need Jesus.
Will you remember Jesus today?