Tempting God

Just ran across this yesterday reading James 1:13 “… for God cannot be tempted with evil…” and then began to wonder… since Christ is God, how this could be reconciled with Matthew 4:1 when it says that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”?

How does one reconcile the apparent contradiction between James 1:13 with Matthew 4:1? There are two elements to consider:

Divinity

Christ was completely divine. Mark 1:1 testifies to record “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Claiming the title of “son” denoted essence, and family inheritance. A good example of this cultural truth is found in the story Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur is condemned to slavery in a Roman war galley. Eventually the ship sinks and he saves the life of the Roman general on board, who in return adopts Ben-Hur as his own son. This act legally accorded him all the rights and privileges associated with his adoptive father. Christ’s claim to be the Son of God is no different. Jesus is accorded all the rights and privileges of being God, sharing the same essence with Him. The reaction by the Pharisees confirms their understanding of Christ’s claim in Matthew 9:2-4,6 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?… know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Christ forgave the man’s sins, an act which is within the power of God since all sin is pardonable only by the maker of the universe. Since Christ was a physical manifestation of God in human form, holding a completely divine essence.  His divine nature could not be tempted by evil (James 1:13).  But He was also human…

Humanity

Christ was completely human. Matthew 1:23 says “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). He was physically born of a woman, and as a child was dependent on His parents.  Luke 1:80 records that Jesus as a “child grew and became strong in spirit,” just as all children normally do. He was subject to all the same elements we are.  Jesus sleeps in Matthew 8:24, eats and drinks in Matthew 26:26-27, bleeds in Luke 22:44, suffers bodily injury in Luke 22:63, and was subject to the a physical death in Luke 23:46. In all respects Christ lived a human life.  Hebrews 5:8 records “he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” With the presence of sin all life suffers, and yet in Hebrews 4:15 “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” It is in respect to this element that I think we as humans have a hard time grasping. He was perfect. It was in His humanity that He was tempted. He was tried and pushed to His physical limits just as we are every day. The only difference  is that He overcame all obstacles to be perfectly obedient to the Father.

Synthesis

The issue centers on whether in His divinity Christ had it easier with a little supernatural help. The writer of Hebrews shows us that He did not have an easy out because of His divinity. His mission was to come and demonstrate what perfect obedience looked like. He was really tempted and He genuinely demonstrated obedience. He is the only man to do so. The answer to the question about the distinction between His two natures is in the temptation by Satan himself. Satan’s temptations are centered on Christ’s humanity in Matt 4:3 “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” touching on physical provision, or self-dependence. Matt 4:6 “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” touches upon the issue of pride, or self-glorification.  Matt 4;8-9 “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” touches upon the issue of possessions, or self-indulgence. Each of these issues is rooted in opposition to God with “self” supplanting God as the ultimate ruler in life. This is not  something that God could ever be tempted with because He is the the ultimate authority. Satan is, rather, directly attacking Christ’s humanity by seeking a weakness which might have set itself up against God rather than submitting to Him.

God cannot be tempted with evil. But men can be. Christ’s humanity was tempted, and so is ours.  But Christ overcame, and so can we. Temptation is an ever-present part of our human existence, always attempting to package sin as attractively as possible.  How I long for that day when all temptation will fall away. But until then, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 3:14

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
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