Christ Jesus desires truly to redeem our human nature. To do so, He takes it upon Himself to be tempted as we are tempted. How does He do this? He goes off into the wilderness. The wilderness or desert is a place that most men think ought to be free of all real temptation. Jesus shows us that it is precisely in the wilderness that man is tempted by Satan on all levels.
First, Jesus shows us that in the desert Man is tempted to put his body before his soul. Man is tempted to desire to make stones into bread or is tempted to resent the fact that he has no earthly sustenance. In either case, Jesus shows us clearly that we are tempted to place the needs of the body before all else. Thus, we are tempted to gluttony. We are tempted to lust also. In the desert, we long for companionship through sex, thinking that if we cannot be fed, at least we can find some release and joy in the body. In addition, we are tempted also to covetousness. In the desert, we imagine what it must be like to have lots of money, to be spared this uncomfortable situation that we find ourselves in, and to be freed of the need to wonder how we might buy food for our bodies. These three temptations are found mostly in us when we do not submit the good of the body to the soul. The devil begins to lead us into sin with what we most need. We need food and drink to survive. Most men need sex to survive also. All men need money to endure in time and space. Beginning with the needs and desires of our animal natures, the devil seeks to draw us away from God. These three temptations are overcome by Jesus’ words: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt. vi. 33)
Second, Jesus is tempted to pursue the good of His soul at the expense of His body. This is the temptation to anger and sloth. The angry man throws himself down in frustration and exasperation because he is not sooner rewarded for his obedience to God and for the holiness of his life. Throw yourself down, the Devil exclaims. If your body is of secondary importance to the good of your soul, throw your body away, down, disregard it, and abuse it. For if you are the Son of God, you don’t much need it anyway! Here Christ is tempted, as before, to sever a particular faculty of human nature from the just and good operation of the whole man. There he surrendered the body to the soul. Here he will care for the body through the soul. Both are essential if the whole of human nature is to be redeemed. The Second temptation ought to be a warning against thinking that what we do with our bodies is of no consequence. The whole of man is a gift from God. The body and the soul must work together in unison to obey God and to keep His commandments. The body is the soul’s workshop. In it, man learns to embrace and perfect God’s goodness. In the body lies hidden and concealed all manner of goodness that the soul can generate. Here is where sloth comes in. The slothful man disregards his body in another way. He throws his body down in failing to care for it, nourish it moderately, keep all toxins and poisons from it. The slothful man is too spiritually lazy to love his body in the right way. Having embraced anger to no avail, he sinks into a slothful insouciance. But Jesus teaches us that, first, the soul must bring principles to bear upon the body’s appetites. Next, the soul is to use the body as a vehicle through which to share God’s goodness with others. In both cases, the soul is to honor, respect, and perfect the body because it is a gift from God.
Third, Jesus is tempted to deny the good of His body and soul and to embrace spiritual independence from God the Father. This is the temptation of pride and envy. Pride feels that it ought to be what it is not. Thus through envy, it begrudges God who and what He is. Not content to worship God for His goodness, the proud and envious man is determined not only to have what God has but to be God. This is the temptation to be as God is without God. Jesus is tempted to sever His Divine Nature as God’s eternal Word from God Himself. Here He is promised all the Kingdoms of the world if only He will fall down and worship Satan –the principle of disobedience, division, and isolation from God. This is the hardest temptation of all since it means the full and complete determination to be as God. And while Christ is indeed God’s Eternal Word made flesh, the resultant creature must be related to God appropriately as a human being. And thus while Christ may be tempted to resort to the Divine Nature in order to conquer, rule, and govern others, this is a prerogative that is suitable to Heaven alone. What we mean here is that if Christ is to fully redeem human nature, He must find the unity between His two Natures –as God and Man, through reason and the will. This means that the Divine Nature, as always present to Him within His one Person, must be freely chosen or willed in response to human reason’s vision and knowledge of it. Thus Christ chooses not to sever Himself from God’s Word, fully conscious that the Word is absolutely derivative from the Father. So as one Person, His human nature chooses to submit to the Divine Nature, which Nature is always what comes from the Father and is generated to return to Him. Thus any independence of man from God in Jesus Christ is rejected completely. The Person of the Son is thus established as Son of God.
Summary: From Christ’s temptations we learn the truth about our way back to God. Our way back to God is Christ Himself. In and through Him, we are invited to fight temptation and to supplicate the merciful presence of the Holy Spirit to assist us in this endeavor. Through Christ, we also learn that temptation will be common to our human predicament. Temptations are not evil in themselves. They can be useful in our pursuit of God’s goodness. They challenge us to rely, with Jesus, absolutely and completely on God’s power to generate virtue in our lives. Want and poverty might tempt us to unbelief. We think that if the Son of God is true to the Father, He ought to eradicate world hunger and poverty. Surely, if the Son of God is true to the Father, we and all others ought not to suffer from any want. We forget that if we trusted in God, He would care for us. So we are tempted to turn stones into bread when we ought rather ingest the Word of God with Jesus. The body’s good will be looked after by God if our souls are right with Him. Next, we are tempted to throw caution to the wind as Satan brings our imaginations up to the pinnacles of spiritual importance. We have submitted our bodies to the good of the soul. Now we are rewarded for our devotion. And while we are being elevated, it seems permissible to throw down our bodies. Surely God will rescue us for our devotion. And, besides this, the devil hates the good angels. Good angels do come and minister to devout men. They are sent by God to help the faithful. Satan cannot bear it. So he attempts to provoke us to prove their power as guardians and helpers. This we must resist. The good of the soul is not found in tempting God or his good angels. The good of the soul is found in the body which must suffer not only its own temptations but those of others. For man, the good of the soul is found in the body. Finally, we are tempted to sever ourselves –body and soul, from God completely. This is the diabolical sin. This is the temptation to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, when something is right and when it is wrong, how it is right and how it is wrong, where it is right and where it is wrong, and why it is right and why it is wrong. The problem is not with the questions. The problem is that we try to find the answers without the rule and governance of God’s Absolute Goodness. It is at best sophistry. It is at worst demonic. Let us with Jesus, through body, soul, and spirit submit our lives to our Heavenly Father, to His rule and governance, and all good things shall be added unto us.