And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
The forty days of Lent parallels the forty days that Jesus went without food in the wilderness, so one of the ways we identify with his suffering is by practicing self- denial. Whether it’s food or TV or “me-time,” we deny ourselves particular comforts and pleasures as a way of remembering what he endured. The point is not to manufacture suffering, as if we could earn some kind of righteousness through self-denial. Our heart in Lent is simply to de-clutter our self-absorbed lives. Making room to remember how our Lord suffered for us.
It began in the wilderness: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry” (Luke 4:1-2).
The striking thing in this story is that Jesus went into the desert under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He chose this suffering. Indeed, his whole life was a choice to enter into our suffering. Again, we are not to go looking for hardship. “Each day has enough trouble of its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34, NIV).
God does not tell us to choose suffering, but that does not mean he will always keep it from us. Jesus was in the wilderness because the Holy Spirit led him there. Further, the Apostles were adamant that Jesus’ death at the hands of sinners was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). The testimony of Scripture is that Christians need to embrace suffering as part of our calling and endure it as part of our witness:
» “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
» “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).
» “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Our wilderness is not literal, but it is very real. We are tempted – perhaps even determined – to sustain ourselves, to escape our vulnerability, and to chase our aspirations without thought of others.
But Jesus offers us another way, a humble way that waits patiently – despite the suffering – for the Spirit of God to direct our steps. He reveals to us what it means to embrace our humanity without short cuts.
“The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread’” (Luke 4:3). Certainly Jesus could have done this, but the lack of bread revealed a deeper hunger for God, and a deeper satisfaction of being sustained by God.
“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him … worship me, it will all be yours’” (4:5-7). It would all be his eventually, but to have it now would be to have it without suffering and death. How often do we worship whatever promises to give us what we want now, without inconvenience or discomfort? But Jesus worships God alone, not because it is easier, but because it is truer and far better.
“And [the devil] took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you’” (4:9-10). Had Jesus done this, he could have ended all this temptation and trial. How often do we call upon God for miraculous solutions to our suffering, not because we trust him in our circumstance but because we want out of it? But Jesus would not put God to the test.
We live into our in-Christ-humanity by surrendering to the Holy Spirit, wherever he may lead us. This season is about waiting, maybe even suffering the loss of things that have come to define us, because we know that our life is dust, and because we are looking forward to resurrection life.
How does your inclination to avoid hardship hinder your ability to follow Jesus?
How does the Spirit’s presence in your suffering comfort and strengthen you?
Is the Spirit currently leading you somewhere you don’t want to go?
O Holy Spirit, as the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water, Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of thee. Vain are all divine purposes of love and the redemption wrought by Jesus except thou work within, regenerating by thy power, giving me eyes to see Jesus, showing me the realities of the unseen world. Give me thyself without measure, as an unimpaired fountain, as inexhaustible riches.
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