Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 19, 2012

identification

The richness and freshness of scripture never ceases to amaze me.  There is so much depth and breadth in this week’s parallel account focus on the temptation of Jesus, it would take pages to communicate what has been running through my heart and mind.  So much is familiar, yet in the midst of all that I have read and heard taught in the past, the Spirit has gifted some discoveries this week that are entirely new.

Although it was not at all new to me that the baptism of Jesus and his period of temptation in the desert were the launching point of his earthly ministry, I saw something in them that I had never seen before.  That “something” is a unifying thread of identification.  As I read and studied the accounts of Jesus being tempted in the desert, the stories of his baptism lingered.  Maybe it was Mark’s vivid language describing the Spirit’s prompting on the heels of Jesus’ baptism that didn’t allow me to simply move on to the next event.  Look at the language several translations use in Mark 1:12 to describe the action of the Spirit…

“immediately drove him”  (ESV)
“immediately … drove Him”  (HCSB)
“immediately … impelled him”  (NASB)
“compelled Jesus”  (NLT)
“pushed Jesus”  (MSG)
“immediately … driveth him”  (KJV)
“forced Jesus”  (CEB)

Impelling just doesn’t sound comfortable, does it?!  This force of language caused me to sit a while with the two events together.  As I considered and prayed, the word “identify” began to echo in both stories.  I could start to see the truths of Jesus identifying with his Father in his obedience in baptism, and identifying with us in being impelled into the desert to be tested.  I had always believed that this was God’s plan to prepare Jesus for his ministry, but why did I believe that?  Did Jesus need to be toughened up or tested before he took his Father’s message on the road?  I think the obvious answer to that question is, “No.”  So how about this idea of “identification?”

A great beginning (and possible ending) can be found in the following verses from the book of Hebrews…

Hebrews 2:18
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:15
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

We may not be able to directly identify with the specifics and severity of the testing Jesus endured, but have you ever been tempted to satisfy a material need at the cost of a spiritual one?  Or have you ever been tempted to not trust what God has promised he would do?  And is not the central issue of temptation, one of simple trust?  Trusting that what God has for us is better than the delectable thought or thing Satan chooses to put in front of us.

I had a bread-to-stone (first temptation) moment a couple of years ago while serving a meal during our church’s week to host a group of homeless men and women.  I arrived the first night overly eager to do whatever I could to meet the human need of the precious guests we were privileged to serve that night.  As dinner started I moved swiftly, precisely and accurately delivering drinks.  Back and forth I went, paying particular attention to creams, sugars, ice, no ice, just half please, no-cup-just-the-can.  All the while engaging in polite conversation.  That was, until a woman named Elaine (whose name I will likely never forget) asked me a simple, but convicting question.

Elaine was sharing a table with Linda, Venus and Ken, and it looked like they all needed a refresh on drinks (drink man to the rescue).  After fetching them, I returned and took a seat.  Elaine was nearly finished with her dinner, and was beginning on dessert.  After an initial greeting, Elaine asked, “Aren’t you going to eat with us?”  I quickly responded, “Ahhh, no.” (it was said in a polite tone, but sometimes words can be so inadequate to express the proper sentiment).  My mind began formulating a hundred reasons for my polite denial, all from a place of humility and service.  “I was not there to eat, I was there to serve.”  “I had dinner before I came, and if I ate it would take from a guest.”  But as I processed all that in preparation to respond, her words echoed back and I felt the conviction of a single, critical phrase at the very end of her question.  “… with us?”  Elaine wasn’t asking whether I was going to eat, but that’s the question my head responses were answering.  Her question was relational.  Her words were an invitation to a greater and deeper need, and I almost declined with my intentionally humble response.  She gave me a “mmmm hmmm” sort of glance, like she had just gotten me.  And she had.

She followed up with a comment about the richness of the brownie she had just taken her first bite of.  “How about dessert?”, she asked.  “Yes, ma’am.  I think I’ll try one of those brownies”, I answered.  I had been caught in the midst of choosing to satisfy a human need over what I, in that moment, discovered was the will of God for my life that night.  I was there to simply be there.  It was not what I would do that would make a difference, it was my simple choice to be there.  My presence, my ear, my shoulder, my time … these were what God was asking for, and what the Spirit could use.

In being baptized, I publicly identified with God … just as my Savior did.  In being impelled into the desert to be tempted, Jesus identified with me … and the stone-to-bread moment at dinner that night.  Thank you, Jesus.  And thank you, Elaine.  I pray for you wherever you are today.


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