Ever since I read the “Temptation” chapter of Philip Yancey’s book The Jesus I Never Knew a couple of weeks ago, I’ve once again been catapulted onto this journey of rediscovering the humanity of Jesus.
Since January, we’ve been going through a series known as “The True Vine,” this nine-month saga of going through Scripture and trying to understand Jesus and discovering the implications of His life and how that affects us. In many ways, the sheer length of the series has prompted a whole gradient of emotions and reactions from me over the course of nine months.
I remember feeling refreshed, overwhelmed and staggered by things I was learning. I remember journaling about truth I was learning, facets of Jesus’ personality I’d never considered, familiarizing myself with first-century Greco-Hebraic culture and making those historical connections that breathed life into the story of Jesus in a new way for me. I remember coming to some very specific conclusions about the way I was choosing to live my life, and desiring to surrender in deeper ways.
The length of time also allowed for a season of neutrality. Maybe even indifference. Cynicism, for sure and maybe a little boredom. Nine-months of anything seems like an eternity in our culture of instant gratification. So the sheer length of time meeting my own frailty and undisciplined self–and also the fact that at the end of the day this series is still a program run by imperfect people with all our limitations–all this together was an inevitable recipe for a bit of hard-heartedness on my part.
But since reading that “Temptation” chapter, something has reawakened within me. Yancey describes how Jesus responded to each temptation of the devil in the desert with Scripture. It almost seems like He passed the first two temptations with flying colors, quoting Scripture left and right and resisting marvelously. But the third temptation to come and and establish His identity, refusing to worship the devil by simply settling the matter of His divinity once and for all “struck a nerve” with Jesus and He responds with force, saying “Away from me!”
The forcefulness with which He says that never really occurred to me before. That something could actually strike a nerve with Jesus.
I hate how we’ve anesthetized Jesus’ humanity sometimes and we act as if Jesus coolly and effortlessly resisted every temptation flung His way. The passion with which He yells “Away from me!” to Satan or rebukes Peter with a harsh”Get thee behind me” or agonizingly cries “Father, take this cup from me” and realizing how interwoven all three reactions are never really clicked in my mind before. In each of these three moments, He wrestles with His divine ability to simply do away with the hard road and take the easy way out, in which He could choose to act out in His divinity and escape pain, escape suffering, and demand worship by simply revealing Himself to be God in the flesh.
Instead, He chooses to fully embrace the humanity and all the terrible, messy emotions and limitations that come with that condition. He resists so forcefully and passionately because this is in fact the greatest temptation… to empty Himself of divinity and all its privileges and powers and actually choose the way of suffering and of love.
Since reading that chapter, I’ve been seeing everything through that emotional, extremely human lens. Hearing stories on Sunday night of people’s lives that have been truly transformed through an intellectual, experiential and emotional journey of following Jesus; getting up early on Tuesday to enter into a time of meditation and contemplation; hearing Cole give a spontaneous and creative rendition of the incredibly human thoughts that might have been racing through Jesus mind on the day before His arrest, knowing what He was about to face; sitting in a darkened room tonight around tables covered with bread and wine; even being unceremoniously jolted from reverie by a fire alarm in the middle of hearing Scripture read; all these moments have created an increasingly tangible experience for me.
And His resistance and subsequent choice to embrace suffering and love completely and totally exposes my utter failure to follow suit. I identify with these disciples who still don’t totally get it and come across as dumbfounded, defensive, arrogant and bumbling–yet somehow lovable–idiots.
The cross is not merely an obstacle or hurdle to get through to the kingdom. It is the way of the kingdom.
That’s a heavy statement. And one that I don’t fully comprehend, even after all these years…