Jesus is fully God and fully man. He’s the God-Man. Without the divinity of Jesus, he lacks the ability to save us. Without the humanity of Jesus, he lacks the experience to comfort us. With both, he is perfectly qualified to save us from our sins.
Jesus was sinless in his life. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
There’s a debate about whether or not Jesus could have sinned. The theological terms are peccability vs. impeccability. Jesus was able to sin, or he was not able to sin. That is the question. I have my view, but that’s not my purpose in writing this. Whatever side you come down on, the Bible is clear: Jesus did not sin.
And that’s a comfort to us. But that’s also troubling to some. I struggled with this issue in my life. I’m so thankful (and always have been thankful) that Jesus never sinned. But what I thought that meant was that he must have never really felt tempted – at least not in the way I do.
If Jesus never sinned, is it possible that he can sympathize with us? Doesn’t it take someone who has “been there” to sympathize with those who are there? How does a sinless Christ help us?
In other words, what does it mean that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” and how does that help us in our temptation? Let’s start with the temptation of Jesus in the desert
Matthew gives an account of this in chapter 4 of his gospel.
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “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.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
What we see in this passage is no weak Savior. He’s not merely facing some temptation, he’s facing intense, serious, life-defining temptation.
Satan comes to him after forty days and forty nights of fasting. He was hungry. “Have some bread, Jesus. You don’t deserve to starve. You fed those poor saps in the desert, why would you not feed yourself now?” But Jesus didn’t take the bait. He would not grumble like his ancestors. He would not complain to God and curse him in his heart because his belly was empty.
“Fine, you don’t want bread? Ok, how about you jump from the temple and prove your worthiness to be followed?” No, Jesus wouldn’t bite here either, despite his rightful claim of worthiness. He gave that up when he came down to us. He was not going to take it up again before the time.
“Ok, whatever, Jesus. You’re not hungry and don’t want to be worshipped. Then worship me! Don’t go through with this ridiculous plan of yours. Just worship me and I will give you the whole world. We could shortcut this whole endeavor, right here, right now.”
“Be gone, Satan!” Jesus was finished, temptation was crushed. Righteousness reigned.
Does that sound easy? Is that the fight of a weak man? Or is that the fight of the Savior of the world. Jesus faced temptation, and he stood the test. He never, not once, not for a second, gave in.
C.S. Lewis said,
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
The question now is why. Why did Jesus not give in? Whether or not he could or couldn’t, we know he didn’t. He wouldn’t. He stood firmly planted in the love of the Father so that we could be firmly planted in the city of God to come. Jesus endured it all so that when we need him most, we have him – the one who knows what it’s like.
Jesus used the same resources we have available to us: the scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and prayer. But we have something Jesus didn’t have: his finished work. Jesus was in the middle of his work. Really, he was at the beginning of his work. He had three years of teaching, healing, arguing, suffering, and dying to endure. But we’re on the other side. We’ve seen the outcome. We have his finished work to rely upon. It doesn’t depend on us. We can stand firm, because he stood firm for us.
Jesus faced temptation of every kind so that ever kind of temptation we face, we have a sympathizer, a priest, who knows what it’s like. He’s not aloof. He’s not ignorant. He’s wise and caring. He’s there when the hard times come. And though we won’t always win in this life, the worst that can happen to us is that we fall into the throne room of God, where mercy and grace await. Because Jesus has won the war, even if we lose the battle, we are victorious still.