There are two contrasting video collections that I’ve found engaging. The first is titled People Are Awesome. These are video clips of people accomplishing fantastic feats of skill and athleticism. Some of my personal favorites involve individuals performing seemingly impossible tricks on BMX bikes—double and triple back flips with all kinds of contortions—before landing and riding off safely.
I really enjoy these videos! But they also create a problem for me. I walk away and think, “I could do that!” Suddenly I’m trying to figure out how to tell my wife that I need to buy a BMX bike.
A contrasting video series is one simply titled Fails. As the name suggests, in these you will view people failing miserably, as they attempt the same feats of skill and athleticism that were completed so successfully in the previous video series. These “fails” prove to be very valuable for me. This collection clearly shows that an inexperienced, middle-aged man (Me!) has no place launching himself off the top of a flight of stairs on a BMX bike while attempting a 360-degree rotation—because it will end badly! The Fails videos remind me of who I am and what is at stake, thus sparing me serious injury and embarrassment.
As we approach Advent season, and consider what God has done in sending Jesus, we see that in his mercy and grace, God has done something similar for us in Scripture.
As Jesus moved from what had been a life of relative obscurity into his time of public ministry, there is an event that stands out as an incredible accomplishment. In Matthew 4, we see that Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” for the specific purpose of being tempted. This was not just a chance encounter between Jesus and the devil. Rather, this was an appointment into which the Spirit led Jesus, and from which would unfold a contrasting picture of One’s success directly related to another’s failure.
When we study Jesus’ temptation, we often focus on lessons about responding to temptation. We see that Jesus did not sin as he was tempted in areas that 1 John 2:16 describes as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”
As his flesh was hungry, Jesus would not circumvent God’s intent for him by creating his own bread. Satan repeatedly tempted Jesus to defend himself in sinful pride by the implied question, “If you are the Son of God…,” even suggesting he throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple to prove his deity. But Jesus refused to doubt what God the Father had proclaimed at his baptism: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” When the devil showed him the kingdoms of the world, Jesus knew that God had already promised through the prophets that the Messiah would one day rule all the nations. In each test, Jesus succeeded remarkably!
So we study the temptation of Jesus and we see that he used God’s Word to refute Satan. And we are challenged as we hear the Apostle Paul say, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). And we rightly consider that the “way out” is to respond in belief to God’s Word concerning any temptation.
However, when we look at this event in conjunction with the rest of Scripture, we find another, even bigger lesson. Jesus’ temptation demonstrates that he was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And he stands in contrast to another who failed in temptation.
In each temptation, Jesus responded to the devil by quoting from a portion of Scripture in which Moses had reminded Israel of their failure to keep God’s commands. And the parallels to Jesus stack up quickly. Both Israel and Jesus were identified as “God’s son,” both were led by God into the wilderness (Israel for forty years, Jesus for forty days), and both were tempted in the wilderness, yet the outcome of those temptations is a study in contrasts. Israel was hungry, their identity as God’s son was questioned, their eyes were tempted by what they saw, and they sinned… repeatedly… doubting God’s promise of provision, doubting God’s Word concerning them, and even worshiping a golden calf.
The danger for us as we study Jesus’ temptation is that we begin to think, “I can do that!” But the Apostle Paul reminds us that “Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin” (Galatians 3:22), and Israel’s experience in the wilderness demonstrates this. When I see Israel fail, I see myself! I see what happens when I start to think that I can keep God’s law by my own ability and in my own righteousness. I fail painfully and with disastrous eternal consequences! In contrast, God presents us with Jesus and shows us the sinlessness of Christ, so that we will recognize that Christ has done what we cannot do.
When I see Jesus succeed, I see the One of whom I read that I may “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9). Through faith in Christ, his righteousness, his sinlessness, is credited to you and me.
Unfortunately, despite what the title of those first videos may suggest, people are not awesome. Instead, we are a collective sinful “fail.” But at Advent we celebrate the coming of the awesome One, Jesus, whose success becomes ours by faith in him.
Rev. Paul Tjelta is Pastor at Bethesda Lutheran Brethren Church in Westby, Wisconsin.