Monday, May 23, 2011

The Temptation and Suffering of Christ

For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (Hebrews 02:16-18, NKJV).
A few years back, there was a horrible, dull, and blasphemous motion picture entitled, The Last Temptation of Christ. It is not worth writing about other than to say emphatically this has nothing to do with that movie.

It is instead about the fact of Christ having to suffer in order to give us aid.

That word, aid, is interesting. One of its roots means, to rescue from peril. Keep that in mind as we unveil yet even more of Hebrew's glorious portrait of our Savior's surpassing excellence. 

The first point to consider is that angels are given no chance for redemption. We know from Scripture that one-third of the angelic hosts allied themselves with Lucifer when He rebelled against God sometime prior to the creation of mankind. These beings, since called unholy angels, or demons, have been confirmed in their rebellious choice forever. 

Like their master, Satan, these are destined inevitably for eternal residence in the Lake of Fire in Outer Darkness. Wherever and whatever that destination is literally, we know from the texts that it is a place of eternal, excruciating, and conscious torment.

Jesus did not sacrifice Himself for them. Nor did He become one of them in order to fully communicate God's holiness and love in terms that they could not fail to understand. It makes a terrible kind of sense, really. The angels who attempted to become like the Most High, essentially desiring to usurp His divine sovereignty, dwelt with God face to face, seeing Him fully with perfect understanding before they declared war against Him.

Not only did they sin willfully with full knowledge of what they were doing, but their sin of pride far exceeded that of Adam's. Our First Forebear was guilty not of trying to overthrow God from the Throne of the Universe, but of attempting to set himself up as ruler over his own human life. Thus, a crime vastly different in terms of knowledge, scope, and intent.

Do not think that I am listing the reasons why redemption was for one versus the other. I am only speculating based on what Scripture reveals, which is this: fallen angels are doomed beyond hope; fallen man is not because Christ came to to rescue us from peril.

Now because Hebrews is most likely addressed to Jewish Christians dispersed after the fledgling church suffered its initial persecution and dispersal, the writer refers to mankind as the seed of Abraham. This of course does not only mean genetic descendants of Abraham, but those also who are children of Abraham by faith. That includes us Gentile believers. Nor, I think, does this limit the rescue chronologically only to those who came after him, but is applied to all those who died in faith from the Garden onward.

Now God ordained that because Adam sinned, mankind was cursed. Only through payment of that sin by the death of a sinless One, could that curse be lifted. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren.

Note that - in all things. Christ is fully human, somehow miraculously taking into Deity, humanity. Jesus demonstrated His complete identification with, and understanding of, mankind by becoming our merciful and faithful High Priest, a role established nearly 15 centuries before to foreshadow the aid that He would so graciously provide. The High Priest of Ancient Israel was the final mediator between man and God. 

His sacred function was to faithfully represent God to mankind, and mankind before God. He was to be holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners. Christ met these qualifications flawlessly. Beyond that, as fully human, He also suffered temptation. 

Of precisely what kind we know only a few details, and specifically only about those used by Satan to entice Him from fulfilling His redemptive mission as a Man - being wholly dependent and submissive to the Father.

Of the rest of His trials we can only speculate, but we have no reason to believe that they were any less intense than those suffered by His human brethren. In fact, there is good reason to believe that they were worse. Imagine the anguish and pain that temptation to sin visits upon a perfectly righteous Man. What we routinely succumb to with little struggle or hesitation, He resisted fully, completely, and continually. That is why later in Hebrews we read this:

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:3, 4, NKJV).
But He did.

I firmly believe His suffering on our behalf is beyond what we can truly comprehend on all levels of our existence, but while the Bible mentions these aspects of the miraculous deliverance He rendered, it does not dwell on them. The descriptions we are privy to are brutal, yet concise; matter-of-fact, yet deeply moving.

The two most profound things we can know with regard to Christ's temptation and suffering was that He voluntary submitted to these out of obedience to the Father and love for for us.

Remember that the next time you have cause to cry out to God that the circumstances of your life are beyond what you can bear. 

He knows what it feels like. He has been there.

Remember that the next time you are unfairly accused or reviled. 

That too, He knows from experience.

However much we may hold angels in awe, they did not receive this kind of love and sacrifice from God.

However highly He regards them, it could be argued that He hold us in even more regard. Perhaps that is why our salvation is something that even the angels desire to look into and understand.

And above all remember one more thing with wordless awe and gratitude, less we think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think.

[That] God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NKJV).
Pride is what felled Satan. It is the ancestor of all other sin.

We must resist it with all we have in us, perhaps even unto bloodshed, either physically or emotionally, knowing that whatever trials we undergo, we have a High Priest who suffered as we are, yet without sin.