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Day 6

Tempted in the Desert
Imagine standing with Jesus, right next to him, in prayer to his Father. Read this passage of praise aloud. As you do so, consider that you are praying along with Jesus, your two voices becoming one as you bless God.  
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity
   who heals all your diseases, 
who redeems your life from the pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)
Psalm 73:1-5, 13-19, 21-26
?Truly God is good to Israel,
   to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
   my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
   when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
   their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
   they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. . . .
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
   and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
   and rebuked every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
   I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
   it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
   then I discerned their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
   you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
   swept away utterly by terrors!
When my soul was embittered,
   when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
   I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
   you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
What Is This Psalm About?   
The poet sees how the proud seem to have no troubles. They give the appearance of complete sufficiency and ease. Knowing his own troubles, the psalmist feels envy rise inside. His struggles to live righteously seem futile. Why work so hard to be good if just doing what you want is so much easier? This psalm names the temptation to consider faith in the LORD to be a waste of effort. If the outcomes are worse for the faithful, why not be one of the wicked who live in ease?
Yet when the writer leaves his self-absorbed contemplation and returns to the community of those praising and praying, his vision clears. In the sanctuary, with a more eternal perspective, he recalls the lonely, fearful and sudden end of those who deny God. Then the psalmist turns to consider the relief and joy of always being near God. Troubles will come and frail human flesh will fail: “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
What Might This Psalm Have Meant to Jesus?
After his baptism, with all its affirmation of Jesus’ identity and mission, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). During Jesus’ forty days of fasting, the devil tempts him. He seeks to ruin Christ’s ministry before it begins. Why not shortcut the growling hunger all humans feel when fasting by doing what no one else can do? Just turn stones into bread! Why not become the ruler of the world by sheer power rather than follow this plan of loving the world back to God from the inside out?  
In these agonizing hours, Jesus may have been tempted to envy. Could he not be like a Roman centurion who just issues commands? Wouldn’t he get farther if he had the respected position of a Pharisee? Jesus faces the temptation to envy those who have the power to accomplish what he longs to do but by a much easier path.
I imagine Jesus in the desert working his way through Psalm 73. The psalmist provided words for Jesus’ own temptations to envy, his own impulse to jumpstart the work of ministry with superhuman displays. There in the wilderness, Jesus cannot go to the great temple for perspective. He has to enter the sanctuary in his mind. This is the place formed by all the Scriptures he has learned, the temple this carpenter fashioned within his heart through many hours of prayer. As he resists the devil’s suggestions, Jesus enters that spiritual house, and, like the psalmist, his vision clears.
Once more he feels his Father’s presence perhaps recalling: “Nevertheless I am continually with you!” He shudders at what a close call he has had as if to say, “I could have betrayed the generation of your children!” He reaffirms the very truth of his soul: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you.” There it is. The depth of him. Other desires have been held out to him with all the allure of the forbidden fruit. But he has resisted. He has passed the test. 
In Psalm 73, Jesus would also find precious words to prepare him for where his life of faithfulness would lead. On the cross, his flesh would fail. He inhabited a body that could die, and the Roman process of crucifixion would cruelly ensure that it would. His actual physical heart would fail under the stress of such torture and then it would be pierced by a lance. Moreover, there would come a moment when even the ability to will, to choose, would pass. He would entrust himself into his Father’s hands at the last (Day 25, Psalm 31:5). And then he could do no more, neither choose for or against his God. Then, the glorious truth of the words of this psalm would be clear. Flesh and heart, outer man and inner man, not only may but will fail. But then Jesus will find, as we do, when strength ebbs and nerve is lost, Someone supports him from underneath. God the Father is the strength of his heart, even if it stops beating. 
Praying with Jesus 
Was this season of temptation in the desert
Actually the rich soil for your teaching?
As the evil one enticed you towards an easier path,
Did you realize, “What does it profit a man 
To gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
Was this when you felt the tug of the prodigal’s elder brother,
Tempted to envy, lured to despise his own faithfulness,
But then hearing the loving pleas of his father,
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31). 
Your words to me were never witty platitudes 
That cost nothing but the minor effort of cleverness. 
They arose from your praying the Scriptures 
While in the grip of compelling temptation.
How grateful I am that you discovered,
By considering alluring alternatives,
Through the agony of faithful resistance,
That there is nothing on earth you desire 
But your Father and his pleasure.
He is all you had.
Your Father is all I have
In heaven or earth worth living for. 
Truly, Jesus, I pray with you, 
“But for me, it is good to be near God.”


Posted in: Lent