A weekly column in which writers discuss Bible passages that appear in the Christian Science Bible Lessons.
THE SHEPHERD CARRIES US THROUGH TRIALS
THIS WEEK'S CHRISTIAN SCIENCE BIBLE LESSON, titled "Probation After Death," begins and ends with divine Love's shepherding of all children on their journey Spiritward. That image strengthens this promise in Science and Health: "Every trial of our faith in God makes us stronger" (p. 410, Section V, citation 21). And there is no better example of the Shepherd's attentive love in times of trial than Christ Jesus' own experience after 40 days in the wilderness, when his faith in God was severely tested three times (Matt 4:1–11, Section II, cit. 8).
It's interesting to note when this testing occurred—right after Jesus' baptism, as he was embarking on His God-appointed mission. This was not just some little career change! And it was right after a voice from heaven had proclaimed, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17).
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That persistent devil stopped at nothing to try to keep Jesus from fulfilling his mission. Sneaky too, planting doubt of his divine sonship at the outset. "If you're the son of God," he began. But Jesus didn't waver. He was, to borrow a phrase from Science and Health, "watchful, sober, and vigilant" (p. 324, Section II, cit. 8). For forty days and forty nights he'd been with his Shepherd. He had to be feeling God's constant care.
Probation is a good thing. Proving is how we grow. And Jesus' experience serves as a beacon of hope to help us when our own faith is tried. In fact, every temptation that comes to us could be seen as some form—or combination—of those three that came to Jesus. It's helpful to take a closer look at them. I've found they speak to each of us specifically, directly, according to our need.
OUR SHEPHERD'S LOVE FOR US IS NEVER SO NEAR AS WHEN OUR FAITH IN HIM IS TRIED.
The first temptation came when Jesus was in the middle of nowhere—there was nothing around but rocks, and he was hungry (after 40 days, who wouldn't be!). The tempter said, "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread," as if to say, "You have two options—change matter or die." Or, in other words: "Pray all you want; it won't help. Matter needs to be changed, fixed, or something done to it." Jesus was undisturbed by this material appraisal, and answered right back, from the Scriptures, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (see also Deut. 8:3). He wasn't giving up eating. But wasn't he acknowledging the efficacy of the Word of God? That it isn't just words, but an ever-operative law, the same law of God's all-ness that had provided food for the children of Israel and would do the same for him.
The second temptation came on the pinnacle of the temple: "If (that doubt word again) thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee." Again, sneaky! Beating Jesus to the punch and quoting the Scriptures back at him (see also Ps. 91). To me, "Cast yourself down" is a bit like saying, "Your life isn't worth living." Or, "This is just too big for you." Jesus' immediate response, quoting again from the Scriptures (see also Deut 6:16), "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God," acknowledges that God, not we ourselves, is the Healer, always sufficient. We should trust—not tempt—Him.
The third temptation took place on top of a mountain. Jesus was shown the kingdoms of the world and their glory. This time the devil promised "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." But Jesus knew what the devil was really saying was "Have another god. Your God isn't enough." Again quoting from the Scriptures, Jesus answered, "Get thee hence, Satan:... Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (see also Deut 6:13).
What Jesus did was steadfastly refuse to be an ear to these hypnotic suggestions and stay with his Shepherd. And the devil left him, and angels "ministered unto him." He was now ready to continue his mission. This trial only made him stronger. Our trials can do the same for us. Our Shepherd's love for us is never so near as when our faith in Him is tried.