Hebrews: How Can Jesus Understand My Temptation?

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I have a hard time taking advice from perfect people. That’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about with me. I am pretty transparent about my life, my past, my struggles, and my failures – perhaps a little too transparent – but there’s a reason. I believe that if you know I have been through a struggle similar to yours, you are more likely to trust me to help.

The Bible says we have a great high priest who can help us because He understands us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But, wait just a minute. Jesus was perfect and sinless. How can He know how I feel? Indeed – Jesus was perfectly sinless, He never failed a single time—but he was certainly pressed by temptation. Glance back at Hebrews 2:17: “[Jesus] had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest . . .” Jesus was made like us – human flesh and bones, heart and lungs that kept Him alive just like yours. He got hungry and tired just like me. He had to walk on feet just like His disciples. He had normal bodily functions. He had emotions – anger, joy, and sadness. And He felt the weight of temptation. Remember the desert and the devil? Let’s join them in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11).

Temptation #1 – “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Have you ever been tempted to satisfy the needs and desires of your flesh in your own way? Ever heard of porn? Ever been tempted to steal?

Temptation #2 – “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” If you are, He will send His angels to save you from harm. It was the same question that set off the first sin and satan has been using it ever since: Can you trust God?

Temptation #3 – “I will give you [the kingdoms of this world] if you will bow down and worship me.” Ever wanted more than what you’ve got? Ever entertained less-than-honest ways to get it?

Jesus understands the weight of the temptations we face because He was human just as you and I are and those temptations pressed Him even harder than they do you and me. He gave us the perfect model to handle temptation. We’ll talk about that next time.  

Wherever You Go

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I am always drawn to the story of Hagar the Egyptian slave girl who served as a handmaiden to the wife of Abram. She was pressed into service as a surrogate mother to bear a child for the barren Sarai. This caused much strife between the two women, as you can imagine. She ran away from her mistress, into the unforgiving wilderness where “The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7. Hagar may have been lost in the wilderness, but she was not lost to God. The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. That means He didn’t go on a seek-and-find mission, He set Himself right where He knew she was going. She was His wounded child and His heart was tender to her.
One of the most precious promises in the Bible to me is “The Lord your God will be with you where you go” (Jos. 1:9). In my almost sixty years, I have found myself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, often of my own making, but I have never been out of my Heavenly Father’s sight. In the margin of my Bible I have written these words that God spoke to my heart in one of those seasons: “Child, there is no place you can go that I will not be.” Whether physical places or emotional pits or spiritual dark caves – God has promised “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5). If He willingly went to the cross, and into the dark grave of death for us, then we can trust that He will never abandon us, no matter where we are.
Beloved, I don’t know where you find yourself today but this I know for sure – you are not lost to God. He knows exactly where you are now and where you are going. He has noted every step you’ve taken, even the ones that took you away from Him. God was there for a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He is there with you. There is no place you can go that He will not be.

Seeing the God Who Sees Me

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The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7

You know the story of Abraham and Sarah – childless and old, God promised them a son, but in the waiting, they grew impatient and Abraham slept with Sarah’s maid Hagar, and she conceived. But their act of faithlessness caused tremendous grief for the Egyptian slave-girl. Twice Hagar wound up in the desert, weary, hungry and frightened. On her first excursion, Scripture tells us “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16:7). The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. He set Himself right where He knew she was going because His heart was tender to her.  Hagar gained precious insight into who God is.  Realizing that the God of her master was very much aware of her and her plight,  She named the Lord El Roi – “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13).

After the birth of Ishmael (which- by the way – means The Lord has heard – Gen 16:11) Hagar and her son were forced to leave their home with Abraham and Sarah.  When their meager supplies of food and water ran out, Hagar recognized their inevitable deaths.  She put Ishmael under a tree and walked away, so as not to watch her weakened son die.  She and the boy were both crying, and God once again came to Hagar and assured her that He was aware of their plight.  Genesis 21:19 says, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  Oh, do you see the beauty of this passage? El Roi – the God who saw Hagar, now opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see.  He showed her a well of life-giving water that would minister to their bodies and to their spirits.

You may find yourself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, but I can assure you that you have never been out of your Heavenly Father’s sight.  There is no place you can go that God will not be.  Whether they are physical places, emotional pits, and spiritual dark caves – God has promised, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) The truth is, it’s often in those hard places that we see the God who sees us. Had Hagar not been lost in the wilderness, running from the hard hand of her mistress, she would have never encountered the Lord and come to know Him.  I know this to be true in my life.  So often I have discovered aspects of God that I would have never known had I not been in difficult circumstances.  When I was unable to put food on our table, I discovered Jehovah-Jireth – the Lord who Provides (Gen. 22:8). When I was desperately ill I found Jehovah Rapha – The Lord our Healer (Ps. 103:3). When I was discouraged and fearful, Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is Peace (Jud. 6:23-24) and Yahweh-Tsuri – The Lord my Strength (Ex. 15:2) came to encourage and strengthen me.  If you are in a difficult season, look for God to reveal Himself to you in a new and encouraging way.

Beloved, if He was faithful to a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He will surely be faithful to you.

God Knows

“For the Lord your God knows your trudging through this great wilderness.  These forty years the Lord your God has been with you” (Deuteronomy 2:7).

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,

Nobody knows my sorrow

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows but Jesus.

The beautiful old African-American spiritual was a testament to the struggles and the faith of the slaves of the 1800’s.  Louie Armstrong recorded the song in 1962 and many more have followed.  This song could have also been sung by the early church martyrs and even the Israelites who fled Egypt and set out toward the Promised Land.  It reminds us that life is hard, sometimes very hard, but God is aware and He is with us.

As the second generation of Israelites prepared to cross over the Jordan River, Moses reminded them of their own history and warned them not to turn again to the rebellious ways of their fathers.  Earlier, when they had neared Canaan, Moses sent twelve scouts to look over the land and bring a full report.  They confirmed that the land was rich and desirable, but they balked at taking on the current occupants, fearing they would be destroyed.  Their disobedience resulted in forty years of wandering to allow the unfaithful generation to die so that the next generation – hopefully wiser and more faithful than their parents – could go in.  It was forty years of hardship and drudgery – “trudging through the great wilderness.”  For the faithless Israelites it was long, hard journey to nowhere.

I think “trudging” is a great word to describe life sometimes.  It brings up the image of weary feet-dragging and endless, pointless plodding in a dry and unfriendly terrain.  Life feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?  Day after day after day of struggle and difficulty.  You try to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, but even that feels like more than you can do at times.  You wonder if anyone sees you.  If anyone cares.

My friend, I promise you, on the Word of God and my own life experience, Someone does.  Someone sees every step you take.  Someone hears every sigh and catches every tear.  You know who that Someone is – it is God, the Creator, the Almighty, the Sovereign One.  He is watching over you, just as He watched over the Israelites in their forty-year trek across the wilderness.  Not only was He watching over them, He was with them.  Close enough to see the weariness on their faces.  And day by day by day He cared for them.  He led them.  He fed them. He provided for them.

I know sometimes it feels like you are all alone in your struggles but be assured God is with you.  He is near and He cares about you.  He will lead you.  He will provide for you.  He will comfort you and encourage you – it’s what He loves to do.  If He cared enough to send His one and only Son to die for you, do you think He will forget you in your daily struggles?  Oh Beloved, I understand – I’ve been through some very hard times. I’m in a difficult season right now.  At times I thought I was all alone – especially when my troubles were self-made.  But God has always been good, He has never abandoned me, and He will never abandon you.

The Israelites found God faithful.  The early church and the martyrs of the first century and beyond found Him to be the same.  And so have I.  He has never let His people down.  He has never left them alone in their struggles.  He has not changed.  He is as good and faithful today as He was hundreds, even thousands of years ago.

When you think, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen,” remember “the Lord your God knows.” He is near and ready to help.

Holy Father, some days feel like I’m trudging through an endless wilderness.  I need Your help and the comfort of Your presence.  Help me to trust that You are watching over me and that you are with me every step of the way.  Amen.

 

Wherever You Go

Hagar was an Egyptian slave, serving as handmaiden to the wife of Abram and as a surrogate mother to bear a child for the barren Sarai.  This caused much strife between Sarai and Hagar, as you can imagine and Hagar ran away from her mistress, into the unforgiving wilderness where, “The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7.  The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. That means He didn’t go on a seek-and-find mission, He set Himself right where He knew she was going, because she was His wounded child and His heart was tender to her. 

One of the most precious promises in the Bible to me is “The Lord your God will be with you where you go” (Jos. 1:9).  I have found myself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, often of my own making, but I have never been out of my Heavenly Father’s sight.  In the margin of my Bible I have written these words that God spoke to my heart: “Child, there is no place you can go that I will not be.”  Whether they are physical places or emotional pits or spiritual dark caves – God has promised “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5).  If He willingly went to the cross, and into the dark grave of death for us, then we can trust that He will never abandon us, no matter where we are. 

Beloved, I don’t know where you find yourself today but this I know for sure – God was there for a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, He has been there for me and He is there with you.  The truth is, He was there – waiting for you – before you ever arrived.

In a Dry and Weary Land

He opened the rock and water flowed out; It ran in the dry places like a river” Psalm 105:41 (NASB).

Moses led the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. They left the delta region of northeastern Africa, where the Nile River kept the territory lush and green, and crossed into a dry and barren desert. In the desert, they were overcome by thirst – “there was no water for the community” (Numbers 20:2). As far their eyes could see, there was only sand – and not a single drop of water. They endured long days of marching with their worldly possessions on their backs and a long journey still ahead of them. They were weary. They were thirsty. They were suffering.

Dry deserts are not just in the wilderness of Sinai. Sometimes they are in our hearts.

Call them “wilderness seasons” or “the dark night of the soul” or “spiritual deserts.” One thing is certain, they are exhausting, wearying and seem to have no end in sight. If you read biographies of the spiritual giants of Christendom, you will find many experienced these difficult seasons. The Psalms are replete with the laments of David, Aseph and others who cried out, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42: 1-2). Perhaps you also know the ache of a dry and weary soul, when you reach out for God and He seems so very far away. Maybe you have been in that season so long you don’t have the strength to reach out anymore. I know that soul-despair, I have been in the desert, feeling lost, parched, and lonely. I’ve gazed out across an endless expanse of dry, hot sand and wondered if I would survive to the other side – or if, in truth, there was anything on the other side.

There are many reasons we find ourselves in the desert and the Israelites provide the example for us. Sometimes the issue is with us – God commanded the people to cross over and take possession of the Land of the Canaanites, but they faltered for the same reasons we do. First they listened to the discouragement of others. Numbers 13:16-33 tells the account of the scouting party that went into Canaan and brought back a report to the people.  While Caleb and Joshua encouraged the people, the others left them filled with dread. Then, because of the discouraging report, the people lost their trust and confidence in the Lord. We read their reaction in Numbers 14:1-3– they wept and grumbled and envisioned only disaster. They forgot all the miracles God had done to bring them thus far and let their fear and doubts overtake them. From there, they rebelled in disobedience. Number 14:4 says they decided it would be better to return to their lives as slaves than obey the Lord: “They said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” God responded by declaring that “Not one of them will ever see the land I promised” (Numbers 14:23). He determined that the entire faithless generation of Israelites would fall in the wasteland.

Fear. Doubt. Disobedience. They will lead us into the desert every time.

But let’s not forget the quest they were on. God took them out of slavery and bondage in Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land of blessing and fruitfulness and peace.   They were sojourners being let by YHWH to a “good and spacious land, land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). They were on their way – with God – to better things. His promise was more than they could envision, and for the ones who chose to believe and press on, the blessings overflowed in their lives.

I have had dry and barren seasons because of my own doubts and sin and disobedience. But thanks be the God for His forgiveness and His mercy through Jesus Christ – I did not have to stay there. But the sweet truth I have learned is, often those desert seasons are leading me into a place of promise and fruitfulness and fulfillment that I could not see among the rocks and sand. Sometimes the desert is the place of preparation for the place of promise.

Here is one more point I want to make: even in the desert, God provided water. Psalm 107: 35 says “He changes a wilderness into a pool of water and a dry land into springs of water.” Even in their faithlessness, God proved faithful. He heard their cries (well, actually their grumblings) and as our key verse says, He brought water from a rock. Psalm 114:8 says “[The God of Jacob] turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of water.”

Listen to the beautiful promise of Isaiah 58:11 – “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Hear his word in verse 14 “Then you will find your joy in the Lord.” Dry deserts are no match for God and His grace.

If you are surrounded by a sea of endless sand, cry out to God today and let Him bring the refreshing waters to your heart and your life. Then you can say with David, “In the roar of your waterfalls, all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7).

Holy Father, Your Word promises that You will “satisfy the thirsty” (Psalm 107: 9), and Lord, my soul thirsts for You. Oh, please let Your refreshing waters flow into my life. Amen.

Will Your Faith Stand?

“Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Philippians 2:14

Three days. That’s all it took for the complaining to start. Three days from blessing to grumbling. Three days from rejoicing to grousing.

The Israelites were three days out from crossing the Red Sea in miraculous fashion, and they were already complaining. They had witnessed God’s power and might in rescuing them from slavery and defeating the Egyptian army. They had fled Egypt, carrying the wealth of their captives with them, and the Lord had guided them in a pillar of cloud and fire to the edge of the sea. They watched as the presence of the Lord moved to form an impenetrable wall between them and their enemy. They saw the waters part, felt the dry ground beneath their feet as they moved between two walls of water and then watched the walls collapse onto the Egyptian army.

They sang and danced and rejoiced, proclaiming “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation; Who among the gods is like You, O Lord-majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” They sang of their trust in Him, “In your unfailing love You will lead the people You have redeemed…You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance.” (Ref. Exodus 15:2, 11, 13, 17.)

And everything changed. They found themselves in a desert with no drinkable water, the one spring poured forth bitter water. Now that’s not a little problem, mind you. Water in a desert is a big deal. Water for as many as two million people or more is an even bigger deal. They were in a serious situation. So they turned on their God-appointed leader and “grumbled against Moses, saying ‘What are we to drink?’” (Ex. 15:24). We might think, “Are these the same people that crossed the sea on dry ground and witnessed the power and might of the Lord?” Well, yes, actually they were.

And so are we. The truth is, I can very often turn from praising to grumbling in thirty minutes. At least it took them three days. Are we really any different than the Israelites? Like them, we have often forgotten God’s faithfulness and goodness in the past and complained about the circumstances of the present. It is a pattern that shows up over and over again in their wilderness journey. We see it again in Exodus 16, as they grumble about the lack of food, saying “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted” (Ex. 16:3). In chapter 17 they are grumbling about water again, and so it goes, until they stand at the edge of the Promised Land. Rather than rejoice in God’s faithfulness thus far and move ahead with confidence they grumble and cry and moan, until finally that generation lost the Promised Land altogether.

If you and I are honest, wouldn’t we admit that the same pattern shows up in our own lives as well? Why do we fail to believe that the God who sent His Son to die on the cross for us will also provide for, protect and bless us? Paul asks the same question in Romans 8:31-32, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, gracious give us all things?” Why do we, like the Israelites, fail to trust the Lord who has proven Himself faithful again and again and again?

In a word: unbelief. The very same unbelief that demoralized the faith of the Hebrew nation undermines our faith and confidence in God today. The exodus from Egypt was the great expression of Yahweh’s love to the Israelites. But because they had grumbled all along the way; at would should have been their defining moment of faith, they stood at the edge of the Promised Land and balked. “All the Israelites grumbled…and the whole assembly said, ‘Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’” (Numbers 14:2,3)

Are you believing God today? The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate expression of love to you and me. Every day we are surrounded by reminders of His care and devotion to His people. Yet still, when we are faced with a challenge, we grumble. Rather than believe God, we doubt. We question. We whine and complain. And God asks, as He asked of Israel, “How long will these people refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” (Num. 14:11).

There is a day coming when Christians will be faced with their defining moment of faith. We need only to read the Scriptures and look at the world around us to know it is not far away. Have you and I walked in faith, believing God? Will our faith stand?

Jesus posed a question, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8)? What if He comes today?

Holy Father, my faith is often so small. I cry out like the father in Mark’s Gospel – “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

When My Spirit Grows Faint Within Me

“When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who know my way.”  Psalm 142:3

Have you ever gotten weary?  Weary is more than just tired.

Weary goes down into the bones and drains your energy and hope.  Weary affects body, mind and spirit. You know what I mean.  When the stack of bills gets higher but the job prospects are shrinking, when you take your child to one more specialist, only to hear him say, “I don’t know how to help her.”  Maybe you are in a difficult marriage, have an elderly parent you are trying to care for, or are dealing with an adult child who can’t find his way in life.    Perhaps your work is pulling you down or you are struggling with a particular sin you cannot break free of.  You are weary.

David, the author of Psalm 142, understood weary.  At the time of this writing, David is hiding in a cave from the current King of Israel, Saul, a jealous and unstable ruler.  Though he is an innocent man, he has been running for his life for many long months.  He feels all alone – listen to verse 4-“Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me.  I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.” He describes his situation as “desperate,” (v. 6) he sees himself like a prisoner (v. 7).  He is tired, he is lonely, and he is weary.

But he is also wise, because he knows where to go for strength.

He turns to the Lord.  In this Psalm he says; “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord,” “I pour out my complaint before him,”” (v. 1, 2) Because David is confident of God’s mercy (v. 1), he confesses his weakness and finds the strength he desperately needs in the face of his troubles.  He remembers who God is and encourages himself as he declares that God is his refuge (v. 5), God will rescue him (v. 6), and set him free (v. 7).

The amazing thing about this Psalm is that David knows his destiny is not to run and hide forever.  His destiny is the Throne of Israel; for God, through the prophet Samuel, has already anointed him. He cries out to God, and trusts Him to fulfill what He had already promised.  God knew “the way” he was taking , and He knew the way to bring him to the palace.

David is a wonderful example for us.  He took his needs and his feelings to God. He didn’t put on a brave face before God, but was open with his pain and loneliness. He recalled God’s character and His promise to be David’s refuge and helper.  Did you notice that as David focused his mind on God, his lament turned to praise?  Now David is speaking of his rescue as if it has already happened, and he is planning the testimony he will share on the other side of this difficult time.

Are you weary today? Has the path of your life taken you into the wilderness?  Turn to the Lord, and cry out to Him for strength and hope.  Remember his character and His promises.  Remember that, in Christ, you are a child of the King, and your destiny is eternal life with your Father.  Yes, God knows the way you are taking now, and He knows the way to get you where you belong.

He knows the way home.

Holy Father, when the struggles of this life make me weary, You know my way – because You are right beside me, leading me home.  Amen.