On his way to understanding himself, according to Matthew 4 and Luke 4, Jesus gets the better of three temptations. There is really no way to know if a tempter materializes or if all the action happens inside Jesus’ head. And really, does it matter? “What makes you think it’s not real just because it’s in your mind?” Mark’s gospel, in contrast, leaves open-ended the number of wilderness tests.
There is certainly no sensible reason to believe Jesus only faced three temptations in this fragile world “with devils filled.” Anyone who thinks otherwise has never stopped to consider all that life throws at you. Little boys and girls finding out that tantrums aren’t the best way. Teens astounded by their newly-discovered sexuality. Young adults forced to choose between noble ideas and ignoble pressures. “Senior citizens wish they were young.” Everybody goes through the mill.
And yet, honest readers of the New Testament must confess that Jesus’ life normalizes some things we like to label as sin. Consider the anger of Jesus at pig-headed hypocrisy, and you will realize that “anger indicates something important is happening,” both inside you and around you. “Looking around at them, he got angry because of their stubborn refusal to believe the truth right in front of them” (Mark 3:5). No bad emotions. Only bad responses.
Tired Jesus. Exasperated Jesus. And yes, even fearful Jesus. Does your theology have room for this awkwardly-shaped furniture, or do you quietly donate it to some charity? “Like us in every way, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And there’s the rub.
Novelist Nikos Kazantzakis won fame (and infamy) when he richly imagined “The Last Temptation of Christ”: To come down off the cross, wed Mary Magdalene and enjoy a happy family. Wouldn’t it be odd to find out that power, popularity and money don’t derail most us from a holy path, but that simple, deep-hearted lust to be exactly the same as everybody else? “I am different, so you, too, should be different.” (Leviticus 19:2).