Using Lent to reflect on resisting temptation
by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2010)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To use the example of Jesus’ temptation in the desert to consider how we might find strength in resisting temptation.
Preparation and materials
- Optional: you may wish to arrange a reader(s) for the Bible passage Matthew 4.1–11.
- A young man decides that he needs some time out of society to reassess, collect his thoughts and see where his life is going, so he takes himself off to spend some time on his own. That’s not so unusual. People like to have time to themselves, time to contemplate, time to be alone and chill.
- What might strike you as odd is his choice of location for this time on his own, for he chooses to disappear into the desert. Another seemingly strange choice might be the length of time for which he is away: 40 days and 40 nights. Oh, and he has taken no food or water with him.
You would probably be concerned for his safety and wonder whether you would see him alive again after the 40 days. Deserts, after all, are fairly inhospitable places: very hot during the day and very cold at night.
- Imagine, then, that he does return, a little thinner perhaps. But there is also something different about him: he is changed; he has an inner conviction and certainty about him. He is full of a desire to do something amazing and make a difference.
He also tells you that while he was in the desert, he had three encounters with what he called ‘the devil’. He says that this devil tempted him, but he managed to resist. You wouldn’t be alone in considering the possibility that the heat and lack of food in the desert had got to him, and that he had gone mad. How could he possibly have been tempted by the devil? There is no way to prove or verify his statements.
- Yet Jesus, based upon his experiences - first, his baptism and then his time in the desert – went across his home country, and eventually to the capital, Jerusalem, to preach and to teach, and put himself in danger. This danger eventually led to his horrific death upon the cross. So, what were his experiences in the desert and why were they so important? Let’s remind ourselves of the story.
Optional: ask the reader to read Matthew 4.1–11.
- It’s pretty impressive stuff, isn’t it? I’m sure most of us would be changed after even one of those encounters. It isn’t whether you believe that these events literally happened that is important, but the way in which Jesus acts upon and responds to the temptations put before him.
- You see, Jesus was not the only human to be tempted. Before this event, the most famous temptation recorded in the Bible occurred in the Garden of Eden. You probably know how badly that went. The story tells us that Adam and Eve did not manage to resist temptation: they ate the fruit offered to them by the serpent, which set off a chain of events beyond their control. They displeased God and plunged humanity into sin, a condition in which we get things wrong so much. According to the tradition, Adam and Eve brought evil and suffering into the world.
Yet Christians believe that God sent Jesus, who goes on to be tempted in the desert. The devil tempts him, not this time with a fruit, but with food, wealth and power beyond all imagination. I wonder how many of us would have given in at the first temptation, let alone the other two!
- Jesus doesn’t cave in. This is what makes him special and right for the events that are ahead of him. He resists temptation and comes out the other side knowing that he is ready to do God’s work.
Time for reflection
We will never know exactly what happened to Jesus in the desert during those 40 days and nights. What we do know is that Jesus was changed and that change led him to go on to do great, amazing and awe-inspiring things. So, during Lent, let’s think of experiences we’ve had that have enabled us to do wonderful things, and then think about what Jesus’ experiences allowed him to do.
Let’s spend a few moments thinking of the temptations that we find hard to resist.
- How could we cope better with them?
- How could we help our friends to cope with their temptations?
- Could you set up a deal with a friend to help each other when things are tough?