The Grand Canyon is one big, beautiful hole in the ground. I know. I have stood on its banks and soaked in its beauty. In the summer of 1994, my college roommate and I embarked on the road trip to end all road trips, driving 3,000 miles roundtrip to Northern California and back seeing all the beautiful National Parks and tourist traps along the way. One of our stops was the Grand Canyon. When we first arrived and looked out across the canyon’s south rim, we thought we could sit there forever and just admire its beauty. However, we were 21 year old college guys . . . so naturally, FOREVER was only about an hour and a half before we started looking for something more adventurous to do.
That adventure took the form of climbing some of the buttes and bluffs that make up the outer rim of the canyon. It was not enough for us to simply see the canyon, we had to climb it. Fine idea, were it not for my selective amnesia. In my hasty pursuit of adventure, I had conveniently forgotten that I am terrified of heights. I was 10 feet off the ground climbing a 20 foot high bluff before my amnesia cleared and it hit me . . . “I am 10 feet off the ground hanging to a wall of the Grand Canyon.” Now, my friend (who is part mountain goat) climbed that face like it was a ladder. I, however, had a different experience. Knuckles whitening, heart pounding, muscles tense, I labored my way the last few feet up the bluff and tried my best to look in control as I rolled onto the top of the peak, doing my best to wipe both the terror and the sweat off of my face.
After a good bit of chest pounding and male bravado at our successful climb, the second part of my amnesia checked in. I had forgotten an important fact of physics – what goes up must come down. My mountain goat friend hopped down the face as fast as he went up. I, on the other hand, sat on the edge of the bluff paralyzed with fear. Lucky for me, I was not alone. My friend had successfully navigated going down the bluff before me, and he told me where to step and where to hold to make it down successfully. If I just followed in his path, surely I would be all right. The only problem was, even knowing the way he had shown me, I was still stricken with fear, and could not make myself move an inch downward. So, my friend reached up and grabbed my right foot, lifted it off the rock and placed it in the correct foothold. Then he did the same thing with my left foot, then my right again, and so on and so on. Eventually, with his strength and direction, I made it down safely. I am convinced that if my friend Tate had not been there with me, I would either still be sitting on that butte asking passing hikers to throw me up a canteen and a Power Bar, or I would have fallen to the ground and really gotten hurt. The fear was just that great.
I was thinking about this experience today as I was reading Luke 4:1-13 and the temptation of Jesus Christ by Satan in the wilderness. Three times, Satan tempted Christ with many of the same basic temptations we all struggle with. Satan tempted Jesus with physical desires, offers of power, and doubting God, yet Christ stood strong and did not give in to sin after any of these temptations. That is why the writer of Hebrews says of Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with all our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).” Jesus was tempted as we are, yet He never sinned. Because of this, the writer of Hebrews says in 2:18, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”
Let me phrase all of that truth in light of my experience at the Grand Canyon. Jesus has scaled the mountain of temptation successfully, so He can show us the way down to the bottom. Many of us feel as though temptation is so strong in certain areas that we have no hope of ever walking with God successfully through it. We feel like the pull towards internet pornography or alcohol or gossiping or certain types of speech are so strong that we are destined to fall in those areas resulting in serious injury to us or to others. This fear of temptation is so strong, it can be paralyzing in our walks with God. If we have been beaten about by a temptation and failure in a particular area for too long, we feel like our only hope in the Christian life is for someone else to walk by and “throw us up a word of encouragement” as we feel destined to sit on the rocky edges of the Christian life while others navigate successfully by.
However, in Christ, all of us who have struggled with temptation have a great hope! First of all, Jesus has shown us the way to navigate through temptation in a God honoring way, without sin. Like Tate telling me where to go, Jesus modeled for us the way down in Luke 4:1-13. He was dependent on the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1) and stood on the promises of God’s Word, not on Satan’s deception (Luke 4:4, 8, 10). However beautiful this example is, though, it still is not enough to totally help us as we are struggling through temptation in our lives. He has not only shown us the way, but He also offers us the power to navigate temptation, if we will let Him. Tate grabbed my feet and moved them down the mountain. It was his strength, not mine that led me to safety. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Christ offers us the strength to lead us down the mountain of temptation if we will just trust Him. He will carry us through. Galatians 2:20 tells us that “it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.” In a real sense, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the living Son of God who has stared temptation down and HAS NOT SINNED, offering to live His life through us if we will just let Him. By placing our faith in Him moment by moment, He can lead us down the bluff of temptation one step at a time.
This Christmas let us all be thankful that the baby born in Bethlehem lived a holy life, and shows us the way to follow Him.