It’s a classic conversation at this time of year. Once you’ve argued over the best toppings for a pancake (obviously banana and chocolate spread!), conversation often turns to what people might be giving up for Lent.

In the past, I’ve given up various things for Lent. I think one of the most insightful times I’ve had was when my wife and I gave up TV. All of a sudden, we had so much free time. However, this year, as I’ve pondered what I might do to mark Lent, I’ve realised that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I might do, but little time reflecting on why we observe Lent in the first place. In many ways I think I’ve kind of missed the point of Lent; it’s become more about what I give up than what the giving up signifies.

The temptation passages found in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospel accounts all see Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There is such a contrast between Jesus’ place of baptism in the Jordan to Him being led to the place of wilderness. He goes from the river where the Spirit falls upon Him and He is affirmed by His Father’s voice with those beautiful words, This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased,” to the desert place, where He encounters the devil and his words of ugly temptation. 

Jesus is faced with three different temptations concerning food, dominion and death. In each case, theologian N. T. Wright points out that Jesus is being tempted to embrace a different kind of messiahship than the one He is ordained for by the Spirit. What might the temptations of Jesus, that we remember during Lent, have to say to us today?


Firstly, the temptations speak of the humanity of Jesus. I love the verse in Hebrews 4:15 that reminds us that Jesus is one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet He did not sin”. It can be very easy when considering Jesus to play the God card, to think, well of course Jesus did that, He was God. Whilst Jesus was fully divine, we miss a great encouragement if we do not also reflect on His full humanity. 

I think one of the most comforting situations in life is when you meet someone who has experienced the same struggles or pain that you are going through. So much can be conveyed through a knowing look or an understanding hug. 

The scandal of the incarnation, highlighted in the temptation accounts, is that the one through whom all things were created, is also the one who fully understands what it is to be human. Whatever temptation or struggle you are facing during this Lent season, be encouraged that in Jesus, we encounter a God who does not only observe our temptations and struggles but deeply knows what we’re going through, because He has experienced what it is to be a human being facing temptation and struggle.

Secondly, the temptations offer us a challenge that it is good to reminded of at Lent. I’m pretty sure that Jesus would have loved to have stayed at the Jordan, hearing the loving words of His Father being spoken over Him. Yet the Spirit drives Him out into the wilderness. At no point in the gospels do you get the sense of Jesus choosing the comfortable and easy path. 

Lent reminds us, that as followers of Jesus, He called us to choose the narrow path, to daily take up our cross and follow Him. I think the act of giving up something is symbolic of our daily choice to choose the way of Jesus over and above any other way. It is a choice to resist the temptation to accept another kind of calling than the one God has given to us. We follow one who was broken for the sake of the world. Lent is an opportunity to remember how, as followers of the crucified King, we are also called to be broken for the sake of the world around us. 

At times the world tempts us to believe that the solution to the problems we face might lie in more money, power or comfort. The way of Jesus offers us a different path, a narrower one, that offers a different logic. It’s a logic of humility in the face of power, self-control in the face of lust, peace in the face of violence, and love in the face of hatred. This Lent, whatever you’ve chosen to give up or take up, may it point you towards the way of the crucified King, who gave up everything, so that we might live.

Photo by Jasmin Né