It’s that time of the year again. This week we transition from the happy and joyful seasons of Christmas and Epiphany into the long, somber season of Lent. There are no more alleluias for 6 weeks. The hymns are more haunting, both in the words and in the music itself. We have midweek services that are reflective. Our focus is on the cross at the end, on Good Friday, where it all culminates. You will be reminded again and again that Jesus died for you. This is quite true, but I have news for you. That’s not all. Yes, Jesus died for you, but He also lived for you.
Now don’t get me wrong- there should be an emphasis on Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. By His death and resurrection, He paid for the sins of everyone on this earth. That’s no small task. But it can’t end there, because His death would have meant nothing had He not lived the perfect life for us as well. You see, God demands absolute perfection, and since all of us mere mortals fall far short of that standard, we needed someone to live that sinless life in our place. That someone was none other than Jesus, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet [was] without sin,” as Hebrews 4:13 reminds us. That “without sin” is important.
So where did Jesus start? At conception, of course. All of us have been sinful from conception, as we read in Psalm 51:5- “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Since we were sinful from conception, Jesus had to take our place from this point and pass through all stages of human development. So He entered this world as a single cell in Mary’s womb, sinless from the very start. He lived the perfect childhood, adolescence, and adult years. And He lived it for you. The People’s Bible Commentary for the book of Hebrews makes an interesting point about the passage above, 4:13, which talks of Jesus being tempted as we are. The author, Richard E Lauersdorf, says the following:
From the beginning to the end of [His] earthly stay, Jesus faced temptations more severe than we will ever know. He felt the full pressure and pull as all the troops in hell’s barracks with all the weapons from hell’s arsenals stormed against him. He felt those temptations even more than we do, because while we so often fall under temptation’s first round, he remained standing to receive every assault.
Think about the Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent, the temptation of Jesus. He was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Ouch. These temptations were actually willed by God. He knew that only a sinless Lamb could be offered in our place, so He made well sure there was no question that Jesus was that flawless Lamb of God. Now, the wilderness was a place associated with demons and barrenness. No one would want to spend time there, but Jesus did, and even fasted during that time. I can’t skip lunch without being ravenously hungry by dinnertime, so I can’t even fathom going without food for 40 days. And when those 40 days were spent, Jesus was understandably hungry. That crafty devil used His hunger to tempt Him, but that didn’t work. Satan even used Scripture to tempt Jesus, although he twisted the meaning. Jesus saw through his tactics and countered them with correct use of Scripture.
Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness wasn’t the only time Jesus was tempted. Heck, that wily foe even used Peter, one of Jesus’ own disciples, to tempt Him away from the cross. I mean, Satan wanted nothing more than to bring down this Son of God, and he would stop at nothing. When Jesus revealed the plan for His suffering and death, Peter rebuked Him. Jesus recognized this as an attack by the devil and said so in no uncertain terms- “Get behind me, Satan!” He didn’t need the devil tempting Him away from His plan of salvation for the entire world.
You can be sure that Jesus was attacked and tempted throughout His entire earthly ministry, especially in Gethsemane. But never did He give in. He withstood every single attack by the devil and yet remained completely sinless. He then offered that sinless life for you and took up your sinful one as He died. That’s the “Great Exchange.” Jesus took our sin and gave us His purity. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says it like this: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” That is possible only because of Jesus’ perfect, sinless life. Yes, Jesus died for you. But never forget that He lived for you as well.