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Healing lessons from the three temptations

From the March 2023 issue of The Christian Science Journal

Jesus’ baptism concluded with “a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Immediately following this, and just before the start of his healing mission, Jesus went into the wilderness for an extended period of time. There, Satan tempted him three times to exalt matter above Spirit (see Matthew 4:1–11). In each case, Jesus demonstrated his God-given dominion; and his spiritual victories teach us valuable lessons in the healing practice of divine Science.

“Command that these stones be made bread” 

This first temptation came to Jesus after he hadn’t eaten for many days. It’s likely that Jesus had the power to effect the change being suggested because later he would change water into wine and demonstrate God’s abundance for a multitude when only five loaves and two fish were at hand. But instead of yielding to this first temptation, Jesus responded by citing Scripture: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (derived from Deuteronomy 8:3). 

Jesus shunned what the carnal mind or sense-based reasoning presented as the convenient, practical, material solution. Rather, he chose to put all his loyalty, trust, and faith in his heavenly Father. He understood and relied on the fundamental, eternal truth that life does not depend on matter—that man is not material but spiritual, and that all man’s needs are supplied by Spirit. He rejected the belief that Spirit could not sustain him.  

This refusal to change stones into bread shows more than an unwillingness to make concessions to matter. It also illustrates a key point in the practice of Christian Science—namely, that we don’t utilize the power of God, Spirit, to “fix” physical problems. Rather, the student of Christian Science strives to demonstrate that man, as God’s eternal reflection—the spiritual, forever-perfect identity of each one of us—never needs to be fixed. It is, however, important that we correct false beliefs about man.

Jesus’ refusal to change stones into bread illustrates a key point in the practice of Christian Science—that we don’t utilize the power of God to “fix” physical problems.

The practice of Christian Science involves letting Christ, Truth, illuminate, purify, and uplift consciousness, and annihilate all the claims and beliefs of lack, illness, or other material discord. This involves recognizing, accepting, cherishing, and demonstrating the unalterable truth that man is—now and always—complete, well, and immortal, as the spiritual image and likeness of God. 

Our contest is not with matter or physicality, as St. Paul says in Second Corinthians 10:3–5: “We do not war after the flesh.” Therefore, “(. . . the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 

I understand this as saying that our weapons are spiritually mental, “casting down imaginations [illusions, erroneous beliefs], and every high thing [every counterfeit thought] that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God [that disputes, denies, or defies the Science of being], and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ [correcting and replacing every mistaken material dream-concept with concrete spiritual truth].” This spiritually mental warfare brings truly practical results, including physical cure that is accompanied by spiritual growth and uplift.

“Cast thyself down”

The second temptation—to jump off the top of the temple and see if God saves you—illogically suggests that an unwise action in matter, the opposite of Spirit, is needed to prove the existence and supremacy of Spirit.

The supposed evil intelligence called the carnal mind, mortal mind, or Satan would deceive us into viewing life from a mortal, material perspective. It suggests subtly and argues aggressively that life is fundamentally material and that at best God might sometimes help us in our essentially material existence. From this perspective, God is in the background, playing only a secondary role. 

But as Mary Baker Eddy writes, “The belief that the universe, including man, is governed in general by material laws, but that occasionally Spirit sets aside these laws,—this belief belittles omnipotent wisdom, and gives to matter the precedence over Spirit” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 83).

The underlying suggestion is: Maybe God is not always here to aid us when we are in need of help. But every time we believe that God, ever-present Love, is unable or unwilling to meet our needs, we are, in a sense, yielding to Jesus’ second temptation—to look to matter to confirm God’s omnipresence and omnipotence.

The tempter had no power to push Jesus off the temple. Instead, he could only suggest that Jesus throw himself down. The actual decision was entirely up to Jesus. Mrs. Eddy alerts us to this in the Christian Science textbook by defining hell in part as “self-imposed agony” (p. 588); and by stating that we must free ourselves “from self-imposed materiality and bondage” (p. 191). Temptations may be viewed as bait, which harms us only if we take it, thereby empowering an erroneous suggestion. 

But we don’t have to take the bait. Through God’s gracious help, we can stand with Truth and witness God’s ever-presence, all-power, and loving willingness to deliver us in every situation. Because there can be no interruption of harmony in the realm of infinite Spirit, we can rise above the false belief that we could ever fall and “dash [our] foot against a stone” as the tempter suggested, quoting Psalms 91:12

“Fall down and worship me”

In the third temptation, Jesus was offered all the wealth, power, and glory of the material world in exchange for transferring his devotion from God, Spirit, to matter. But because he was fully committed to God, Jesus was immune to the treacherous attractions of matter. His spiritual purity couldn’t be seduced by the lie that a combination of good and evil material elements would confer more happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment, etc., than God continuously bestows. Like the serpent’s temptation of Eve in the garden of Eden (see Genesis 3), this third temptation falsely suggests that there is more to enjoy than what God can provide for us—that there’s a better deal out there than what God gives us.

The very suggestion that there can be more than the infinite All, divine Love, is preposterous. “How can there be more than all?” asks Science and Health (p. 287). There can’t be more or less than all. There are no gaps in the spiritual universe of omnipresent God and His goodness. Material sense offers only counterfeit, transitory, illusory benefits. 

Jesus had a clear, incorruptible understanding that there really isn’t anything better than being God’s beloved child. He recognized false suggestions as nothing but lies. Jesus could not be induced to switch his allegiance from his Father-Mother God to a counterfeit power for all the wealth and supposed glory of the material world. He never doubted that man’s true happiness and fulfillment are found through serving and worshiping God, Spirit, not matter. 

This devotion enabled Jesus to silence the tempter and successfully carry out his God-appointed healing ministry. Such devotion will deliver us from temptation and empower our own practice of Christian healing.

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