Jesus would have been a failure at counseling had He lived in our time. Today we do not just want someone to counsel us who knows and feels our infirmities, we want someone who has experienced our failures; someone who has fallen into the same problem we are in and who will not judge us because he has done the same thing himself. The problem with that is, of course, that such a person cannot really help us.
That Jesus our Lord never sinned is an abundant and necessary truth of the Scripture. Peter quotes Isaiah when he writes of Him, Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth (1 Pet 2:22). It is not an unrelated truth that this same, sinless Son of God is also called by Isaiah The Wonderful Counselor. That is, the best counseling one can have is from another who has not done the same thing he has done! It is not that such a counselor would be non-human, but that he would not have given in to the weakness of that humanity.
C.S. Lewis explored this truth some years ago in his Mere Christianity. He wrote,
Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. . . You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.1
Our desire to be counseled by someone who has fallen into the same sin is a secret desire, not for forgiveness but for acceptance. The sinful counselor, speaking from his limited experience in fighting the temptation, might excuse where the sinless counselor could understand the depth of temptation, forgive and direct in a new path of victory.
The same reasoning seems to take place regarding leadership, organization, character building and other challenges in the Christian life and ministry. It is amazing what some people can find in the life of Christ to support their own point of view. To some Jesus is the ultimate CEO. To others He is a great sportsman. I even read a whole book by someone trying to show that Jesus went to the Greek and Roman theaters to borrow most of His preaching analogies and stories!
What Jesus actually taught—servant-hood, humility, self-abasement—simply does not fit into most modern vocabulary. G.K Chesterton once wrote, “Humility is so practical a virtue that men think it must be a vice. Humility is so successful that it is mistaken for pride.”2 And yet as Spurgeon wrote, “There is no worse pride than that which claims humility when it does not posses it.”3 Today, even humility becomes a tool for success! However, if we will let Jesus counsel us, we may not be comfortable in this life, but we will be comforted. And that in a realistic way!
We don’t get three chapters into the New Testament, or two events into the ministry of Christ, before we are faced with new and profound challenges from the Savior. In His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by Satan to follow all the conventional, tried and true wisdom that would help Him accomplish His goal. He declined all three offers.
He did not gain experience through fleshly indulgence
3And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Matt 4:3-4)
What’s wrong with bread? The forty days of fasting were over and Jesus would eat bread anyway. Why not now? Does it matter if Satan has placed his own agenda on this otherwise neutral thing? The Corinthians insisted, Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats! and Paul replied, but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body (1 Cor 6:13). Thomas à Kempis wrote, “For all that is high is not holy: nor all that is sweet, good; nor every desire pure; nor is everything that is dear unto us pleasing to God.”4
The fruit of the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden was good for food, and pleasant to the eyes (Gen 3:6), but to partake of it was to use it in a way that was self-indulgent and disobedient to God. For Jesus to use His divine power for such purposes would have been sin as well—not the eating of bread as such, but the satisfying of the flesh to the disregard of God. Such satisfaction of the desires of our heart must not take precedence over all else.
The keeping of the Word of God ought to satisfy us enough when the flesh is telling us to make our own provision. Today’s admonition is to look out for oneself above all else; to provide for one’s needs as if that is always God’s will. Jesus’ counsel would be to deny that need and find our satisfaction in His Word.
He did not take popular risks for ministry purposes
5Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (Matt 4:5-7)
The pinnacle of the temple may have been as high as 450 feet above the Kidron valley. According to secular sources, Simon the magician promised to fly from this pinnacle but fell to his death. James, the pastor at Jerusalem likely was martyred by being thrown from this place.5 Jesus did not want the kind of following that would demand miraculous displays from God. In fact, such a thing is to tempt God by putting His attributes to the test. That is not faith, it is sensationalism.
Barclay wrote, “This year’s sensation is next year’s commonplace. A gospel founded on sensation-mongering is foredoomed to failure.”6 Yet our day and age is filled with such sensationalists trying to outdo each other for the largest following. One pastor of a mega-church in Phoenix sometimes enters the pulpit by being lowered from the ceiling as if descending into the auditorium. Some Christian singers make their platform as full of lights and smoke as any secular rock star.
There is a fine line between what some call stepping out by faith, and what others call taking risks. Satan argued that this was no risk at all, for there was chapter and verse for doing it—Psalm 91:11-12! Wouldn’t this be claiming a promise from God? Jesus knew better, and threw the wet towel on the first admonition to risk-taking.
He did not accept the obvious path to success
8Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve (Matt 4:8-10).
Since Jesus had come to offer the kingdom to the Jews, Why not take the most direct and effective route to it? After all, it was His by legal and ethical right. He could dispel the usurper at any time He wished. It was only, after all, the cross that stood in the way.
One has to wonder how many fast-track success leaders today would have taken Satan’s offer in a heart-beat. As Tozer put it, “The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect.”7 Or as Chambers asked, “Will the Church that bows down and compromises succeed? Of course it will. It is the very thing that the natural man wants, but it is the lure of a wrong road to the Kingdom. Beware of putting anything sweet and winsome in front of the One who suffered in Gethsemane.”8
Jesus often requested that the recipients of His miracles not tell anyone what had happened because of the danger of gaining a kingdom without saving faith as a requirement. He had to refuse such an offer after feeding 5000 people because they ate the loaves and were filled. There are many gatherings in the name of Christ today that are not gatherings of the people of Christ. Someone has agreed to the kingdom by paying the wrong price.
What is the danger? We might go to the wrong counselor! “If the Divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse. Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst. Of all created beings the wickedest is one who originally stood in the immediate presence of God.”9Notes 1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1984) 124-5. 2. G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000) 34. 3. Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, vol 7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) 87. 4. Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1980) 112. 5. William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol 1 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975) 69. 6. Ibid. 7. A.W. Tozer, Worship and Entertainment (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1997) 148. 8. Oswald Chambers, If You Will Ask (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1958) 24. 9. C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harvest Books, 1958.