Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Life of Christ 21

          Before God uses a man in a way that can be seen He often tests him in a way which cannot be seen. Daniel, and his three friends, were completely anonymous when they faced the temptation of whether to drink the king's wine or not. Joseph was completely anonymous when he faced the temptation of Potiphar's wife. For 40 years, Moses labored in anonymity on the backside of a desert, testing the reality of his walk with God. David was all alone in that cave when he faced the temptation to step out ahead of God and solve his own problem by killing God's anointed. So it was with our Saviour. Before He can be set before men as the cure for their sin, and the hope of humanity, He must first pass the test of temptation.
          I'm sure this was not the only time He was tempted, for He faced the same everyday temptations of deceit, pride, laziness, lust, gossip, discontentment, etc. that every human being faces. But this was different in that it was almost a formal thing, a specific test of wills between God and the devil, to see who would control the man Christ Jesus.
          The first temptation was incredibly reasonable (Matthew 4.1-4). The devil found Him at a very vulnerable time ('he was afterward an hungered') and encouraged Him to make some food out of the nearby rocks. Hunger is not only responsible for a tremendous drive in our nature, but almost everything is forgiven to a man who does what he must because he is hungry. It is almost borderline illogical, at least compared to our human experience, to say to a man who is tremendously hungry that he would be sinning by eating. But to me, the sin for Jesus would not have been in the eating, but in the devil's chosen proposal for how to solve the problem.
          Jesus was just about to enter His public ministry. In that ministry He would use the tool of a Holy Spirit enabled miraculous power to authenticate His claims and His message. The first temptation was a test to see if He would use that tool improperly, so to speak, simply for Himself. A few decades hence James would say that it was wrong for us to ask something simply so we could consume it upon our lusts (James 4.3). This does not mean that it is wrong for you and I to pray about something that we personally need, but rather that it is wrong for us to pray for something that we selfishly want. You say, 'Yes, but after 40 days of fasting Jesus needed to it; it wasn't selfish' – but it would have been a selfish use of the Holy Spirit power with which He was entrusted.
          Think of it this way: I am entrusted with hundreds of thousands of dollars to manage and use for the benefit of our church; if I take that money and use it solely and selfishly for my own benefit I have betrayed a trust, and I'm not worthy of the opportunity to continue to use it. So it was with Christ. He had been entrusted with the power of the Holy Spirit to produce food from thin air, as He would later aptly demonstrate, but to have solely and selfishly used it for His own benefit would have been wrong.
          Could Jesus be trusted with the power of the Holy Spirit to do miracles in His upcoming ministry? Absolutely, and the restraint He showed under great duress in His first temptation proved it out emphatically.
          The second temptation was incredibly sophisticated (Matthew 4.5-7). It was sophisticated in how it was framed. Jesus' audible response to the first temptation was to attack the devil with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. It is almost as if the devil says, 'Well, two can play that game, and if you like the Bible let me show you how to use it to justify getting what you want', and so the devil quotes Scripture to Him. In this I am reminded so much of our generation of American Christianity. Scripture is hurled about with all the carelessness of a boy with a bucket full of snowballs. It is twisted, misrepresented, misquoted, misapplied, and mistaken to mean the allowance of what the speaker and the audience desires. The prosperity gospel nonsense, those who embrace license under the guise of Christian liberty, and those who use 'judge not' as a cover for never taking a stand or for rejecting any solemn admonition are all prime examples of this. When Scripture becomes something I use as a cover to allow me to do what I want I have fallen into this precise trap.
          In this temptation, not only was the devil sophisticated in how he offered Jesus something, but what he offered was precisely what Jesus would have wanted – to be easily and quickly accepted as Israel's messiah. To quote Edersheim:

Jesus stands on the watch-post which the white-robed priest has just quitted. Fast the rosy morning light, deepening into crimson, and edged with gold, is spreading over the land. In the Priest’s Court below Him the morning-sacrifice has been offered. The massive Temple-gates are slowly opening, and the blast of the priests’ silver trumpets is summoning Israel to begin a new day by appearing before their Lord. Now then let Him descend, Heaven-borne, into the midst of priests and people. What shouts of acclamation would greet His appearance! What homage of worship would be His! The goal can at once be reached, and that at the head of believing Israel.

          So often what the devil offers us is a good thing gotten the easy way or the quick way. God is not a short cut God but the devil most definitely is a short cut devil. You will remember that the very first temptation ever recorded was essentially offering Eve a short cut to something very desirable: 'ye shall be as gods' (Genesis 3.5). What a temptation this must have been to Christ! He could have avoided three years worth of work, a war with the Pharisees He couldn't hope to win, and the agony of the crucifixion in one fell swoop.
          I am deeply grateful, and will be for eternity, that Jesus resisted the devil here. If He had not, there would be no cross. If He had not, there would be no atonement. If He had not, there would be no redemption. If He had not, there would be no mercy. And if He had not, there would be no Heaven for me, only the fiery torments of hell. My eternal destiny hung on His response to the devil's sophisticated temptation. Thank God my eternal destiny was safe!
          The third temptation was similar to the second, with only the scope being different (Matthew 4.8-10). In the second temptation the devil offered Jesus Israel. In the third, he offered Jesus the world. The devil has been around for a long time and dealt with billions of us. He knows that, for most people, all he has to do is increase the offer in order to get us to sell. Many a man who wouldn't fall for an average strange woman will for a beautiful one, and a man who wouldn't embezzle a thousand dollars will sell out his integrity for ten times that amount.
          Jesus has been promised kingship over the entire world (Daniel 7.13-14, Psalm 2, Psalm 8, etc.) But at this point Jesus is now just an unemployed carpenter from a backwater village in a distant province of the Roman empire. Between where He was, starving, in the hill country of Judea, and a throne that would straddle the globe was a mountain of toil, tears, pain, sorrow, betrayal, heartache, suffering, and loss. Between those two are thousands of years. Between those two are billions of human stories containing immeasurable suffering from war, disease, famine, and death. Yet Jesus could, literally, usher in the kingdom, the one over the entire world, right at the very beginning if He chose. He chose not, and although I am exceedingly eager for the kingdom to come I am glad He postponed it.
          Pyrite is sometimes called fool's gold. It bears a superficial resemblance to gold
but is actually relatively worthless. So it is, beloved, with what the devil offered Jesus then, and what he offers us now. If Jesus had reached for the Holy Spirit's power to selfishly turn stones to bread I think He would have found it suddenly vanished, like Samson's strength. If Jesus had cast Himself from the pinnacle in order to slowly descend into the waiting arms of an adoring and accepting religious leadership He would have found the acceptance hollow, and the embrace empty. If Jesus had knelt on that mountain peak to the devil in exchange for the keys to kingdom He would have found that He hadn't really gotten a kingdom at all, rather just a title.
          No, the only proper response was to skewer the devil with Scripture, and refuse to be swayed by what he offered. The only proper response was to continue on down the hard path the Father had set for His feet, embracing the humility and sorrow of it all, for the joy that was set before Him. The only proper response was to resist the devil, and then watch in delight as he fled from Him.

          This was the only proper response for Jesus. It is also the only proper response from us. 

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