Monday, April 30, 2012

Deciphering What's Really Going On - Matthew 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,
6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, ‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU,’ and ‘ON THEIR HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”
8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;
9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan!  For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’”
11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

More than Meets the Eye

It’s very easy to gloss over the story of Jesus’s temptation as just something thrown in there to prove to us that He really was tempted, so He really did *defeat* sin.  I mean, it wouldn’t be all that impressive if He were never tempted.  But, this approach completely misses how the passage applies to our daily lives.  Consider Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”  This verse clearly also implies the flip-side of how it is usually applied – we will face the same temptations that He did.  Now, it would be easy to say, “Well, Sapphire, your point’s flawed – I don’t think many of us will tempted to miraculously turn a stone into bread or jump off a huge building just to go riding on a magic carpet made of angels.”  No, we won’t – but those specific actions are just the surface of what Satan was really asking Jesus to do…the exact same things that you and I will be tempted to do.  So let’s dive in deeper, and see what lies just under the surface, shall we? :-)

First Verbal Smack-Down (verses 3-4)

Satan tells Jesus, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  Here are a few things he’s doing here:

-          He’s trying to get Jesus to turn His eyes off the Father for just one moment and become obsessed with something earthly.  I mean, just think about a starving man pouncing on a loaf of bread – in that moment, food is his god.  Obsession with anything on earth, even something we need (see below) is idolatry.

-          He’s trying to get Jesus to justify sin by essentially saying, “Well, I’m a human – I have to eat!”  We cannot justify wordly actions by the fact that we live in the world.  God made the rules that govern the world (gravity, time, the digestive system), and He can break them if He wants.  And if He asks you to do something physically impossible or nearly impossible (like surviving forty days without eating), He will break those rules just for you.  After all, He did it for Joshua in Joshua 10.

-          He’s also trying to trick Jesus into thinking that if He is successful at using His miraculous powers to turn the stone into bread, that means His action has God’s blessing or else God would not have given Him the power to do it.  Huge fallacy here!

So what’s Jesus’s response?  “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  Basically, He’s saying that no, He’s going to keep His focus on God, because spiritual life is far more important (and permanent!) than physical life.  [He cited Deuteronomy 8:3, by the way.]

Score: Jesus 1, Satan 0

Second Verbal Smack-Down (verses 5-7)

Satan takes Jesus up top of a super high building, and tells Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.”  Here’s what he’s actually doing:

-          First off, he’s using Scripture to make his point.  Be very wary of this!!!  Just because someone can back up some point with Scripture does not make it true.  Always check to see if it matches with the larger message of the Bible, and if they took that verse/passage out of context.

-          Second, he’s pulling something he did the first time, too: “IF You are the Son of God…”  This pricks at both pride and identity.  Think about it this way…if someone says to you (by pulling a passage completely out of context – Mark 16:17-18, in this case) that the Bible says that the signs proving that someone’s a Christian are casting out demons, drinking poison without dying, and doing other miracles, what’s your response?  Well, one of three things: (1) Countering their point with God’s Word, as Jesus did (and as we should do); (2) Getting all in a huff and wanting to prove to them that you’re a super-duper Christian, or (3) Freaking out and starting to doubt if you really are a Christian, so you do what they say to test it out.  Item number two is utter sin, and item number three rocks your faith.  Satan would be pleased with either.

-          Also note that, pompous as Satan was, he probably thought this was an easy to way to kill off the Messiah.

Jesus responds, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  He’s countering with Scripture, just like we talked about above (and that is why it is so critical to study and know Scripture – so that whenever we find ourselves in a sticky situation, we know what God says to do).  Here, specifically, I see His response directed mostly at item number two above, and perhaps three as well depending on one’s mindset.  The point is this: it doesn’t matter what anyone says, the only thing that matters is what God says – and I’m going to trust Him that He means what He says, rather than testing Him.  In addition, we should never test whether God really loves us on the grounds of whether or not He’ll let bad stuff happen to us – there are a million flaws with that piece of logic!  Also, we should never try to force God to play by our rules.

Score: Jesus 2, Satan 0

Third Verbal Smack-Down (verses 8-10)

Satan shows Jesus all the wealth and power of the world and tells Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”  He’s starting to get desperate here, and has revealed his hand. 

-          You see, way back in time, Satan decided he wanted to take God’s place as, well, God (see Isaiah 14:12-14).  And he’s doing the exact same thing here!  If God were to worship him, that would essentially make him the new God.  Now, as for us, this takes a slightly different form: any little sin is the equivalent of following Satan rather than Jesus, which feeds his God-complex.  He still wants to be capital-G God, but he’ll also go for being just a “god” in the meantime.  So any sin falls in here.  But also notice his foolish arrogance – he actually thinks that have to barter to get the (wordly portion of the) world back, even though he freely relinquished it to Satan in the first place (see Luke 4:5-6)!

-          He’s also trying to get Jesus-the-man to value His own prestige and status above what God has planned for Him.  This is definitely something we will be tempted to do, as well.

Jesus’s response: “Go, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”  He’s saying, “No – I’m going to value God’s will above everything, including Myself.”

Final score: Jesus 3, Satan 0.  Isn’t it nice to be following the One who wins? ;-)

Discussion Starters

What else do you see going on here?  (The list here has been compiled from multiple readings over about a year, so clearly there are different facets we pick up on at different times.)  What ways can you think of in which these same temptations might confront us in the modern world?


Anonymous said...

I think a big point was missed in this. Verse 11 reveals something as well. After all this temptation Jesus needed to rest in God's peace (being ministered to by angels) even though he is God. So how much more do we need to do the same?

Sapphire said...

Great point, anonymous. Thank you for commenting.