Thursday, November 9, 2023

The Temptation of Jesus: Are You Kidding Me?

We love to read those passages about the Second Coming:  

So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)

Not another crucifixion. No watching the Lamb of God be beaten. No gambling for a tunic underneath the gaze of a dying man. No crying. No cold tomb. No smell of sweet spices to mask the smell of death.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.(1 Thess. 4:16-17)

Everyone will see Him. No more hidden glory. The earth will no longer be under the sway of death. We will finally meet with our Bridegroom and be forever with Him.

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Rev. 1:7)

Yes:  The triumphant One. Repentance and acceptance of the Lord, amidst regret and tears. Glory. Honor. Praise. 

This is what we expect of the Messiah, the King, the Beloved of God. 

But wait. Come and see.  Stand on a mountain with me and see Jesus, baptized and affirmed by the Father, is going into the desert. What? He is willingly being led there by the Spirit. Is He going there to pray? (That's acceptable.) Is He going there to talk to His Father about His upcoming ministry? (We think that is a good idea.) 

But no: Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. (Matt. 4:1)

What?  But the Father said, This is my Son, whom I love; with Him, I am well pleased. (Matt. 3:17)  How do you have these two polar opposites, the holy Father and evil itself, in the same room? But here is the reversal:  The King of Glory, took on our flesh and so identified with us that He willingly faced the devil.  We are tempted--He stepped in and was willing to be tempted as well. The One who created all manner of life and abundance, with things multiplying after their own kind, now faces hunger.  

Hunger?  The One who prepares a table in the presence of our enemies (Ps. 23), the One who sat with Moses and the elders and ate a meal (Ex. 24:1-18), the One who provided manna and quail in the desert (Ex. 16) and the One who ordained harvest and planting to never cease (Gen. 8:22) is now facing one of the most common experiences of humanity: hunger. 

That alone is cause for wonder. But let us continue.  Satan thinks he is in the driver's seat with the Son of God, who has (in his estimation) limited Himself to the point of helplessness. Humans are easily overwhelmed by hunger, fatigue and evil, and sink into helplessness so quickly--so will the Son of God, right? Satan is counting on it. 

Jesus has power (affirmed at His baptism) and now Satan insinuates that He is free to use it any way He can. He's now clothed in frail flesh, so He could use it to relieve His human needs. Stones to bread?  No problem. An immediate fix to a vexing need.

But His power is to be used to honor the Father in this redemptive drama. Jesus says, It is written: "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matt. 4:4) 

This quotation is taken from Deuteronomy 8:3: He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 

This is desert language: These are the very words spoken by God to teach His children--former slaves-- of His provision and His all-encompassing care for them. Jesus is now identifying with these former slaves: He chooses to rely on God alone to feed and care for Him and to draw sustenance from Word.  Reversal? The King of Heaven chooses to identify with slaves. 

The devil switches tactics and now uses the very Word Jesus is relying on, upping the ante with this next temptation: 

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:

'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus replies: It is also written: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." (Matt. 4:5-7)

Let's look at the context of each quote. The first set of verses come from Psalm 91:11-12. The verses just before the ones quoted by Satan read:
If you say, "The Lord is my refuge,"
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent. (Ps. 91:9-10)

The verses after the quote are:
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
"Because he loves me,” says the Lord, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.'” (Psalm 91:13-16)

Jesus is affirming that God is protecting Him because of His love and trust in the Father. The Lord is Jesus' refuge during this harsh time in the desert. All of Psalm 91 is a declaration of taking refuge and relying on Him alone for protection.  Jesus is identifying with King David, whose anointing as king was contested by Saul and resulted in his murderous pursuit of David--not unlike Satan's pursuit of Jesus now.  Reversal?  Jesus is aligning Himself with the harassed king, not the one who sat on a throne, ruling Israel from the glorious capital of Jerusalem.  

The second set of verses Jesus quotes is taken from Deuteronomy 6:16.  Again, the verses before this and after this are instructions to obey God and His decrees and if so, these former slaves will enter the land promised to them and will prosper. But they must always remember to be obedient, for God is jealous for their love and will not tolerate a descent into idolatry:  Don't test that love.  Jesus is identifying with these former slaves and modelling being obedient to all His Father commands, even to death on a cross. 

Did you notice in these verses from Psalm 91, You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent, an echo of the words spoken by God to the serpent (Satan disguised) about His redemptive plan after Adam and Eve sinned? 

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel. (Gen. 3:15)

Satan, that roaring lion, that poisonous snake, will be vanquished one day by this very Man who now stands in this lonely desert, identifying with slaves and relying solely on His Father, not on His own power, to provide for Him.

The reversals here are breathtaking.  

Jesus meets Satan with a full repudiation of the third temptation, that somehow Satan deserves worship.  Jesus uses the words spoken by His Father to the former slaves in Deuteronomy 6:13 that only God is worthy of worship.  Here, Jesus identifies even more deeply with these former slaves: the deeper slavery to sin.  The children of Israel were led out of Egypt into freedom, but in their hearts, they were still slaves to sin.  Their status did not reflect true liberation from the greatest chains we bear as humans: our sinful nature.  Jesus is saying that there is nothing in this world that is worthy of our worship except God alone. Jesus will soon inaugurate His ministry when He reads, in the synagogue, the verses from Isaiah that He came to set the captives free.  Truly free.

The Second Coming is inspiring, but Jesus in the desert soothes my soul, for He walks with me in mine.  

His reversals should deeply comfort us, for they were done for former slaves: us.  

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