Sunday, October 08, 2006

Temptation Island

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

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 answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."

Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Matthew 4:1-11
One thing that I have always found to be instructive is the way that Jesus dealt with situations. Whether the instigator be false-teachings Pharisees or soul-sapping Sadducees or the devil himself, Jesus always handled the situation in a manner that both shows us how to handle a similar situation and illustrates which values and priorities we should cherish. The temptation of Jesus shows us how to identify demonic temptation and how to resist and refute it, all in eleven short verses.

The first thing that we see here is that the devil will disguise his temptations as well-intended suggestions. Jesus had just finished a forty-day fast and was obviously hungry, so Satan simply suggested that Jesus fix himself something to eat. What's wrong with that? After all, the fast had been completed and it was time to eat - what was wrong with suggesting that Jesus turn some stones into bread so that He could feed Himself? The answer is embedded in Jesus' reply, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Jesus juxtaposed the Word of God against eating bread, confessing that the former trumps the latter. The problem with the suggestion - the temptation - was that Satan suggested that Jesus use His power - "If you are the Son of God..." - for His own benefit. If you read the Bible you will find that Jesus never once used His power to His own benefit - not once - as Jesus said, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Satan's temptation was for Jesus to take His focus off of what the Father commissioned Him to do and instead focus on Himself. That's Satan's modus operandi - the devil often disguises his temptations as well-intended suggestions, just like he stepped to Jesus under the guise of good intentions.

Satan's true intention is to sow seeds of doubt. Notice in his temptation of Jesus he constantly says, "If you are the Son of God" - questioning the nature of Jesus. It is much like those who say, "If you are a Christian then you have to sell all of your stuff and give it to the poor" - woefully misrepresenting Scripture in order to justify themselves in their own eyes. Jesus responded to Satan's temptations with the Word of God in every instance, "It is written" "It is written" "It is written." The source of authority is the Word of God - for man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God - and it is the answer for Satan's seeds of doubt. There is a method to Satan's madness and it is necessary for him to introduce doubt in order for him to achieve his will for you.

Satan's very nature is deception and he deals in it naturally. Jesus, speaking to scoffers of His teachings, said, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." There is a reason why the ninth commandment is against bearing false witness against your neighbor. There are many ways to bear false witness without "lying." When someone speaks a falsehood and you know it to be false and yet say nothing - like many Democrats did when Bush was laying the case for his Misadventure in Mesopotamia - then you have borne false witness and deceived the listeners. When you spin the focus of an event onto a relatively meaningless tangent instead of the actual significance of the event, as the Republicans are doing with this Mark Foley fiasco, then you have borne false witness. When you intentionally play word games to allow the listener to draw their own conclusions that may or may not have anything to do with what you are saying - "I take full responsibility for my actions, although I was molested as a youth, and I have a drinking problem" - then you are bearing false witness. You might not be lying in a technical sense, but you are certainly bearing false witness, acting as an agent of the evil one through acts of deception, and that is a sin against God.

The devil's means are disguise, doubt and deception, but his method is diversion. Satan uses those means in order to divert our attention away from God and onto ourselves. He does this by minimizing God and maximizing man in the eyes of men. He disguises his words as reasonable doubts about God's character and nature, tempting us to put God to the test, tempting us to tell God, "Prove it!" This was the second temptation, suggesting that Jesus hurl himself off of the top of the temple in order to see the angels save Him from falling to the ground. Again, as always, Jesus responded with Scripture: "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When we are focused on God then we're not busy trying to test God, much the same way that when you are busy loving your spouse you are not busy trying to test the limits of your spouse's love, trying to make them "Prove it!" But it is Satan's desire to divert our attention from God and place it on ourselves, and he often does it using people who don't realize that they are operating under demonic pretenses. When Peter tried to keep Jesus from going to the cross Jesus didn't rebuk Peter, he rebuked Satan: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Likewise, I've recently read where someone said, "Christianity is selling you something that already belongs to you" and "We will become Son of Man together." Seems like I've heard that before, "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God."

Satan never changes, and folk keep falling for the okie-doke.

Satan consistently attempts to divert our attention away from God and onto ourselves so that he might achieve his ultimate will for us - keeping us divided from the love of God. It is that division that Satan is ultimately after, and he'll use whatever it takes in order to achieve that ultimate end - riches for some, poverty for other, power for some, oppression for others - carrot or stick matters not to Satan so long as people reject God and the only means for connecting with the Father, Jesus Chrsit. Satan boiled it down to brass tax once Jesus had twice refuted him with Scripture: "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." It doesn't take black robes and human sacrifices to worship Satan, it simply takes a rejection of Jesus Christ because ultimately there are only two choices - join Jesus in eternity or join Satan in eternity. One can certainly reject both options, but there is a default option if you fail to choose Jesus, and that destination is the Lake of Fire. Surely there are those who consider Jesus' teachings about eternal life to be "fractally absurd," that Christians think it as some kind of reward for choosing the right religion, but Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Jesus said, "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say." The devil says, "You will not surely die, you will be like God."

No place at the table for the delusional, indeed.

The devil wants to divide us from the love of God, so he will try to divert our attention from God through deceptive seeds of doubt disguised as well-intended suggestions. When we face demonic temptation we must submit to God; resist the devil and he will flee. Everyone must choose for themselves whom they will serve, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
And may the LORD,
Who will provide a way out of demonic temptation,
May He turn His face toward you and give you peace.

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