A Time To Test Jesus
Starting to explore Jesus last time, we saw him begin with a glowing endorsement from heaven. Such a public statement of approval and affection from God paves the road for Jesus—it sets the expectations high. His future is bright as we would say. What could go wrong for the one approved by God? And yet, in life we have seen others start with God and lose their way. Why is that?
Even as we see Jesus start with high expectations, we know it will take time and proven character to establish who he really is and what comes from his life. It is great to be believed in, but ultimately life is about the choices that we make in the difficult times.
Jesus experienced a truth that we all must experience in life. Our public life and our private life combine to make us who we are. It is not just what happens in public that defines us, but the things that happen when we are out of the public’s eye as well. In particular, the choices we make while we are alone “fighting our own personal demons” will tell us who we really are. Many of us have started the journey with great hope and expectations only to end the journey in disappointment because we could not overcome the personal temptations of life. What happens in public, impacts our image; what happens in private, forms our character.
When we last left Jesus, those around saw the Spirit of God come on him. It is that same Spirit that leads him into a private place so that he can be tested. He is going to find out “what he is made of.” It is important to keep in mind that the Spirit is the one leading in this testing. We are not told all the instructions that were given to Jesus, but we are told that the Spirit is the one giving those instructions. And, the result of those instructions is that Jesus is alone; he has been fasting for forty days. The Bible says, “he was hungry.” That is a simple and obvious statement to make, but I can not even imagine what an intense hunger would be present after forty days. It seems to me that my body would have a powerful voice to be heard after forty days. The flesh would be begging or demanding to be fed.
This moment is where the tempter sees the opportunity to find out who Jesus really is. There are questions to be answered:
- Will Jesus continue to follow the leading of the Spirit when he is hungry?
- Will Jesus use his identity to meet his own needs—apparently, he has not been instructed by the Spirit to do that?
- Will this be a time for Jesus to start mistrusting God’s goodness?
- Will Jesus test God rather than simply trust God?
- Will Jesus be easily fooled by the tempter’s lies—especially given the fact that he is quoting scriptures?
- Will Jesus take a short cut—the easy way out—for what he wants to do?
Now is the time for these questions to begin to be answered.
The tempter begins by saying, “If you are the son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” It is interesting that the phrase “if you are the son of God” comes right after the time that God has point blank stated that Jesus is “my beloved son.” How quickly Satan tries to undermine the truth God speaks about us! You can hear the undertones of this question. Is that the way a father treats a son? Does he send him out in the wilderness and starve him to death? Are you really his son? Is he really your father? Is he a good father?
Jesus must decide who he is going to believe. Who should he listen to? Which voice will he obey? Which voice will be pushed aside, and which voice will take control?
Will the physical circumstances of the moment determine who is God and who is not?
There are numerous examples in the Bible (and also in today’s world) that show us a lack of character will lead men to give up the voice of God for “a special meal”, for an opportunity to advance their career or for a moment of sexual pleasure. But Jesus is not that kind of man!
The leading of God is more valuable to him than his physical appetite or his need to defend his identity. His identity is defined by God not by what he can do for himself.
Jesus answered, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
But the tempter was not done. Noticing that Jesus answered with a scripture, the devil turns to the scriptures as well. He reminds Jesus of the scriptures that speak of God’s protection for Jesus. He proposes a test to see if God will protect Jesus. “Throw yourself from the top of the Temple building and see if God protects you from harm.” This suggestion would roughly be like Satan suggesting for us to step out in front of freeway traffic and see if God will protect us. The idea is that God will either put on a great show or you will find out that God does not really protect.
In what I think he hoped was Jesus’ weakened physical/emotional condition, Satan was shooting for Jesus to say something like “you know I’m done here.” Here is the truth of the matter for Jesus: he knows that it is not God who is on trial. It is Jesus who is on trial! And he has no intention of changing who is on trial. He is not falling for the trap the tempter has set. On to the next test!
Finally, the tempter offers all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would just worship him. For many people this would be an insurmountable temptation. The devil is offering power over the whole world. Just think about what men have done to try to gain power over a country—much less the whole world. Or, a little closer to home, think about what some have done to rise to power in a corporate environment or your work environment.
Since, as we will later find out, Jesus came to rescue the world because of God’s love for the world, is this an acceptable short cut to God’s plan? Would it maybe save a lot of time and pain? Is he going to act like a politician and compromise to reach his goal? Do the “ends justify the means” in this case? For Jesus, the answer is “no.” The right thing must be done in the right way. You do not rescue the world by worshipping the evil one—by believing and trusting the tempter. That is what broke the world to begin with!
What was in Jesus’ character that allowed him to pass this test? The answer is in his response: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.” It takes a man that worships God alone to pass such a test. Worshipping God is the supreme value; worshipping Satan is the supreme failure.
Like Jesus, we all have times of temptation. Those times of temptation are times to answer questions about yourself. They tell us what we really value. They tell us what compromises we are willing to make in our values. They tell us who or what we really trust. They tell us what role selfishness is going to play in our lives. In short, they tell us and others who we really are. For us, times of temptation are a part of the process of change. They tell us where we are off so we can change.
For Jesus they tell us he is already there! He does not have to learn from his failure of the test! He is not lacking in character. There is nothing for him to change. His public image as stated by God and his personal character are in sync.
What do you think of the character of this man called Jesus? Do you think he is worthy of your trust? Does he have self under control? Is he listening to the right voices? Does he have confidence in God? Will he stand the test of time?
It is time for us to start making some clear choices about him. Have you?
Read this in the scriptures: Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13