Things That Cannot Be Shaken
- Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Luke 3:21-22).
When Jesus Christ began his public ministry, he was declared by his heavenly Father to be his "beloved Son." This announcement did not escape the notice of the powers of darkness. Almost immediately after the Father announced his good pleasure in his Son, Jesus "was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil . . ." (Luke 4:1-2).
How did the devil begin his temptation? He wanted Jesus to give him proof that he was the Son of God. The question the devil was asking was the question of truth and authority. He wanted to know how he could know that Jesus was God's only begotten Son. He wanted to know if it was true that Jesus was the Christ. So, he approached Jesus with three "opportunities"—three temptations through which Jesus could show the devil, and show him conclusively, that he was the One the Father proclaimed him to be. The devil gives Jesus three different offers. Two of the three are a demand for proof that Jesus was the Son of God, as the Father had said. Notice,
"If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread" (Luke 4:3).
And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here . . ." (Luke 4:9).
One way to think about this temptation in the wilderness is to see it as a challenge by Satan to Jesus. Satan demands that Jesus provide, to his satisfaction, the ground for truth and authority. The devil was confronted with God himself, in his Son. But that was not enough; the devil wanted proof, and so he demanded, "Show me."
In that light, it is important for us to ask: "How did Jesus respond to the devil's requests?" How did Jesus "show" the devil that he was who God the Father proclaimed him to be? Surely if Jesus is God he could have easily turned stones into bread. He could have thrown himself down from the pinnacle of the temple without harm. But he didn't.
Instead, Jesus turned the devil's attention not to himself, but to God, and specifically to what God had said in his Word. In response to the challenge of authority, Jesus quoted Scripture. In response to the temptation to turn stones into bread, Jesus said, "It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone'" (Luke 4:4). Why did Jesus respond this way? The devil wasn't asking about how we are to live or about whether one can live by bread alone. The devil wanted Jesus to do something that no mere mortal could do. Did Jesus just dodge the challenge he was given? No, he didn't.
Jesus responds this way because he knows that the devil's challenge will not be answered if Jesus performs some powerful act. The devil's problem is not that he has failed to see God act in miraculous ways. The devil's problem is the problem that plagues all who will not bow the knee to Christ; it is that he will not believe what God has said.
There was a similar temptation given many years before this one, as it turns out, by the same tempter. It was a temptation given not in the wilderness, but in a lush and plenteous garden:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" (Gen. 3:1).
The devil does not come to Eve to tell her to disobey, at least not at first. He comes to Eve so that he might get her to question the word of God. And he tempts her by asking a question that is close to the truth, but is actually a denial of it. God had not said that Adam and Eve could not eat from any tree; he had said that there was one particular tree from which they were not to eat. The devil knew that. His question was not one of curiosity. His question was designed to get Eve, and Adam after her, to disobey. And he succeeded.
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