I was struck today by the exchange between Jesus and the devil in what Luke says was the third temptation offered up against Jesus:
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” [Luke 4:3-4]Here, as in the entire chapter, we see Jesus refusing to use His divinity for selfish ends.
Although He is hungry and could do what the devil challenges Him to do, Jesus persists in accepting all the limitations of being human when it comes to His own needs or desires.
He does this, it seems, in order to make His redeeming connection to the human race complete, pure, unadulterated. (We see this also from about the same time in His ministry, when Jesus insists on John the Baptist performing the baptism of repentance on Him despite the fact that Jesus, unlike John and the rest of the human race, was sinless. “Let it be so now," Jesus tells John, "it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” [Matthew 3:15].)
In fact, it appears that the devil notices Jesus' insistence on accepting the limitations of His humanity when it comes to His own interests in Jesus' response to the first two temptations. The devil customizes the third temptation to do an end-around.
He refers to a promise made in Psalm 91:11-12. That psalm is addressed to human beings, "whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High."
The devil's temptation is clearly meant to sneak past Jesus' defenses by tempting Him with a promise made to an ordinary people. The devil surely hopes that Jesus will reason, "The devil isn't pushing me to misuse my deity by being selfish, but only wants me to prove to have the same kind of faith that an ordinary human being is called to have."
But Jesus will have none of it. He answers as a man steeped in God's Word. He gives an answer that any ordinary believer who knows the Lord could give. Jesus' response, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, effectively tells the devil:"God's promises don't cover me when I do willfully stupid things to test whether He's good for His promises."
Testing God is unbelief. And it was from the scourge of unbelief and its consequences--death, futility, and darkness--that Jesus came into the world to save all who trust in Him.
Had Jesus gone to the cross without belief--trust--in God the Father, having tested the Father to gain momentary relief or pleasure, His death would have been meaningless and we would be without any hope, for this life or the next. Only a sinless Savior Who trusted in God could be the perfect sacrifice who expunges the power of sin and death over us.
Through this encounter with God today, I realized that I need to be human, accessible, and vulnerable to others, even as I live under God's rule. Jesus refused to exploit His deity in selfish ways. By the power He gives to believers through the Holy Spirit, I need to refuse to lord it over anyone. Jesus is both the model of this life and the One Who, as I lean on Him, gives me the power to live in this way.
I need to not use my status as a child of God (or as a pastor) to try to get my way, to be in charge. I need to simply trust God to lead me where He wants me to be in any given situation.
This passage assures me, as it always does, that I can rely on the power of God to help me to resist temptation and to live for God, even when it's easier to live in other ways.
The words of Paul in Philippians 2:3-11 keep coming to mind.
Lord, help me to steep myself in Your Word by beginning to memorize Scripture this week. Forgive my unbelief. Help me to rely totally on Jesus. In His name. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]