Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Following Jesus Into Holy Week

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name! (John 12:23-28)
The time was now at hand for Jesus to be glorified. And he offered a parable concerning it, about a kernel of wheat. As long as the kernel is clinging to the stalk, holding on to its life as a seed, that is all it will ever be. But when the seed dies and lets go of itself it will, paradoxically, multiply. The life of the seed is transformed, becoming a plant that is the life of many other seeds.

If anyone loves his own life and his own glory at all costs, he is like a kernel of wheat that refuses to fall to the ground. He will end up losing his life anyway, and it will be for nothing. But anyone who “hates” the life of this present world and is willing to let it go will find that his life becomes something greater than he could have ever imagined — the life of the age to come.

The time was now at hand, and Jesus was willing to be like that kernel of wheat, to fall and die and bring forth new life for many. But now he turns it the parable around to his disciples, to all who have been following him, all who would come to him: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.” The life of the seed that falls is multiplied and produces many seeds. Shall these seeds not fall also, for the sake of multiplying the life of the master even more? If we would be Jesus’ disciples, we must follow him even in this. We must let go of our own little idea of life and our own little glory so that his life in us may produce even more life. Then we will be like Jesus — where he is, we will be. To the extent we are willing to let go the life of this present age, we will begin to experience the life of the age to come.

And yet letting go of this present life is a troubling thing. There is something in us that wants to hold on to what we already think we know or see. To let go would seem to be to fall into a great abyss of the unknown. That is always the test for us. It was the test for Jesus, too. As he thought of what was about to happen, he was troubled by it. Something in his soul wanted to say, “Father, save me from this hour.” Yet there was also in him the realization that it was precisely for this hour that he came.

His prayer, then was “Father, glorify your name.” That is where Jesus’ own glory would be found, and ours, too. The hour for Jesus to be glorified had come, and it was just as much to be seen in the falling of the seed as in the multiplication of its life — in the cross as in the resurrection. And so it is for all who would follow him.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Donkey, Not a Warhorse

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10)
Messiah, Israel’s final king, would enter Jerusalem on … a donkey. This was not the ride for a head of state in those days. Former kings of Israel would ride mules but not donkeys. That might not seem like much of a difference to us today, but back then it was. The donkey signified humility, which is why the word “lowly” is paired with “riding on a donkey.”

Messiah would not come like other kings, with the trappings of earthly power, but with meekness — the gentleness born of strength. It would not be the strength of the warhorse but of justice and righteousness, and so would he be victorious, bringing salvation to his people.

The coming of Messiah was the coming of the kingdom of God and would deliver Israel from the exile and bondage she was now in. The chariots and warhorses that enforced her exile would be gone and the bow of battle broken. Then result would be peace, not only for Israel but for all the nations, for in the end, the rule of Messiah will extend all around the world.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of that final week, he chose to ride in on a young donkey. When his followers heard he was coming, the cut down palm branches and strew them in his path, which was traditionally a symbol of welcome but was also used to celebrate a great victory. They met Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13).

They were identifying Jesus as their Messiah King. Though many of them were likely expecting a great military victory to follow, Jesus fully understood that their victory and salvation would come by a different means, by the way of the cross.

The manner of Jesus’ warfare was quite unexpected. He allowed the Roman Empire, the Jewish leaders and the devil himself to do their worst upon him. He bore it all meekly and quietly. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Finally, death came and claimed victory over him.

All of that was in vain, of course. At the cross, Jesus disarmed all the “principalities and powers” (Colossians 2:15), the demonic influences that put him there. Through death, he broke the power of the one who holds the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14). Death itself has been defeated through Jesus’ death on the cross. God raised Jesus on the third day, “exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Every knee bowing and every tongue confessing Jesus the Messiah as Lord is the victory of the cross. And this victory is currently being worked out in the world as the kingdom of God continues to expand through the proclamation of the gospel. In the end, his peace will fill the whole earth.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Clearing the Temple

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:15-17)
In Holy Week, we commemorate the final week of Jesus’ ministry, leading us to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yesterday was Palm Sunday, and we remembered his entry into Jerusalem amid cries of “Hosanna” from the crowd of followers recognizing him as God’s messianic king. This is recorded in all four books of the Gospel — it is a significant event.

What happened next is also recorded in all four books, although John locates it differently from Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is the account of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple. Though often thought of as “cleansing” the temple, it is more about Jesus’ rejection of the temple and what it had become. Over the next few days, Jesus would foretell its destruction, in his teaching at the Mount of Olives (see Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21). In AD 70, both the temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed by the armies of Rome, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy.

The temple was recognized as the place where God came to dwell among his people. It was where atonement for sin was made so that God’s people could enjoy fellowship and favor with him. For the Jews, the destruction of the temple would be tantamount to the end of the world. However, the temple and its leaders had become corrupt and no longer served their purpose. It was supposed to be a house of prayer where all the nations, not just Israel, could come and know God. In his rebuke, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56, where the Lord says,
And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.
But now it had become a “den of robbers,” a phrase from Jeremiah 7, where the prophet denounced the people of Judah for trying to justify their detestable behavior by appealing to the temple, as if it were some sort of talisman:
Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.

But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe’ — safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:4-11)
The “money changers” were merely an outward sign of the real problem, which ran much deeper. No one supposed that Jesus was simply clearing out a few bad apples. His action was a judgment on the failure of the temple system to be what God had intended, and a rejection of what it had become. No mere “cleansing” would do.

The Jewish leaders understood perfectly well what Jesus was doing. He was not just rejecting the money changers, he was rejecting them, too! And it was gaining traction with the people, who were amazed at Jesus’ teaching. So the chief priests and teachers of the law began looking for a way to kill him.

Before a generation passed, the Jerusalem temple, made with human hands, would be gone. But this did not mean that God would no longer have a dwelling place among his people. For the true temple of God was now in their midst. The Gospel of John picks up this theme very clearly from the beginning of the book, where it speaks of Jesus as the “the Word”:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:1, 14)
Jesus himself is God dwelling among us! This is temple language. Even the Greek word for “dwelling” relates to the Old Testament language of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, the forerunner of the temple (see The Shekinah Dwelling).

Then in the second chapter of John, after the story of Jesus turning the water into wine, we find Jesus clearing the temple courts. Not surprisingly, this upset the Jewish leaders:
The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”

But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22)
In John 14, on the night of the Last Supper, before Jesus is taken away to be interrogated by Herod and Pontius Pilate and then led to the cross, Jesus speaks of God’s dwelling place not only with us but in us:
If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:15-20, 23)
Here is the divine Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — making their home in us. This is intimacy with God that the temple at Jerusalem could never even come close to approaching.

When Jesus cleared the temple, he was not doing a bit of remodeling to the old place. He was clearing the way for the true temple of God to be revealed through the cross and the resurrection.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Prove Your Name Holy

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (Matthew 6:9)
Israel had profaned the name of the LORD by breaking covenant with him, turning from his ways and worshiping false gods. The northern kingdom, Israel, ended up in Assyrian captivity and its tribes scattered or assimilated into the nations. The southern kingdom, Judah, was led off into Babylonian exile, which it endured for seventy years until many were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the walls. Yet many others remained in exile and dispersed among the nations, although they retained their identity as Jews. However, even those who returned to Judea remained in a sort of exile, being ruled over by other nations and not by their own true king.

By the time Jesus came and began his ministry, Judea had long been under Roman rule and the Jews were waiting for the kingdom of God to come, although various groups had different ideas of how it would arrive and what it would look like. After his baptism and the temptation in the world, Jesus came preaching the gospel: “Repent for the kingdom of God has come near” (Matthew 4:17). That is what his “Sermon on the Mount” is about, to show what the kingdom of God looks like. Within that sermon, he teaches his people how to pray what is traditionally known as “the Lord’s Prayer.” It begins, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” — a very important petition.

The Greek word for “hallowed” means to render or acknowledge something as holy, to venerate it. To be hallowed, then, is to be acknowledged as holy. This first request is for God to cause his name to be recognized and honored as holy once again. It is a kingdom prayer, for it is exactly what God promised his people he would one day do when he set things right in the world. He spoke to them in their exile about the restoration he would bring. In Ezekiel 36, he spoke particularly about making his name holy before the nations.
Therefore say to the Israelites, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes. (Ezekiel 36:22-23)
What God was going to do for them, he would do because of his name, not because of anything they had done to deserve it. For they had been faithless, yet God remains faithful. They had failed to keep his ways but God would do a new thing for the sake of his holy name, and it would make all the difference for his people as well:
For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:24-28)
The prayer for God’s name to be hallowed, then, is very rich and deep. It is no less than the kingdom of God being revealed, transforming his people and putting the world right. It is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah,
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Significance of the Angels

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:11)
After three failed attempts to ensnare Jesus, the devil left, having been sent away by him. Angels came and attended Jesus, ministering to his needs, for although he is fully divine, he is also fully human — that is part of the wonder of the gospel, a mystery that even angels long to witness. Jesus was weary and hungry, much in need of rest and refreshment. So the angels came.

Though it does not appear in the NIV translation, the Greek text has the words kai idou, “and behold,” especially alerting us to this angelic ministry. Their appearance in Matthew’s narrative of the Temptation is very significant. You will recall that one of the temptations had been for Jesus to cast himself off the high point of the wall that surrounded the temple complex. The devil’s reasoning was that, “He [God] 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.” He was quoting Scripture, from Psalm 91, but he was using it wrongly. The promise there is for those who take their refuge in God, not for those who follow some other way, as the devil was trying to get Jesus to do.

But now, behold, the angels did come, sent by the Father to minister to Jesus’ needs. This shows that, yes, Jesus truly took his refuge in God and was walking in his way, and God did indeed command his angels concerning him.

Angels are messengers and ministers. The Greek word for “angels” is angelos and literally means “messenger.” The purpose of these holy messengers is not only to serve God but also watch over all who trust in him. For God gives them orders concerning us to take good care of us in everything that has to do with us. The book of Hebrews teaches us that angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will receive salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).

God did not abandon Jesus in this time of temptation. Neither did the angels. They were always present, though not always apparent, and they ministered to Jesus when he was in need. They will likewise be present to minister to all who follow him.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Devil Has No Shortcut

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.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)
The first two temptations backfired, so the devil tried one last “go for broke” tack, asking directly what he had been angling for all along — for Jesus to bow down and worship him. The enticement he would use would be the kingdoms of the world and all their wealth. After all, wasn’t Messiah supposed to come rule over Israel and subdue the nations? Indeed.

Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut, but it was something that was not his to give. In Psalm 2, God says to his Son, whom he has anointed to be king, “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” In Daniel 4:32, a voice from heaven announces, “The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”

All the kingdoms on earth have always belonged to God, and they had already been promised to Jesus. Satan was nothing more than a usurper who deceived the nations and exercised what the apostle Paul calls the “principalities and powers,” that is, the demonic influences that lurk behind evil in governments and cultures. He could not offer Jesus the kingdoms of the world, only his dark dominion over them. But it is precisely that dark power that Messiah came to destroy. So the devil tried to cut a deal: “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.”

However, not only was Satan offering what was not his to give, he was also asking for what could never be. There is but one God, and though he be triune, Satan is not part of that Trinity — and the difference is vast. Satan is all for himself. God has always been for others, even within the fellowship of the Trinity: The Father is all for the Son and the Spirit, the Son is all for the Father and the Spirit, the Spirit is all for the Father and the Son — they are all for each other.

Satan is a destroyer; God is a creator. Satan is a taker; God is a giver. Satan is darkness; God is light. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the light who “shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5). Just as light could never rule by means of darkness, so Jesus could never rule by means of Satan’s dark power, for when light shines, darkness ceases to be. And that is what is now happening through King Jesus the Messiah: “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).
  • Jesus has bound the “strong man” and has “plundered his house” (Mark 3:27). In his ministry, Jesus exorcised many demons, and he has given his people the authority to do the same.
  • Jesus has ruined the works of the devil. “The reason the Son of God appeared,” says John, “was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). What the devil has done cannot stand.
  • Jesus, by the cross, has broken the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).
  • Jesus has qualified us “to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13).
  • Jesus, by the cross, has disarmed the principalities and powers and has made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them (Colossians 2:15). They cannot stop the kingdom of God from increasing all over the world.
Satan is now bound and can no longer deceive the nations (Revelation 20:1-3). That is, he cannot keep the gospel from making disciples of every people on earth, just as Jesus commanded the disciples in Matthew 28:18-20.

In this final temptation, Jesus rebuked the devil, just as he had done the other two times, with a quote from Moses: “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Jesus would not be bowing down to the devil but would be worshiping God alone. He was also serving notice that the devil himself would also be bowing down before God.

And so shall it be. For God has highly exalted Jesus and given him “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

What the devil offered falsely, God has truly accomplished in Christ. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Pinnacle of Power

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.’” (Matthew 4:-7)
The devil failed the first challenge, so he tried another. He began once again with accusation: “If you are the Son of God …” What was Jesus willing to do to prove it? Would he throw himself off the highest point of the wall that surrounded the temple complex, down to the rocks below? After all, weren’t the angels there to protect him? Why not flex that muscle a bit?

Jesus had parried Satan’s first thrust by citing Scripture, so now the devil thought he would try his hand at it. He does know what Scripture says — but he does not understand what it means. The passage he quoted was from Psalm 91: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (vv. 11-12).

This is a wonderful promise from God, as are all the promises in Psalm 91. But they are for those who take their refuge in God, who abide in him, who walk in his way. “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” (Psalm 91:9-11). God has no promise for those who go off to walk in their own way.

Similarly, God promises to provide for his people and answer our prayers. Yet James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, would caution us, “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3).

God is always looking at the heart. What are our motives — are they about him, or all about us? If we are about him, then the promise is for us and we can expect his protection and provision. But if we are about our own pleasures, we are not abiding in God but have wandered away to something that will only dash us upon the rocks.

The reason Satan could not get anywhere with Jesus is that Jesus had made the LORD his refuge and dwelling place. He was all about God, all about the Father. The words of the psalm writer portray this very well: “Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come — it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart’” (Psalm 40:7-8; see also Hebrews 10:7). Jesus’ own words reveal how deeply this ran in his heart.
  • “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19)
  • “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:30)
  • “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28)
  • “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.” (John 14:10)
Satan took Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple complex and wanted Jesus to lift himself up in a display of his own power. That is how the devil thinks and why he has never understood the nature of God and of love. Paul reminds us that love does not brag, does not puff itself up, is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Rather, the nature of love is to give and serve and pour itself out for the sake of others. And that is what God does, because God is love.

Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God, then, not by hoisting himself off a high point to the rocks below in a self-inflated display of power but by being a servant and allowing himself to be lifted high on a cross for our sakes. Then God raised him from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit.

For this reason Paul, in his letter to the Jesus followers at Philippi, enjoins us to have the same mindset as Jesus Christ:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus will have no false displays, no empty glorying, no self-seeking — and no doubting the self-giving love and goodness of God. So he answered the devil with the words with which Moses warned the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the LORD your God to the test.”

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wilderness Reveals the Heart

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 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. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
The wilderness experience, whatever particular thing that may be in your life or mine, is a test that reveals the heart. The children of Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years because of what was in their hearts — and what was lacking. It should have taken only eleven days from Egypt to the Promised Land. But they did not enter the land, because of their unbelief. So they wandered for forty years until that unbelieving generation died out. The wilderness experience continually tested them, revealing their hearts, and what their faith was.

The wilderness experience also tested Jesus and revealed his heart. At the end of forty days of fasting, the devil came to tempt him: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Satan is an accuser — that is what his heart is all about. Jesus’ heart was revealed in his response: “‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus was all about pleasing God, not satisfying his hunger.

Temptation is about the heart, which is why it is so often a part of the wilderness experience. James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, tells us about temptation and the heart dynamic.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
When the heart is pure, it cannot be tempted to evil. But when there is evil desire, it will go to seed if given the opportunity often enough. Then the heart mediates on it and the mind considers how to engage it. Finally, it becomes action — and the action deadens the soul. We were created for something much different, to experience and share the glory of God. But sin, which begins in the heart, brings us up far short of that (Romans 3:23).

God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he ever tempt anyone to evil, and that is because his heart is pure. God is love, through and through — it is his nature. The human heart, on the other hand, is divided, pulled in different directions. “Give me an undivided heart,” the psalm writer said, “that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). And that is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. He has given us a new heart and a new spirit — his own Spirit to dwell in us and change us — just as he promised he would do for his people (Ezekiel 36:24-27).

The fruit of the Spirit is love, producing divine love in us. The more we learn to yield to that love — the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — the more resilient our hearts will be in trials and temptations. The wilderness experience reveals where we are in that process and becomes an opportunity to turn to God in faith and receive his love.

The children of Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years and it revealed their hearts every step of the way. Finally, though, they learned to depend upon God and follow him into the Promised Land.