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.”