The Temptation in the Wilderness

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, if thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down; for it is written he shall give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

— Matthew 4:1-11 

The story of the temptation in the wilderness throws some light upon the words of our Lord, “If ye have faith and doubt not, if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.” Good people have been tempted to tempt the Lord their God upon the strength of this saying, just as Satan sought to tempt our Lord on the strength of the passage he quoted from the Psalms. Happily for such, the assurance to which they would give the name of faith generally fails them in time. Faith is that which, knowing the Lord’s will, goes and does it; or, not knowing it, stands and waits, content in ignorance as in knowledge. It is the noblest exercise to act with uncertainty of the result, when the duty itself is certain, or even when a course seems with strong probability to be duty. But to put God to the question in any other way than by saying, What wilt thou have me to do? is an attempt to compel God to declare himself, or to hasten his work. It is presumption of a kind similar to the making of a stone into bread. The faith which will move mountains is that confidence in God which comes from seeking nothing but his will. A man who was thus faithful would die of hunger sooner than say to the stone, Be bread;  would meet the scoffs of the unbelieving without reply and with apparent defeat, sooner than say to the mountain, Be thou cast into the sea, even if he know that it would be torn from its foundations at the word, except he knew first that God would have it so.

Commentary

Jesus: The Man Who Didn't Act

    by Stephen Carney

My title might sound a bit controversial, as we know Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and atoned for us, or as MacDonald might say, brought us to At-One-Ment with God.  So what do I mean by this statement?  Well, just what we find in today's sermon and our Lord's refusal to Satan to force God's hand to prove his specialness and love for himself.   Satan wanted Jesus to throw himself off the high pinnacle so that God would be forced to send his angels to rescue Jesus and thus prove his love and care for the Son of Man.  But Jesus responds by saying, “you shall not tempt the Lord your God,” and so refused to act or succumb to the temptation. 

In fact, Jesus never did act upon his own intentions, and it was precisely this that made him the perfect man.  In John's Gospel, Jesus tells us, Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner;” and again, “I can do nothing on My own initiative.  As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”  (5:19,30)  The refusal of Christ to act on his own behalf is what makes him so remarkable. 

In Philippians we read, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus, though pre-existent with God, let go of his power and authority, emptying himself of all of this and took on the form of a bond-servant.  That is, he humbled himself to the point of complete obedience to his Father.

It was said of George MacDonald that his father never denied him anything he asked for, and Lewis remarks in the preface to his MacDonald Anthology, “This tells us as much about the son's character as it does the father's...” Lewis goes on to quote MacDonald as he writes concerning prayer, “He who seeks the Father more than anything He can give, is likely to have what he asks, for he is not like to ask amiss.”  For no true child of the Father would ever ask anything that wouldn't be pleasing in His sight. 

We are always trying to make what we think should happen, happen.  We are told to take initiative, be self-actualizing, and remember that we are in control; yet spiritually, to not act on our own behalf is our greatest challenge.  Learning what it means to wait upon God is the key.  For to hold ourselves before God as a ship waits with its sails for the wind to come and fill them, is the picture we want to have before us.  We must bring our souls to rest in Jesus, to wait for the promise of the Father, and wait till the wind fills our upper room and sets us on fire with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  For the “Spirit of a man is the candle of the Lord...” (Proverbs 20:27).  This is how Jesus faced temptation: he waited for what his Father had promised, and the Scripture says, “And afterward angels came and ministered to Him..”  All because he didn't act...on his own initiative.