Introduction: As i went through high school, one of my goals was to be known as tough. One way I did this is by joining the wrestling team. After high school, the pattern continued as I chose to join the United States Marine Corps Reserve. I chose it because it was the toughest military branch, so they say. After college, i prided myself in being in a prison ministry, leading bible studies for incarcerated youth. Ministering to "tough" teenagers gave me a feeling of being in a tough ministry. As I look back in my life, this feeling of being "tough" is something I have chased, albeit in different forms.
Where did this desire come from? Wherever it came from, the devil have used it to blind me to what it means to be a true follower of Jesus. This desire has caused pain to me and to other people in my life. This desire came because, for various reasons, there was an identity I was trying to fit into. I beleve this was the same strategy the devil used to tempt Jesus. The devil tempted Jesus by tapping into Jesus' knowledge of his identity and then tempting him to reveal that identity in illegitimate ways. Two of the temptations started with the statement "If you are the son of God..." Jesus' response to the devil's temptation is instructive for us as we navigate through temptations in life.
Jesus has just heard God's voice that said "You are my son, in you I am well pleased". Jesus' identity have just been establihed for the public and then he was alone in the wilderness after fasting for forty days. Now the devil was set on tempting Jesus to show his identity through illegitimate means. The first illegitimate means was through the meeting of felt needs.
For awhile I have thought that the devil was getting Jesus to break his fast by turning stones into bread and eating them. On closer inspection, there is more to the temptation. Jesus' fast was already over so it is not that he was not supposed to eat yet. He was hungry and he could have eaten but Jesus did not want to satisfy his hunger at the expense of being in collusion with the devil's agenda. The devil starts with the statement "If you are the son of God..." The devil then challenges Jesus to show his identity by turning stones into bread. Jesus ignores the challenge and responds by making two statements.
Giving in to the devil's challenge would show that the basis of the Son of God's claim to authenticity is meeting man's physical needs alone. The son of God gives more than physical life. He is the word of God who gives life to the fullest. Man may gain the whole world, satisfying his every desire, but lose his soul, the object of God's affection. The devil wants humanity fixated on the physical, thereby abandoning his creator and losing his soul.
Illustration: One of the stories in the Old testament was Jacob's trickery of his brother Esau for the purpose of gaining Esau's birthright as an older brother. Esau's shortsightedness was shown by his selling his birthright to Jacob, his younger brother, for some food. For Esau, getting his physical needs at the moment met was more important than his birthright- becoming the heir of the covenant of God with Abraham and then Isaac his father. The special relationship with God was rejected for the sake of food. In a way, Esau has lost his soul through his fixation on the physical. He valued God's special blessing less than he valued his physical comfort.
The question now then is, are we going to be coopted by a world that is focused on the physical needs of man, but abandons the ultimate need of a man's soul to be reconnected to God the source of life?
Application: I am amazed at some churches offering special breakfasts to the community. I wonder what their purpose is. Is it a way to bring people to church for the sake of bringing them to church? I could imagine certain people coming to eat and then leaving without talking to anybody. I don't want to devalue service in the form of meeting felt needs. jesus did feed people, although that action was fueled solely by compassion. He saw preaching to them as his priority, thereby showing the priority of God's word.
One of my concerns about our evangelism, the proclamation of the good news, is that we have diminished the importance of the word. We lift up service and lifestyle as a form of evangelism, thereby giving people permission to privatize their faith. Those unwilling to talk about their faith, and/or does not have the spiritual awareness to know what God has done for them and the world, are given a free pass. The world that does not want to hear about spiritual realities has silenced the proclamation of the good news.
How do we revive the importance of the word? One way is to increase our awareness of our dependence on God. We live in a world where we perceive ourselves to be in control of our lives- we can keep in touch with people easily, we live in relative peace, we have a government that provides us with a safety net. These "blessings" blind us to the reality that a calamity could destroy us at any moment. It blinds us to the reality that God's hand is ultimately the source of our security. Because we are not aware of God's hand in our life, we are as focused on the physical as the world alienated from God. No wonder our hearts do not overflow with excitement for God. We are not only dependent on God for security, but also for wisdom, for unconditional love and esteem, and everything else we need for temporal and eternal life.
The next illegitimate means of fulfilling identity is by a show of power.
The devil then brings Jesus on top of the highest point in the temple and tells him to reveal his identity by showing a great miracle. The devil even uses scripture to test jesus' faith in God's favor towards him. The devil this time not only challenges Jesus' identity, but also Jesus' faith in his father. Jesus this time rebukes the devil's challenge saying "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test". Two things happened here.
Illustration: There once was a town that receive a million dollars from an anonymous donor. They used this money to build their roads, fix the parks, and take care of things that needed to be taken care of in the town. To thank this donor, they built a representation of this unknown person. They made a statue of a well-dressed and kindly man, and put the statue at the center of the town. Looking from a distance, the donor decided to visit the town. However, to not bring attention to himself, he dressed as a beggar. Predictably, the townspeople did not pay attention to him. Some even laughed at him and ran him out of town.
Are we just as bad as the townspeople? Do we drive away weakness or imperfection from our midst? Do we lift up strength so much that we are coopted by a world that devalues what is not "right"?
Application: I have noticed churches inviting celebrities to testify to their faith. The power team goes around and show their strength, and uses that to tell people the good news of the gospel. Christians flock to miracle workers who project the image of power and prosperity. Although these celebrities and powerful people may sinerely be believers of the gospel, the churches' using them to attract people betrays an attraction to power, which is what Jesus calls us to repent from. Jesus did show power for the sake of compassion, healing people and stopping storms. However, Jesus consistently insisted that his destiny is to suffer and die. His suffering is going to be the source of mankind's salvation, not his miraculous powers. Jesus lifts up weakness as the way to glory when he died and then rose from the dead.
In our worldliness, we aspire to be powerful- to be a winner, to be successful. Its not that we should not acknowledge christians who are successful or that Christians should not work hard. Jesus did not shun the powerful of the world- he hung out with rich people, he called people in high places to faith. Scriptures call us to work hard, to submit to our masters. However, we must be careful that we are not sending the message to the world that following Christ leads to power, which is what the flesh craves for. To follow Christ is to follow him to the cross, abandoning our craving to be successul in the sight of the world, and putting our hope in a future vindication.
The next illegitimate means of fulfilling identity is partnering with a world system alienated from God.
What the devil did the third time was shocking and brings up some questions. He asks Jesus to worship him, in exchange for the devil allowing him to fulfill the implication of being the Son of God, his destiny to rule over the world.
Jesus retorts by ending the conversation and proclaiming that God alone is to be worshipped, only to him should allegiance be given. Jesus affirms his committment to serve God's agenda, the salvation of the souls of men. To gain men's allegiance without saving his soul would be against God's plan.
Illustration: There was one scene in Star Wars II- Attack of the Clones, where Anakin (the future Darth Vader) says to Amidala, "Somebody should make them (the federation which is at odds with the Republic) agree". This is in response to his frustration concerning the absence of peace in the empire. Amidala then responds, "who is going to make them agree, you?" Unfortunately, the answer was yes. Anakin was coopted by the chancellor, who consolidated his power by using him, now as Darth Vader, to wipe out those who stand in the way of his rule. The chancellor revealed his true colors, becoming the Sith emperor who ruled with an iron hand.
The forces of the world wants to coopt God's people for its own purposes. These forces could seem benevolent on the surface, but without the constraining power of God's Spirit, these benevolent forces could become tyrannical.
Application: Sometimes Christians elevate their political preferences into a spiritual issue. I do agree that Christians need to seek the peace and prosperity of the place where God calls them to. This is a call to involvement in the life of the "city" for its good, to speaking up. However, I believe it becomes a problem when Christians form alliances with political forces, even though these forces may look benevolent. Among Jesus' apostles was a tax collector, somebody whose mindset probably contains a willingness to accept the reality of Roman domination, and a Zealot, somebody whose mindset probably contains the conviction that Roman rule should be fought at all costs. Jesus redirected both of their hearts to be zealous for the Kingdom of God.
For now, christians are not being tempted to blatantly worship the devil or any other powers. However, Christians can be tempted to give full allegiance to causes or political parties. These alliances that Christians join can become a hindrance to the church's holiness, to its separate agenda. what is this agenda? The same as the Lord Jesus' agenda, to call people to follow him to the cross. The peace and prosperity of the city is ultimately achieved by its people following the way of the cross, which will not happen through human work but through the spirit's work in people's hearts.
Although this question deserves more reflection, I realize I have to briefly comment on Christians being involved in politics. In a democratic society, politics can become a quest for power, and unfortunately, a Christian has a better chance of winning that quest when he is backed by the powers of society. A Christian politician should not be fixated on gaining power but on being the best servant-leader he could be for those under him, including those who disagree with him. He must remember that his allegiance is to God first, and he must be willing to be at odds with the powers that back him, even losing their support. Ultimately, it is God who puts people in places of power, and he must accept that.
Conclusion: Romans 8:19 "For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed". The revelation of the children of God is the revelation of what humans are supposed to be- to be like God. The quest to fulfill that revelation takes human beings in many directions that lead to futility. In our alientation from God, we think that the goal of humanity is to gain the ablity to control our environment, to become successful in aspect/s of our lives, and to gain power over others. That goal is frustrated when life does not give the fulfillment we desire and eventually we die. However, we become like God when we give up the worldly quest, the quest of alienated mankind. That is, when we value his words (his presence, his standards) above anything else, when we embrace weakness, and when we walk in humility. This is the way of the cross, the way of the ultimate human, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was vindicated through his resurrection. If we put our faith in him, following him to the cross, we will be vindicated on the last day.