When Faith is Tested

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 4:1-2

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry.

Luke 4:1-2 rsv

FAITH, THEN TESTING

Isn’t it striking that right after the unforgettable thrill and challenge of His baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus entered into fierce testing? That’s often the way with us, too. The moment we take a stand for Christ, the moment we express commitment to God’s kingdom purposes, we find ourselves challenged. Like our Lord before us, our experience on the mountaintop is sternly tried in the demon-infested valley to which we then descend.

I think of a young man in the church I first served. One Sunday night, he rose during the church service and gave a deeply moving testimony. His days of half-heartedness, he said, were behind him. He intended to be a man out and out for the Lord. The very next week a number of us were driving to a nearby city to hold a service in a rescue mission. My young friend was driving one of the cars. Falling behind in traffic, and concerned not to be late, he increased his speed on an open stretch of road. He failed to see the woman dressed in dark clothing crossing the road in front of him. In the resulting accident, she was killed. What a terrible time of testing followed for that devoted youth!

For Jesus it was from the Jordan valley into the barren wilderness. And it happened by God’s explicit direction. We read that He was led there by the Holy Spirit. Though the temptations would come from the adversary, the situation of trial itself was a part of God’s purpose for Jesus.

In a sense, it was like the Garden of Eden temptation re-enacted. Jesus had come as the second Adam, the head of a new humanity. He too had to face the tempter’s wiles. He had to prevail where our first parents had been defeated.

Jesus was led there to face the evil one, Satan. He had come into enemy-occupied territory to challenge the devil’s dominion. Jesus’ entire ministry would involve conflict, encounter, freeing captives from the grasp of the foe. Once His ministry had begun, there was no avoiding this head-on clash.

Isn’t it fascinating that we today can read about this in detail? Only Jesus Himself could have known what transpired in that wilderness sojourn. He had no human companion, as far as we know. We can only know about the experience because Jesus chose to relate it. He wanted us to understand what He had been through. Perhaps even more, He wanted to prepare us, His people, for what we will surely face.

Let me read you the account as Jesus must have passed it on to His family and friends. I’m reading from Luke, chapter 4:

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

WHAT JESUS FACED

A number of practical questions about this occur to us right off. In what form did Satan appear to Jesus and address these temptations to Him? Again, did Jesus actually see with His eyes all the kingdoms? Was He bodily transported to the pinnacle of the temple? Or did all these things appear only to His mind’s eye? Were these solicitations spoken in audible words or only insinuated as thoughts? About those things we cannot know with assurance. Nor do we need to. We can be sure of this: it was a genuine encounter with the prince of darkness. The temptations, however presented to Jesus, were real. And when we glimpse the meaning of what happened there, we realize that the issues involved were truly grave. The mission of Jesus to be the obedient Son and the faithful Savior depended on the outcome.

Remember the setting for the first temptation. Jesus has just heard the voice of His Father from the opened heavens saying, “You are my beloved Son.” Now the Word of God is being challenged. “If you are the Son of God….” Remember, too, that Jesus had been fasting for an extremely long period and must have been desperately hungry. The testing came at the most vulnerable moment imaginable. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” It’s as though the evil one was saying, “You are the Messiah, aren’t You, Jesus? You have come with the authority of heaven, haven’t You? Nothing is too hard for the Lord. You’re hungry. A man has to have bread. There, see that stone? Just speak the word and it will be food for You.” Jesus answered this time and each time by quoting from the ancient Scriptures – the book of Deuteronomy. There was light there. There were principles there to guide His life and work. “It is written,” He said, “`Man shall not live by bread alone.’” That word had come out of Israel’s experience with the manna. The idea was that we aren’t dependent on the material food around us to sustain our lives. God is able by His mighty word to meet the needs of His people.

In the second temptation, the evil one makes extraordinary claims, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” A bold-faced lie, but spoken with great confidence. It was as though he said, You’re heaven’s king, aren’t You, Jesus? All the dominions of the world are destined to belong to You. Fall down and worship me and You can have them now.

Again, there seems to be no hesitation. Jesus says, “It is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” Whatever may be true about the devil’s claim, to run counter to God’s clear command can never be right.

Now the devil, repelled again and again by the sharp-edged sword of the Word, tries to wield it himself. Here You are, Jesus, on the pinnacle of the temple. If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, just as You said, it is written, “He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Wouldn’t that be a fulfillment, Jesus? Step out on faith and do it. But again came the counter word, “It is said, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

THE COMMON FACTOR

What was happening here in each of these dramatic scenes? Is there a common thread? In all three temptations, attack is made on the same all-important reality: Jesus’ relationship with the Father.

The Son is to trust the Father completely, even when He is led into situations of loneliness, privation, and hunger. He’s not to take matters into His own hands, to use His power independently of the Father, even to meet His needs and satisfy His real hungers.

The Son is to be devoted to the Father’s name and cause, worshiping Him alone. He’s not to offer worship, devotion to any substitute, even when there’s a promise of personal gain. He’s not to seek His promised destiny – a goal that is right and God-given – by means which may involve some compromise, some idolatry.

The Son is to trust the Father’s promise and care without demanding to have it demonstrated. He’s not to expose Himself to needless dangers or engineer difficult situations in order to see if and how God will deliver Him.

Rather, He’s to keep on following God’s leading by the Spirit, worshiping God and trusting Him without at any point running ahead, deviating from the path or manufacturing a crisis. God will provide what is needed. He will make Jesus Lord of all the kingdoms, and He will deliver Him at the last. But all of that will happen in ways that cannot be foreseen or manipulated. God will do it by ministering angels after the temptation, by raising Jesus from death, by exalting Him to the throne of the universe.

If Jesus had not waited on the Father as He did, had not resisted the temptation to hurry things up by His self-initiated measures, He would not have experienced what He ultimately did. He could not have become the Savior and King of God’s purpose.

HOW IT GOES WITH US

How does this happen with us? Can we recognize here the moments in our own experience in which we are vulnerable to temptation? Like Jesus, we are tempted when for an extended period we have to go without something we want or need. The temptation is to take matters into our own hands, to get it right now, by any means we can find. Abraham has had to wait a long time for this Son of God’s promise, when Sarah is old and barren. Why not help God to fulfill His Word by working something out as He did with Hagar?

Again, we’re tempted when we aren’t having the success, aren’t gaining the influence and power we feel should come to us. We’ll seek it then in some way that involves compromising our convictions, looking for success from some other source. We’ll tell ourselves that since God wants the best for His children, it doesn’t really matter how they go about getting it.

We’re tempted also when we aren’t seeing evidences of the supernatural in our life and work. What will we do about it? Perhaps we should precipitate a crisis and force God’s hand. But that’s always a dreadful mistake. It’s faith when we venture into danger at God’s leading, but it’s the worst of folly when we venture there “just to see what will happen.” How many disasters have followed that kind of rashness!

Well, how can we prepare for these situations of temptation? How can we follow the Lord who overcame? For one thing, by meditation on the Scriptures. Jesus needed first to hear and read these passages from Deuteronomy, to meditate on them, to grasp their bearing on life, to wrestle with their implications, commit them to memory. And so do we. In a sense, He needed to foresee situations where this word might be called in question, to anticipate encounters where it would give needed guidance. So He needed to be a regular, careful listener to the Word. And so do we.

We prepare ourselves also by prayer, as Jesus did in the waters of Jordan – opening ourselves to God, communing with Him, seeking His face, getting to know Him more and more. Jesus needed to go into each experience calling on the Father for help, expressing dependence and trust. And so do we.

Like Jesus, we prepare by relying on the Holy Spirit. We ask for the Spirit’s fullness. We respond to His promptings. We follow His lead. We recognize that our one hope of overcoming is in the power of the risen Christ made real in our experience by the Holy Spirit. We keep waiting on the Spirit in difficult situations, refusing to get out of step with Him.

In all of this, we’re making our relationship to God primary, resisting everything that would lead us to question His wisdom and love, to turn aside from His path, to depend on our own insight or power in fulfilling our mission.

We need to beware of actions that are right and legitimate, but not in God’s timing. Beware of goals that seem worthy but require questionable means to reach them. Beware even of a faith that expects God to act, but in a setting which we may have engineered apart from His leading.

To give in to these temptations is to act as independent agents rather than as devoted sons and daughters. This is self-will rather than obedience. It’s impatience, not waiting on God. It’s worldly prudence instead of faith.

All this suggests to me that we need to weigh carefully the various suggestions and invitations that may come to us. Let’s not accept them too quickly. Let’s give ourselves time to consider them carefully, prayerfully, perhaps to talk them over with others concerned. Someone talks to you, for example, about a proposal for investing money, about property, a joint business venture, a new job offer. You’re called upon to make commitments of time, energy and work. What do you do?

Snap decisions tend to imply reliance on our wisdom in these things, as though we didn’t need prayerful waiting on God, as though we weren’t vulnerable to impulse and vanity. They imply that we don’t feel a keen sense of stewardship. We’ve forgotten that we’re operating with resources, time and energies that don’t belong to us. Hasty decisions deny the reality that we are not our own, that we’ve been bought with a price.

And that reality, friends, is our great hope against all temptation. We have been redeemed at great cost. We are not our own. We belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. And by His grace and in His strength, we too can overcome.