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 4:5-7 )
It is likely that we have heard this story so often that it becomes difficult to figure out just what was at stake in this interaction between Jesus and Satan. When we consider that the enemy only had three shots at knocking Jesus off of his messianic journey, we have to take seriously that he really felt this to be a significant temptation. What would've been lost had Jesus taken him up on it? It’s not like Satan was asking Jesus to renounce the cross, deny his divinity or forsake his ministry. So what would've happened if Jesus had jumped off that steeple and his angels would have caught him and floated him safely to the ground below? Would that have been such a big deal?
Satan was tempting Jesus with an opportunity to be spectacular. Now Jesus did a lot of things on his own that were pretty spectacular. Walking on water, healing the sick and raising the dead are certainly not miracles to sneeze at. So, if Jesus was going to carry out a ministry that included spectacular miracles, why shrink back from starting off with a swan dive off the temple?
I believe the answer is easy and also incredibly challenging. Throughout the book of John, Jesus tells us that he came to show us the heart of God the Father. He came to speak the truth of who we are as children created in the image of God. He came to show us the Father’s intent for us, his love for us and his desire to redeem us back into a relationship with him. And he came to be the vehicle through which that redemption would take place. Everything in Jesus’ ministry was meant to point people to the truth that they would know the heart of the God who loved them. Every miracle, every teaching, even every word from the cross had this focus. Jesus was declaring the coming of the kingdom of God. That was his single focus.
A jump from the top of the temple would have denied Jesus’s ministry at its very core. It would have taken the focus off the Father and placed it solely on ‘Jesus the Amazing.’ Jesus’ sole identity was the Son of the everlasting Father who came to speak the truth of the kingdom in the power of the Spirit. A grandstanding event such as Satan was suggesting, would have been a denial of that identity. Satan knew that throughout Jesus’ ministry people would want to make him a king. Many would follow him because he fed them and cured them, and others expected him to lead a rebellion against Rome. All of these would be opportunities to deny his true identity and to do the spectacular. Here the very launch of his ministry, Satan’s temptation brought Jesus to the point of decision.
Satan offered Jesus the chance to be famous, popular, praised, noticed, applauded, honored, esteemed and recognized. Jesus quotes back to him from the lips of Moses who had warned the children of Israel not to follow other gods and put the Lord to the test. Jesus was tempted to bring notoriety to himself through a dramatic act, seeking the praise of men. In doing so he would have become an idol, an icon. He would have become the focus of our fascination but not the savior of our souls. Jesus rejected the popularity of the public and refused to fall to the temptation to be lifted up by anyone except God alone.
How about you? Jesus tells us that if we will humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, he will lift us up. Is that enough for you?
What is the enemy offering you today that promises you notoriety, popularity, applause or fame? In what settings is it important for you to put yourself first, push yourself forward or make sure that you get the credit you deserve? What activities are you involved in that are more about bolstering your own image than bearing witness to Jesus Christ? These are hard questions, but if we can imagine ourselves sitting in the place of Jesus, confronted by an enemy who quietly and deceptively lures us into such situations, then we can understand the danger we face. Sit down with a spouse or your closest friend and ask them this one simple question, “where do you see me putting myself forward in a way that puts more focus on me than on Jesus?” Then if you can bear to really hear the answer, it is the place to focus prayer and repentance in the days ahead.
Loving and gracious God, thank you for standing before the enemy in my place and rejecting the temptation to which I so often yield. Thank you for winning a victory over the need to do the amazing in order to bring glory on yourself. Lord, I really struggle in this area. Help me, through the power of your Holy Spirit to reject all such temptations in my life. Help me to lose myself in you, for you promise me I will find my life in that process. Strengthen me for the battle, Lord, that I may be equipped to stand against the enemy’s attacks. Empower my life to be a daily witness to you. Help me affirm with the prophet John, that I must decrease and you must increase. Let that be my goal and my joy for my life from this day forth. In Jesus’ name. Amen