Today a look at the second of three occasions where Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, to gather insights from Jesus' victory over these temptations.
Looking at the Second Temptation
Consider the sequence of the second temptation (Matthew 4:5-7):
Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, 'If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, He will command His angels concerning You'; and 'On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone."' Jesus said to him, again, 'It is written, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."'
Let's go over this picture. The devil takes Jesus and transports Him to the top of the temple. From this vantage point he speaks to Jesus. He instigates Jesus, tempts, urges Him, to act out the devil's will.
Satan is permitted to transport Jesus to the top of the temple but he is not permitted to throw Him down. That decision is in Jesus' keeping. Jesus must consent to throw Himself down. Satan makes his bid:
If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.
Satan not only makes this suggestion; he provides justification for it. What kind of justification? Scripture justification, of course. Why? Because YEGRAPTAI, "It is written." What is written?
"He will command His angels concerning You." Satan's suggestion? The angels will intervene to keep physical harm from occurring to Jesus. They will prevent Jesus from having any hard landings. All around below the top of the temple, is hard stone pavement. Anyone falling from such a height to land on the cold stone pavement, would die from ballistic impact.
But Satan assures Jesus--because the Scripture says so--that that will not happen. Angelic intervention--if Jesus is the Son of God as He claims He is--would save Jesus from certain death, providing supernatural evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. As in the first temptation Satan incited Jesus to provide evidence of His divinity by turning stones into bread, here, he is trying to lead Jesus to provide evidence another way. Of course, were Jesus to make a bright, shining, superman-style descent and landing, this also would destroy His example for humans. Humans are not God and do not fly.
Jesus had responded to the first temptation with Scripture promises He knew by heart and which He embraced implicitly. And so now Satan approaches Jesus with Scripture promises he, Satan, has memorized.
Don't be surprised; of course Satan memorizes Scripture promises. Knowing what they were intended to mean in their context, Satan specializes in quoting them back to us in snippets, cut-outs, stripped-from-context propositional statements. By disconnecting them from the paragraphs they are drawn from, he hopes to lead us to misapply them.
For a Christian to know the Bible does not mean merely an ability to recite a verse, but to understand something of what the Bible is teaching in the place that verse is drawn from. God did not inspire the Bible writers in verses but in paragraphs and chapters. Which is not to say that verses are not inspired, but that inspired statements are part of larger inspired wholes.
In fact, what Satan did in this temptation was to extract certain inspired statements from their inspired home paragraphs. The home paragraphs, that is, the longer written inspired narratives from which He drew them, told an altogether different story than the one Satan wanted to tell. So Satan retold it apart from the passage God had rooted it in. Nor did God the Father helpfully shout from the sky in reverb "he's lying to You, My Son."
God's Promises Repurposed
And so, this is exactly what Satan attempts with Jesus here. Satan is ready. And he draws from his master-mind a precious promise from what? From Psalm 91.
Let's turn there.
If you take a few moments to analyze this psalm, you'll see it has four sections:
In verses 1-3 we have the promise that those who trust in God will be protected.
In 4-8 you have the promise of specific covering, protection, and actual deliverance. Verse eight states that the believer will see the recompense of the wicked. You will see him punished.
Verses 9-13 repeat this with additional promises of protection. Verse 13 is often overlooked. This spiritual warfare is not going to be a clean and fair fight. Participants won't have the luxury of watching the outcome from a distance. Verse 13 shows that they themselves--God's own children--will directly overcome. They will directly tread upon the lion, the cobra and the serpent. The spiritual combat will be face-to-face. That is, it will be exactly what Jesus experiences on the pinnacle of the temple. As far as Psalm 91 goes, for Jesus, it could have been said, "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your hearing."
Verses 14-16 shift to God's side of the question. God will protect His children. The believer will see God's salvation. This is just as well translated, he will see My deliverance.
Those are the remarkable promises of Psalm 91.
Satan incites Jesus to do the opposite of Psalm 91. Psalm 91 is about trusting God. When Jesus was in the wilderness He trusted in God. God didn't bring Him food. God didn't release Him from His fast. Now, by quoting from Psalm 91, Satan is provoking Jesus to do the opposite of Psalm 91.
In The Desire of Ages, Ellen white puts it this way:
As Jesus before used the word of God to sustain His faith, the tempter now uses it to countenance his deception (p. 125).
What did Jesus think?
Christ was tempted to answer the 'if;' but He refrained from the slightest acceptance of the doubt (ibid.).
We talk too much to Satan and his agents. What have we to do with them? What do we have to prove to them?
Consent and Attachment-points
Many times we become our own tempters. Had Jesus consented to Satan's provocation to throw Himself down, He would have become His own tempter. Hear the warnings in these two paragraphs:
The tempter thought to take advantage of Christ's humanity, and urge Him to presumption. But while Satan can solicit, he cannot compel to sin. He said to Jesus, 'Cast Thyself down,' knowing that he could not cast Him down; for God would interpose to deliver Him. Nor could Satan force Jesus to cast Himself down. Unless Christ should consent to temptation, He could not be overcome. Not all the power of earth or hell could force Him in the slightest degree to depart from the will of His Father.
The tempter can never compel us to do evil. He cannot control minds unless they are yielded to his control. The will must consent, faith must let go its hold upon Christ, before Satan can exercise his power upon us. But every sinful desire we cherish affords him a foothold. Every point in which we fail of meeting the divine standard is an open door by which he can enter to tempt and destroy us. And every failure or defeat on our part gives occasion for him to reproach Christ (DA 125).
Do you see here that sin is choice? Neither you nor I can be forced to sin. This is a promise. We can be solicited, incited, provoked, tempted. Then there is the issue of footholds. When the temptation comes, where is that sticky, Velcro spot where the justification for our acting out the tempted action can stick? If we are cherishing sinful desires, we are providing attachment-points. Jesus had no attachment points. While He took our nature, He never exercised His free choice to create the attachment-points. You and I have created attachment-points. In other words, there is character remodeling to do.
Jesus did not accept Satan's interpretation of Psalm 91. He understood that Satan was taking God's word and bending it to Lucifer's own satanic purpose. Jesus refuses to acknowledge Satan's interpretation of Psalm 91. He actually refutes his interpretation by drawing from altogether different Scripture.
Realize something crucially important: Jesus identified very closely with God's people. That meant that He took the experience of Israel for His own. He did not repeat the sins of Israel, but He embraced the leadings of God across the history of Israel. He took the temptations Israel had succumbed to seriously, and then identified with them in all their deliverances. Turn with me to Exodus 17.
Let's read Exodus 17:1-7.
Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, 'Give us water that we may drink.' And Moses said to them, 'Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?' But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, 'Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?' So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, 'What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.' Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.' And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, 'Is the Lord among us, or not?'
The episode occurs not long after Israel had left Egypt. Israel was hungry and thirsty--like Jesus was hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.
Jesus draws lessons from God's guiding His people in the wilderness for how God would lead Jesus in the wilderness. And so, when Satan suggests, "Throw Yourself down," Jesus knows that the pattern for Him to live out is not to test God by throwing Himself down, but to trust God by letting God provide. Jesus needn't prove He is the Son of God. God the Father already said that (Matthew 3:17).
And so, Jesus responds from Deuteronomy 6:16: "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah." Satan misapplied a few lines from Psalm 91, but Jesus correctly countered with a correct application of the experience at Massah.
Satan's temptation is a trap. Jesus is being tempted to exercise presumption.
And here we come to the title of today's message. We draw it from this Ellen White paragraph in Desire of Ages:
God had already testified that Jesus was His Son; and now to ask for proof that He was the Son of God would be putting God's word to the test,--tempting Him. And the same would be true of asking for that which God had not promised. It would manifest distrust, and be really proving, or tempting, Him. We should not present our petitions to God to prove whether He will fulfill His word, but because He will fulfill it; not to prove that He loves us, but because He loves us (DA 126).
"Because He will." This is why we present our requests to God. Not because He might but because He will. He loves us. Our faith must be firmer. Loose faith puts us at risk of opting for presumption. Presumption is always designed to look like faith.
Presumption is Satan's counterfeit of faith. Faith claims God's promises, and brings forth fruit in obedience. Presumption also claims the promises, but uses them as Satan did, to excuse transgression (DA 126).
Notice, Satan claimed God's promises. That is what Satan was doing at the pinnacle of the temple--pointing Jesus to God's promises. He was telling Jesus, "Claim this promise!" This is how sophisticated Satan's tricks are. But we must not fear. Our part is to redouble our efforts to know the voice of the true Shepherd, to understand the revealed truth of God, to know and understand His voice. We should be more deeply immersed in the Bible. Jesus survived the wilderness temptation, He was able to advance the great controversy toward completion, but only because He knew the Scriptures and the stories in the Scriptures and could tell the difference between making a right and wrong application.
We trust ourselves too much. We don't trust God enough.
This was the end of the second temptation. Jesus completely mastered Satan. He did not consent. He did not presume. He exercised true faith. His approach is to be ours.
When we are tempted, we are to follow the example of Jesus. We should have a grip on the Scriptures. We should take the Bible stories paragraph by paragraph, not sentence by sentence. We should know where our present experience fits into their counsel. We should be careful to exercise faith, not faith's counterfeit, presumption. And we should not present our petitions to God to prove whether He will fulfill His word, but because He will fulfill it; not to prove that He loves us, but because He loves us (DA 129).
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