Matthew 4:5-7. 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 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,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Advents are marked by temptation.
It can feel like the story of the birth of Christ should just be the end of the Bible. “And they lived happily ever after” should be the next words we read. But clearly that’s not how the Bible ends. The spiritual war did not cease on the day Jesus was born. In fact, Jesus’ whole earthly existence, his entire first advent, is marked by the cosmic war of the angels.
The same is true of us isn’t it? The advent of Christ into our lives has brought with it not the end of all temptation, but the heightening of temptation. Why? Because advents are marked by temptation. If God had stayed in heaven we would have no hope, and so the Devil would have no need to tempt us. But God came to us. God is with us. God is in us. And so the invasion of God has begun. Satan’s guerilla war of temptation now rages in our hearts.
But how? How does the Devil tempt us? How did he tempt Jesus? Jesus answers this question for us – “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
You may remember that right before this Jesus was baptized. He saw the heavens open up and he heard God say “this is my beloved son.” Satan’s temptation was aimed at getting Jesus to doubt these words. To doubt his son-ship. To test his Father’s love for him. For Jesus this meant testing the words of Psalm 91:11. Jump off the temple pinnacle and watch God’s angelic advent come and rescue you. If God is actually a good Father, then he would never let anything bad happen to you. Right? The beloved Son of God shouldn’t have to be hungry. The beloved Son of God should not be in a wilderness. The beloved Son of God should never have to suffer. Or die.
And so IF you are the son of God jump, and let’s find out how much God loves you.
The Temptation of Christ on the Mount (c.1308), Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1318).
But Jesus didn’t have to test God in this way. He didn’t have to manufacture a leap in order to prove the Father’s love for him. Why? Because Jesus had already jumped. He had already thrown himself down from the heavenly temple to earth. He had already leapt off the pinnacle of the universe. Jesus from the bosom of the Father eternally knew God’s love. There was never any need to test it. Jesus’ incarnation was the leap into danger that didn’t test God’s love. It revealed it. A love that would send the angels to strengthen Jesus after these temptations so that one day that same love could choose to not call the angels. A love that would choose harm so that we might be brought to safety.
The Bible says that Jesus was tempted “as we are.” Satan’s primary strategy with you today is to mistrust your Father. He wants you to test God. To test your son-ship. To doubt your union with Christ.
Every temptation you face today – every lust, greed, worry, anger, resentment, apathy, selfishness, fear – begins with doubting that God is good. Would a good dad allow bad things to happen to his kids? He would if he knew that these sorrows and struggles could actually grow our faith in him and our love for him and others. He would if he knew they would reveal his love to the world. Just like the incarnation. Just like the cross.
The question for you and me in our season of advent is, do we see our life as primarily testing the love of God or as revealing the love of God? Your answer here determines how you will live.
What temptations do you face today? How do they reveal the deeper temptation to doubt God’s goodness? How can your life, even in its temptations and trials, reveal (not test) the love of God for you?