The Lies We Believe

We first meet the tempter in the Garden. Shedding the form of the snake, the tempter shows up to a weary, lonely, hungry Jesus.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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 dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,  ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. – Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV)

After forty days and nights alone, fasting in the wilderness, Jesus had many wants and needs. The first temptation addresses Jesus’ hunger. The tempter tells Jesus to make himself something to eat. Jesus might have thought this very thing already. If not bread, maybe a little manna to sustain himself as God sustained the Israelites in their wilderness.

Turning stones into bread isn’t the lie the tempter tells, it’s in the address: “If you are the Son of God.” Both Jesus and the devil know exactly who Jesus is. There is nothing to prove here. Instead, we have a statement on how God uses God’s power.

Remembering the wilderness: manna in the morning, water from a rock — God used power for these. But the purpose was God’s love for the Israelites and commitment to bring them to the Promised Land. It wasn’t a show of power just for show, but for love.

One could make the same argument for Jesus. He was literally starving if he didn’t eat for forty days. But the devil has no concern for Jesus’ physical well-being but wants to manipulate Jesus’ identity. Jesus could have turned the stones into bread, but it wouldn’t have been for love. It would have been for pride.

Jesus is right that we don’t live on bread alone but also God’s Word. However, Jesus still cares about the bread we need for our bodies. Maybe this experience in the wilderness is what moved Jesus to compassion when he saw the hungry people in an isolated place. In that instance, it wasn’t stones, but a small lunch Jesus turned into an abundant feast for thousands. And he did it out of love.

 

Next, they take a trip to the Temple. Matching Jesus’ Bible memorization skills, the tempter suggests he jump from the top. As I read this, I wondered why they went to the Temple. Surely there were enough places in the wilderness that were high enough to jump to your death. But the Temple was known as God’s dwelling place. Surely God couldn’t miss it if Jesus jumped from its heights. Surely God would not allow the Temple to be desecrated by a death. Surely God would save Jesus’ life.

Of course, we answer “Yes” to all of this.

The tempter’s lie is to challenge the idea that Jesus’ life matters: “Did God really say you won’t die?” More than just saving Jesus’ life, if he were to jump from the Temple and angels appeared to carry him to earth there would have been a misrepresentation of Jesus’ ministry. The power of God Jesus wants us to understand is more than brute strength.

Jesus knew it wasn’t just his life that mattered — but the lives of those he came to save. Jesus wasn’t about shock and awe; he was about love. The devil attempted to cheapen Jesus’ life and ministry, but Jesus refused to let the tempter define his importance or his power.

 

Finally, we come to the third temptation of all the splendor of the world. Money, fame, the ability to do whatever we want — I think this might be the greatest temptation for us today. Even if we don’t want to be multi-millionaires, internet sensations, or professional athletes, musicians, or artists, we want things to be a little easier than they are. We want our lives to mean something.

There would have been temptation for Jesus. The road being offered to him was easier than the road he intended to walk. Like the power display in jumping off the Temple, the world would really know who Jesus was.

I think the tempter missed the mark here, because what could be given to Jesus, the Word whom all things came into being, that wasn’t already his? Jesus gave up the glory of heaven to dwell among us. What could the riches of this world really have to offer?

The lie the devil tells is the belief that all the splendors of the world can be enough to satisfy the soul. But Jesus knows the truth, which he tells the devil: “Worship and serve only God.” For this is the only way to true redemption. Money and power are attractive, but not only will they not satisfy the soul, they cannot save it either. They will lie to us, telling us they make us important, valuable, and powerful — in things that could be gone in an instant.

The lies the tempter told Jesus are the very lies Jesus came to disprove. #love #Jesus Click To Tweet

The lies the tempter told Jesus are the very lies Jesus came to disprove. Jesus wanted us to see that wealth and power are not found in what we prove or acquire in this world. Wealth is found in our relationships with one another. As we love one another and let others love us, we are wealthy in ways that cannot be taken away from us.

You matter to God. You don’t have to do any special tricks or miracles to be loved. You don’t have to test God’s love for you to know it’s true. You don’t need to impress God with all you can do or all you have. God already knows all of our strengths and weaknesses. In spite of it all — and because of it all — God loves you.

You matter to God. You don’t need to impress God with all you can do or all you have. God already knows all of our strengths and weaknesses. In spite of it all — and because of it all — God loves you. #love #Jesus #grace Click To Tweet

Likewise, true power is not found in the ability to make others do what we command but in our ability to be compassionate, humble, and honest. James wrote that no one could tame the tongue, but if we can tame the selfishness, pride, and fear within ourselves, we will have the power to do great things. We’ll have the power to love.

“Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.”
“All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Too often we believe these lies. We hear them whispered to us when we are our most vulnerable. They tell us we have no value, that God doesn’t care, and we can find redemption in the things of this world. As true as they may seem sometimes, they are always lies. The truth is found in the words Jesus said to his disciples the night before he died:

“The ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world! I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” – John 14:30, 16:33, 13:34 (NRSV)

In our times of doubt, may we remember that the powers of this world have already been conquered. They have no power over us. In our times of need, may we find refuge in the God who loves us. For this love is true and something we can believe in. Amen.

God of majesty and power, there are so many tempting things in this world.
Even those that seem harmless have the ability to lead us towards evil.
But Jesus, tempted in every way we are, you have shown us there is another way.
Give us your strength so that we may follow your example. Amen.

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