Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God….Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:8, 10).
At his birth thirty years before, angels roused shepherds and rushed them to see the long anticipated newborn Messiah. They found him sleeping like a tiny shepherd with the creatures. Soon thereafter, the prophets Simeon and Anna at the Temple rhapsodically recognized him. His baptism occasioned the heavens opening and the voice of God saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
Yet, he inevitably faced temptations of another character determined to instill doubt: “If you are the Son of God, then…..” he might continue, “Prove it. Prove it to me, the hard sell. Harder still, prove it to yourself.”
This is Jesus, of course, not you or me. Yet, our spiritual life patterns follow his, and we too faintly hear a voice call us beloved. We also hear temptations of self-doubt daring us to turn away from the claim and get on with the business of surviving and fitting in, of minding our own business and leaving God’s business to people with nothing better to do.
“Better,” says Satan or self-doubt, “To take care of your belly than follow a Father who peeks out from behind the clouds every now and then to bless you, only to leave you to starve and sweat out here among the reptiles and dry brush.” So, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Perhaps he adds, “Then move on. With me, of course.” He expects Jesus to succumb to the quickest, most common of the temptations.
“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone,’” answered the weary Messiah with an eye roll, taking a stand that the really practical way of life entrusts one’s needs to the God who gives everything worth having in the first place.
“So you want to be practical,” says Satan. “Here’s practical: Take all power. Run the country. Let the masses gladly trade their freedom to secure your protection from any foreign threat. Glory in it. I back all the tyrants, and here, kid, you can join my team.”
Bleary-eyed, Jesus squints and says with surprising force for a fellow on his last ounce of energy, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Oooh how that burns the Old Liar, but he doesn’t let on. He smiles, but you can hear a shrillness in his voice and see a spark in his one open eye as he retorts, “So you want to be aggressively impractical! You want to quote scripture like a good boy! Come with me to the roof of the Temple if you want to be religious! Do you want to hear scripture? Here you go! ‘He will command his angels concerning you to protect you….On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ If you are the Son of God….Go ahead, kid, jump!”
To which Jesus, answered, “It is said, ‘You will not put the Lord your God to the test.’” That means not only that he won’t take the bait to test the God he already trusts, but Satan is up against more than just a man.
Satan backs off. He will return, of course, as he always does until someone recognizes him, calls his bluffs, loves the God he hates.
He always comes back with more temptations for us. Be he a spirit or self-doubt, his main objective is to deter us from accepting God’s love, to convince us that to do so is impractical. He wants to persuade us that we can and should be self-sufficient on one hand, and that we are not worthy of God’s love on the other.
Yes, this is the story of Christ’s temptations, his purifying rite of passage as if he needed it, which he really didn’t. But it is the story of your temptations and mine if we read our lives closely enough. And the Christ who faced it those forty days and nights in the wilderness walks with us, leads us if we listen to him over the prods and pricks, “If you are a beloved child of God, then…..”
Image: Ary Schefer, “The Temptation of Christ” (1854), Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.