Sunday, December 18, 2011

Three times, no charm

Some very dear friends have been in town this weekend.  They have a wedding to attend and officiate, so by happy-circumstance of living here, we've had some quality time together.  It's like a lush oasis in the desert that is our daily lives to simply sit at a table with people and have conversation that begins and flows and doesn't get lost in the middle or interrupted by odd non-sequiters or someone drifting to sleep in a wheelchair. Nor by having to hoist wheelchairs in and out of the car to move, through doors (try doing this sometime and you'll see how difficult it actually is to open a door from behind a wheelchair). As I say, a lush oasis.

Some seasons are deserts.  You all know this. Our visiting friends are living through their own desert, one in which they must constantly be hyper-vigilant. "On" all the time, as she put it, because of the kind of ministry in which they have found themselves.  It stretches them almost beyond their powers of endurance. Just like the c are-giving of Grampie and Thyrza sometimes stretches us.  Even such ministries we feel called to can stretch us as tightly as a rubber-band, you know. Right to the point of breaking.

Thinking through the conversation we had with our friends who just left to rest before prettying themselves up for this wedding, I thought of the wilderness experience of Jesus. (Matthew 4, Luke 4))  This forty days alone in the desert was a picture of the forty years the people of Israel spent wandering.  Only this time, rather than wandering and complaining and not being victorious, Jesus faced down the evil one. He proved Himself utterly faithful--the One TRUE One of all those whom God had made (and kept) His covenant with His people since Abraham was first called.

 Jesus' responses to the enemy in the wilderness is very important in understanding how Jesus would fulfill the prophecies about the Messiah.  It is absolutely true that Incarnate God was capable of  turning those stones into bread. But exercising His power for His own ends was obviously NOT God's plan for the Kingdom.  Miracles for their own sake is never the point. In other words, miracles are never selfish, gratuitous or showy. Jesus is either moved by compassion, and asks the person to be quiet about the healing, or wants to reveal something about the Kingdom--like with the man lowered through the roof by His friends (Mark 2), where Jesus speaks of forgiveness of sins being more important/difficult than healing the lame, then, to prove the point, tells the man to rise and walk.

After forty days out in the desert without eating, Jesus was hungry, we're told. Really. Well, duh!  Like the way new parents are a little tired. So the enemy didn't need a PhD to know the best, first way to tempt Jesus would be through His tight-as-a-drum, grumbling-so-loud-you-can-hear-it-in-Jerusalem stomach. But the enemy never simply gives gifts. Not on your life...I mean, he's always after that life--and Jesus' life more than any other's.  "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." It was like he was saying, "I dare you, I double-dog dare you; and I know you want to. Listen to your stomach.  Come on, it's just a few stones."
 So Jesus answers:
"People do not live by bread alone; but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." This comes from Deuteronomy 8:3. In the wilderness, GOD gave His people bread (manna). They had to learn to rely on Him for their food. Jesus' answer to satan comes straight to the heart of the matter. Rather than trying to fix His hunger Himself, Jesus relied on God for His food. He relied on God for all His provision. As we should.

Ok, then. Round two. It's like the enemy had this list of ways meant to get at Jesus. Oh wait, that's exactly what he had, because that's how he works with all of us, going at us this way and that, looking for a way in so that we crumble to his schemes.
The second temptation is related to worship (though only the Luke version--which has this the 3rd temptation-- makes this clear).  Throwing Himself off the tallest point o
f the temple, which was about 100 feet to the valley below. Ridiculously high, anyway.  satan slyly quotes Psalm 91 (one of my personal favorites) to tempt him into saving Himself from death seems like a ridiculous thing for satan to attempt, when you really think about it.  It's perhaps the single most ridiculous thing satan ever tried. Well, I suppose the whole wilderness experience could be lumped into that, but this temptation alone. Jesus save Himself from death? Throw yourself off the temple, then let angels save you. It really makes me laugh.  Hard to imagine that satan could be taken seriously about this. But I guess he sometimes does things in our lives that would look exactly this way from the outside. Just as ridiculous. Just as impossible. But he does his darnest and we sometimes fall prey to him.
Jesus, because He didn't even need those angels to protect Him (though they would have!), didn't fall prey for a single moment.  "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."  Jesus knew before it was all said and done, He'd be standing on the edge of a higher precipice than that temple ledge and looking down with the weight of humanity's sins on His chest. Killing Him. And He wouldn't call on angels. "Into your hands I commend my spirit, Lord," He'd be saying that day still three years ahead.  Jesus knew all that. He saw the cross before Him and knew it wasn't about the whole world worshiping Him but Him dying for the whole world.

Finally satan gets to the heart of the matter. He takes Jesus to a "very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the word and their splendor."  Imagine a spot like this. Imagine a place from which you could see everything from the Alps to the Great Barrier Reef to the Sahara to Mount Rainier to wherever you call home. Imagine seeing it all at once and being thrilled by the glory of the heavens and the great splendid diversity of this glob.  For a moment, it simply takes one's breath away. Jesus had had that view before, of course.  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning."  Jesus had been right there when Light and Darkness separated, and water and earth parted. When animals were created, He was there, and when the animals were named, He was there. So this moment with satan wasn't Jesus' first view of this lovely planet we call Earth. But it was His first with human eyes. And it was into His human eyes and human face that satan looked and said, "I'll give all this to you...if you bow to me and worship me."

Another ridiculous temptation, since Jesus already knew who'd made the world. Since he knew any authority satan has over the world is only temporary and was only three years away from being destroyed. Still, Jesus didn't give all this away to satan that day in the wilderness. I might have been tempted to show my hand. Jesus simply answered, "Away from me, satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and worship Him only."   And at those words, the enemy disappeared and angels appeared. Attended him. I assumed this means they tended to that rumbling stomach.

The critical words are:
Humans don't live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God.
Don't put the Lord your God to the test. Worship the Lord and Him only.
Away from me, satan! Worship the Lord your God, and Him only.

God can supply all your needs.
The enemy has no authority.
In wilderness or oases, ONLY God. In all things.

No comments: