TEMPTATION

camp-in-the-wildernessIn between the joy of the initial salvation experience and receiving the promises of God is a desert that reveals the truth about the worshiper and the God they seek to worship. The promises God made to the children of Jacob were always at their fingertips yet always out of reach. The generation who departed Egypt to obtain the promises wandered in a desert until they perished. If we fail to learn from their experience, we may come to the same end.

God’s people perish for a lack of knowledge.[1] Therefore, how long we stay in the desert depends on the knowledge we accept and reject. Contemporary Christianity fully understands sins of the flesh. No one questions that Christians should abstain from adultery and drunkenness. Unfortunately, we do not fully understand sins of the spirit.

I was in a desert the first time I taught this subject. As I studied Israel’s experience in the desert, the reason why came into focus.  I had been a Christian twenty years and believed I loved God with all my heart. My zeal blinded me to the truth. I was guilty of the same sins Israel committed in the desert. Just like Israel, I quarreled with my pastor and accused God of lying to me. If I had rejected the knowledge of who I really was, I would have remained and maybe perished in a desert.

Joshua and Caleb were the only ones of their generation who survived the journey to worship God at Sinai. The reason they survived while the rest perished in the desert were written down so future generations would not make the same mistakes.[2] Paul warned the Corinthians,

 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.  Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.  1 Corinthians 10:12-14

 Paul assured us that God is faithful. When we are tempted there will always be a way out. If that is true, why were Joshua and Caleb the only ones to enter the land God promised to all of them? Did God allow everyone in the desert to be tempted above what they could bear except Joshua and Caleb? Did God provide a way out for two men and abandon the rest? No, to both questions.

To comprehend why Joshua and Caleb survived the desert to enter the promised land we need to understand three kinds of temptation: the temptation from without, the temptation from within, and the temptation that is sin.

 TEMPTATION FROM WITHOUT

An outward entity called the devil tempted Jesus to believe God lied to him. After Jesus had fasted forty days, the devil challenged him to prove he is the Son of God by turning stone into bread. If the devil thought appealing to a carnal appetite would cause Jesus to stumble, he was wrong. Jesus refused because “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”[3]

Before the devil tempted Jesus to turn stone to bread, God gave Jesus a threefold witness that he is the Son of God: the Spirit, the word, and the flesh. According to God’s law, “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” [4] Two witnesses would have been enough to prove Jesus is God’s son. God established the matter by offering three.

When John saw Jesus at his baptism service, he told his disciples, Jesus was “…the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[5] He was aghast when the “Lamb of God” stepped into the Jordan River to be baptized.  John knew Jesus possessed a greater baptism. He was reluctant to baptize Jesus in water, hoping Jesus would, instead, baptize him in Spirit and fire. Jesus assured John that baptizing the “Lamb of God” in water was the right thing to do. As Jesus came out of the water, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. The Spirit that descended upon Jesus is called the “Spirit of sonship.”[6] He bears witness to our human spirits that we are God’s children.[7]

Immediately after Jesus received the Holy Spirit, God confirmed the Spirit’s inner witness with the spoken word. While he prayed, God spoke from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”[8] Even though Christians receive the same “Spirit of sonship” when we repent of sin, Jesus is the only son God publicly acknowledged.

The spoken word of God and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit were more than enough to convince Jesus of his place in the universe, but God wasn’t finished. He also gave Jesus testimony from a man of flesh. John testified that the one who sent him to baptize with water would identify his son by sending the Holy Spirit to remain with him. John boldly declared in the presence of everyone present the day Jesus was baptized, “”I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him” and “I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.”[9] For at least two days thereafter, John declared to everyone who came to his baptism services that Jesus is the Son of God. What more did Jesus need to believe that he is God’s son?

It is highly unlikely that any of us will come face to face with the devil as Jesus did. But we will encounter the same evil attitude in people who want us to prove we are acceptable to God. Most of the time people who demand proof are looking for an excuse to justify their own sins. We don’t need to waste our time proving anything to anyone. If we turned stones to bread as proof, they still won’t believe us.

The devil is a problem but not our biggest problem. If we understand God’s written word, the devil is little more than an annoyance. Peter told us to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”[10] The comparison of the devil to a roaring lion tells us how little power he possesses.

Lions travel in groups of females with one male ruler. When the females kill prey, they must eat fast. The male roars to drive them away so he can devour the dead prey. The devil cannot devour us, unless, we are already spiritually dead. If we are self-controlled and alert, all we have to do is resist and he will flee.[11] We will have a much bigger problem with the temptation from within.

TEMPTATION FROM WITHIN

After Jesus’ confidence in God’s word proved unshakable the devil brought him to the top of a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” [12] The devils tempting offered failed. Jesus refused to worship anyone but God.

The devil’s second temptation was more difficult to deal with than an accusation that God had lied. The offer of authority over the kingdoms of the world appealed to Jesus’ desire and our desires tempt us to believe lies. If we are not alert, an evil desire will drag our hearts away from God and deceive us.

Jesus was born to rule all the kingdoms of the world. The desire to fulfill his calling was strong. Speaking of Jerusalem, Jesus said, “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” [13] Jesus’ desire to protect his people would not be fulfilled during his lifetime on earth unless he submitted to the devil and he knew it.

Righteousness demanded that Jesus receive no more than Abraham received during his lifetime: unfulfilled promises.[14] Waiting for an eternal God to fulfill a promise is difficult because our bodies die. We don’t really know what will happen after we die. All we can do is trust that the Bible is true. If the Bible is true, God will resurrect our bodies so we can partake of the things he promised to do on earth.  If the Bible is a lie, “we are of all men most miserable.” [15]

If Jesus had worshiped the devil to obtain his heart’s desire, he would have become the devil’s slave. I’ve watched assistant pastors become slaves to the senior pastor thinking pleasing a man would create an opportunity to fulfill a God-given calling. I’ve seen Pastors take advantage of this weakness by promising opportunities that never appear. Instead, the assistant pastor is delegated menial work that leaves him or her unfulfilled. I’ve also watched both come to bitter ends.

The devil raised the stakes substantially when he appealed to Jesus’ desire. He cannot drag our hearts away from God and deceive us. But he can prey on this weak spot by promising immediate gratification. The devil miscalculated the purity in Jesus’ heart. His desire for authority was rooted in love and the devil failed.

As the time for Jesus to be crucified drew near, his desire to live proved a greater temptation than the devils offer. He instructed his disciples to pray “lest they enter into temptation.”[16] Then he walked a stone’s throw away and agonized in prayer until he sweat blood. His spirit was willing. He prayed “not my will but yours be done.”[17] His flesh was weak. He prayed, “take this cup from me.”[18]

We should not condemn ourselves when our flesh is weak. If Jesus needed help to fulfill God’s plan, so will we. Don’t run from God, run to him and tell him the truth. Only God can give us the strength to obey his commands. He may not change his plan for our lives, but if our hearts belong to him, he will help us. While Jesus prayed, an angel appeared to strengthen him.

If we worship God, sinful desires will not control us because God is able to keep us from sin. God has not left us alone to battle temptations from without and temptations from within any more than he left Israel alone in the desert. If we overcome temptation, we do well. If we succumb to temptation, God provides a way out through the ministry of the intercessor.

Jesus is a sinless high priest. He meets our need to be children who are pure and blameless. We often fail to overcome when tempted, but we don’t have to worry. We don’t need to fret that the sins we commit in ignorance make us unacceptable to God. Jesus is acceptable and God helps us based on who Jesus is – a holy, blameless, pure son set apart from sinners who is seated at God’s right hand faithfully interceding for us. Therefore, Jesus is able to save anyone who comes to God through him, and we are able to pray with confidence that God will help us.[21]

Mercy and grace are abundantly available in our time of need. Whether the temptation comes from without or within we have a faithful high priest that is well able to restore us to right relationship with God, so what is the problem? God gave Jacob’s children a faithful intercessor in Moses and all who embrace Abraham’s faith a better intercessor. Why do God’s people perish in deserts? The answer to this question lies in who is doing the tempting.

TEMPTATION THAT IS SIN

When the devil could not tempt Jesus to doubt God’s word, nor stir up Jesus’ desires to deceive him into sinning against God, there was only one thing left to do. Provoke Jesus to tempt God. It is not a sin to be tempted but it is a sin to tempt.

Jesus used scripture to successfully overcome the devil’s temptations. The devil knew some scriptures too. He set Jesus on the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem and challenged him to tempt God by jumping. The devil assured Jesus no harm would befall him because it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” [22] Jesus resisted the devil and the devil departed.

After conquering temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit to become famous. The generation God delivered from Egypt are famous too, but not for their reverent submission. The sins Israel committed in ignorance were covered by the atonement, all other sins could be forgiven through sincere repentance. There is one sin that provoked God to let them perish in a desert. They tempted God instead of worshipping him.

After Israel refused to enter the promised land and cried all night that God didn’t love them, God declared, “ … all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the desert, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it…”[23]

God’s punishment was not as harsh as it appears. Israel lost the opportunity to possess the land a covenant of law promised them. They never lost the opportunity to possess the land a covenant of grace promised them.[24] To the present day, Israel has never possessed all of the land God promised to Abraham. Therefore, the opportunity to receive the things grace provided still exists.

God never intended for his grace to be limited to one family spawned by Abraham’s flesh. The teachings of Christianity begin in the Garden of Eden when God promised the serpent a seed from a woman would crush his head. Abraham’s descendants “ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink” we do.[25] The rock they drank from in the desert is identified as Christ in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

Paul warned the New Testament church not to make the same mistakes Israel made in the desert. If we are tempting God it does not matter how faithful God is, how bearable the temptation, or how plain the way of escape. There is high probability we will perish in a desert, but that doesn’t mean we will go to hell. Moses died in the desert. Many years later, he appeared “in glorious splendor”[26] to discuss with Jesus and Elijah the prophecies that would be fulfilled in Jerusalem.

Tempting God made what should have been an eleven-day journey through the desert forty years of misery. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. If we tempt God like Israel did our Christian experience will be no less miserable.


Chapter 1

[1] Hosea 4:6

[2] 1 Corinthians 10:6-11

[3] Matthew 4:4

[4] Deuteronomy 19:15

[5] John 1:29

[6] Romans 8:15

[7] Romans 8:12-17

[8] Matthew 3:17

[9] John 1:32, 34

[10] 1 Peter 1:5-8

[11] James 4:7

[12] Matthew 4:9

[13] Luke 13:34

[14] The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch, Syria many years after Jesus was resurrected. Christian beliefs began with Abraham’s faith because his faith rests on God’s integrity. Abraham hoped without reason to hope, all he had was God’s word that he would raise the dead. Abraham looked forward to the resurrection; Christians look back on a promise fulfilled. Everyone from Adam to the present who embrace God speaks the truth will be resurrected to receive the nation of absolute justice and equality God promised Abraham we would become.

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:9 KJV

[16] Mark 14:38

[17] Luke 22:42

[18] Matthew 14:36

[19] Hebrews 2:16-18

[20] Hebrews 4:15-16

[21] Hebrews 4:15-16; 7:25-26

[22] Psalm 91:11-12

[23] Numbers 14:22-23, KJV

[24] The eastern boundary of the laws covenant extended to the Jordan River. The eastern boundary of Abraham’s covenant of grace extended to the Euphrates River.

[25] 1 Corinthians 10:3-4

[26] Luke 9:30-31

[27] Exodus 4:23; 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 7-11, 24-26; 12:31

About Teena Myers

Teena Myers is the Chairman of Southern Christian Writers, a freelance writer and author of three books.
This entry was posted in Road to Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to TEMPTATION

  1. hungover says:

    Good points!

    Like

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