Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Devotional: Recognizing Your “Wilderness” Moment, Matthew 4:1-11

Outline of Matthew 4.1-11

In chapter 4 Matthew continues to show us how Jesus recapitulated and fulfilled the history of Israel. Just as the nation was nurtured in its infancy in Egypt and then was delivered to return to the promised land, so Jesus as an infant was saved from Herod and spent his infancy in Egypt before he grew up in Nazareth. Just as the nation was “baptized” in the Reed Sea and then experienced the presence of God at Sinai, so Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John and the presence of God was seen as the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and the Father’s voice from heaven pronounced “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (3:17) Now, just as God, in a pillar of cloud and fire led the nation of Israel into the wilderness to be tested before they could enter the promised land, so the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. There is no wisdom gained apart from suffering. There is no calling to mission without testing. There is no paradise without a cross. Jesus must endure the same kind of testing and temptation all of us endure. The great difference will be that, while the nation failed the test in the wilderness – they worshipped a golden calf, they failed to trust God for their daily bread, and they failed to complete their mission – Jesus passed the test with a 100%. He knew God’s promises, trusted them and submitted himself to accomplish God’s mission with God’s resources and in God’s way.

The slanderer, the accuser, tempted Jesus with the three main temptations to which the nation succumbed throughout their history: idolatry, self-reliance, and lack of faith. The devil began by tempting Jesus to lack of faith in God’s promise to supply “daily bread.” Israel in the desert was sustained by God for forty years with manna, their daily bread, always fresh with just enough for that day. They responded with grumbling and complaining and several times tried to turn back to Egypt for the fried fish and seasoned food they liked. Jesus, on the other hand, had been fasting for forty days and is tempted to not trust in a time of deep need. He responds with the words of Deuteronomy 8:3, a reminder that God allows times in our lives where it appears that our daily needs are not being met (as and when we want them to be) so that we develop a trusting heart that knows that, God will not only handle the basics in our life as he promised, but the “big” issues as well. Jesus would fulfill his calling with a trust that God was with him in everything and would supply all his needs.

The second area of temptation was self-reliance. Would Jesus do things God’s way or would he try to manipulate God to do things his way? Again, the nation failed at this over and over. They asked for a king so they could be “like the other nations.” They made foreign alliances and trusted in vast armies to protect their safety. They tried to manipulate God to overlook their immoral lifestyles, misuse of power and blessing, and oppression of their fellow Israelites with their sacrifices and meticulous ritual. The devil here is trying to get Jesus to try a different way to glory than the way of suffering. This is a temptation Jesus will face again when Peter takes the role of the devil by opposing Jesus’ announcement of his death and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus again quotes Moses (Deuteronomy 6:16) as he refuses to “put God to the test.” Expecting God to do things our way, according to our agenda tries to put us in the place of God as the decision maker. This was the sin of Adam and Eve in Eden and the sin of the “shining one” (Isaiah 14:12). Any time we back out of God’s will because it leads us into difficulty or fall back on old ways to deal with a problem we succumb to this temptation of the devil.

The third temptation was to the besetting sin of Israel in the Old Testament – idolatry. The history of Israel from Egypt to exile was a succession of periods of falling into idolatry and purges and falling again. Now the devil pulls out the big lie: He shows Jesus everything he wants and says, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (4:9.) Of course, the problem is that the kingdoms of the world are not his to give and the devil never “gives” anything without exacting too high a price. The kingdom of God would come only when the principalities and powers of darkness would be defeated by the cross. Jesus knew the plan of God from Eden to Sinai, to the cross to the new heavens and new earth and he would stick with it. God is the only one worthy of worship and obedience and Jesus would not make the mistake of replacing God with something less, even if it meant giving his life.

Each one of us will have wilderness experiences as we pursue our calling from God. The devil is a clever tempter and knows how to use these difficult times. He will try to sidetrack us with worry about daily things God has already promised to take care of,  using blessing, power or position to serve ourselves instead of others, or to move God from the center position of our lives. He knows how to use religion and worldly power to get us off track. He may even twist scripture to do it. Like Jesus, we need to know and trust what God has promised, be people of prayer, and refuse any substitute for God and his Spirit as a way of accomplishing the mission he has called us to do. When we do that, like Jesus, we will see all the residents of heaven come to help us get through the wilderness. (4:11) 

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