Sunday, January 10, 2010

River to Desert

Rivers or any stream of water is often used in the bible to symbolize an environment of abundant provision (Psalm 1:3) and of life (Revelation 22:1).  Things that sustain life seem to be available near the river.  Life is easy and enjoyable with little to crave for.  Back in chapter 3 of Matthew we saw the dramatic convergence of the Holy Trinity by the Jordan River.  John the Baptist, who was of the same faith, was with Him.  John's fans, who were prepared to accept Jesus, were there.  It was at the river where the Spirit came down to join Him.  It was at the river where the Father announced His approval of Jesus.  Emotionally, this was indeed a high-moment for Him.

Chapter four brings Jesus to a different setting and audience.  He was brought to the desert to be tempted by--who else--Satan.  The desert is a place of scarcity and adversity.  Very few consumable life-forms exist there and those that happen to be in the area are all focused on survival and the fight for whatever is available.  Some life forms are naturally adapted to the desert and call it their home.  Those that thrive in there are equipped with specialized  survival mechanisms.  The desert is not a place for wimps. Great effort is required to withstand the adverse environment.  The desert is where Jesus was brought to shortly after His emotional-high moment.   I've wondered why was it necessary for verses 1-11 to be written in the gospel?   What am I to learn from Jesus' experience?

Jesus modelled the way to deal with temptation and He was subjected to the most extreme scenario.  When I was still doing plant research, I was trained to judiciously choose treatments in my experiments that would reveal the greatest effect in order to show the trend with clear drama.  A trained scientist would see the slightest change in plant behavior but to the general eye it might seem like nothing.  Jesus was exposed to an extreme situation so that all we could see His point clearly.  In the previous chapter, He showed us the way to live in a place of abundance and comfortable provision.  Then, in these verses, He shows us the way to live so as to withstand scarcity and adversity.  We can use these extremes to figure out our God-approved response. 

Temptation 1.  His spiritual position is challenged against His physical need.

"If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."
Jesus has been fasting. Forty days without food nor water is awfully long. He was dehydrated, and depleted of whatever was in his system prior to fasting. In His human form, there is no doubt He was at the verge of dying. Photographs by the National Geographic magazine of people dying of hunger are close to what I imagine Jesus looked during this period. There would have been very little physical strength left.
Satan did not deny that Jesus was the Son of God.  He merely asked Jesus to prove it by using His power to turn stones into bread.  He was aware that Jesus is fully empowered and that He can do anything if He decides.  Instead, He said,  'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' 

Jesus, hungry and thirsty,  responds to the sweet temptation of food by quoting the scriptures.  The right things He knew and believed before his circumstances changed still remain.    In his faintest vocal strength He made it loud and clear that bread is not enough.  Satisfying our physical need is not the sole necessity in maintaining life.  Live on-there is more to life than food.
Temptation 2.  His Spiritual position is challenged against his pride

"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"
Satan, knowing that Jesus was keen on conforming to the scriptures, incorporated some scriptural truths in his appeal to Jesus. Again, he acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God and yet he invites Him to prove His influence by throwing Himself down. After all, he says, the angels are all at attention waiting to do something for you. They won't even let you touch a stone. Whenever we become vulnerable in any way, we tend to camouflage it by unleashing our remaining strength. Back in my younger years, I was a member of a club called "Dress Up Nicely When Broke." The idea here was to protect personal pride. This was exactly what Satan wanted Jesus to succumb to. 

"It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When He said this, Jesus is probably extremely weak and barely holding Himself up.  I remember a time when my family was on a six-hour layover in Frankfurt from Istanbul.  The airport was extremely busy all the seats were occupied.  I ached to find a place to sit and lay my back on anything solid.   Satan's invitation to a comfortable alternative to a chaise lounge was painfully inviting.  And yet Jesus, standing on His wobbly knees from starvation, turns to Satan, maintains his righteous obedience to God, and rejects his offer.

Temptation 3.  His spiritual position is challenged against material glory.

"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
Finally, Satan tests Jesus with the ultimate weakness of men - control of vast material glory.  Coincidentally, Satan, as he lures Jesus to fall, also reveals what he desire to have.  He wanted Jesus to come on his side.  He wanted Jesus to shift His allegiance to him.  But Jesus said, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

Satan failed and yet he continues to pursue those who follow Jesus.   Make sure therefore that if you choose now, choose the winning side - Jesus. 

Jesus had a very clear pattern in the way He responded to temptation.  God remained as the standard of His righteousness.  Jesus persisted in obedience regardless of His condition.  When exposed to adverse circumstances, He acted according to what He believed. 

Temptation is part of living.  We are shaken all the time; sometimes the impact is harder than other times.  Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III, before landing the Airbus A320 in the Hudson River in January 15, 2009 had only one thing to say to the 155 passengers to protect themselves from the unexpected event: "Brace for Impact!"  Temptation shows itself before it affects us but it is important to identify it sooner to allow time to brace yourself.

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