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Bill & Ellen Bontrager


1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO 81326




I want to look at the temptations of Christ in the wilderness, hopefully finding some new insights with you. I am choosing the Luke passage ( 4:1-13) because of the order of the temptations recorded there, and because of some extra comments by Satan.

My first comment should be obvious: Satan was willing to tempt God Himself. Satan apparently knew Who Jesus was -- "If You are the Son of God" -- although he may not have known His mission. Certainly if Satan will tempt Christ, he will find ways to tempt us. We are, after all, because of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, also entitled to the designation "Sons of God".

My second comment comes at the end of the passage: Satan left Jesus "until an opportune time." Satan never gives up. When you think you have him licked, you are at your most vulnerable.

Now let's look at the temptations.

Matthew Henry makes the observation that in the first temptation, Satan is tempting Christ to despair of his Father's goodness, to distrust his Father's care, and to distrust his Father's word. In all of these things, Satan is taking advantage of an outward condition. Satan is seeking to disrupt relationship with God as Father, and to cut off dependence on Him, duty to Him, and communion with Him by getting Christ to focus on the externals. Satan wants Him to believe, and act, as though He was the providers of all His own needs, let alone wants.

In all, this is broader than mere bread. We need food, true, but we also need water, shelter, clothing, income, transportation, heating fuel, communication devices, etc. -- the list seems endless.

To the extent we focus on our meeting our apparent necessities, we may well miss the call of God to service at any specific moment. Jesus knew all of this, and so reminded us in Matt. 6:25-34, where our focus is to constantly be:

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

We should also remember that these physical needs form the basis of the 8th, 9th, and 10th commandments: "Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor (normally done in order to obtain some thing for ourselves); thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything which is thy neighbor's."

But there is another necessity of life for mankind which is also at issue in the first temptation: the necessity of relationship. We are, after all, created for relationship: first with God and second with one another. The temptation is to constantly reverse the order of these two.

In the Garden, the best reading of the ancient Hebrew has Adam standing alongside Eve during the temptation! It was Adam's responsibility, given to him by God, to rebuke Satan, and instruct Eve. Yet he did neither. Having authority over all the beasts, arguably he could have ordered the serpent to depart, and the serpent would have had to depart.

Why did Adam stand silent? I suggest it was because he allowed his sense of need for the physical relationship with Eve to overcome his knowledge of his need first for relationship with his creator.

This relational need is at the heart of the 7th commandment: "thou halt not commit adultery." It is also at the heart of the following statements of Christ:

Matt. 10:28: "Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

Matt. 10:37: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."

We will constantly be simultaneously challenged by God to do some thing for Him while attacked with fear of loss of relationship by Satan. We will constantly seek the applause of man rather than the still quiet voice of God.

The second temptation is the lure of the temporal world. To understand this temptation, we must understand what are "kingdoms of this world".

Quite simply, kingdoms of this world are anything constructed by the mind and hands of man. They include our places of employment, whether it be General Motors or my own business.

What makes them equally so is that all are corporately formed by documents of the law -- Articles of Incorporation, By-laws, 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, etc. -- in which allegiance is pledged to the governments of man rather than unto the Lord our God.

And these institutional structures are subject to the power of Satan, and he can give that power to those who choose to worship and serve him.

These structures have a life-force of their own. Satan expressed that very clearly to Christ when he said: "If you will worship before me, it shall all be yours." Satan knew that these kingdoms exist by virtue of titles, positions, and powers. "They" -- not necessarily the laborers within them -- may claim to serve others, but they serve only themselves: their continued existence. The first commandment of the corporate world is "grow or perish."

"They" are also the things which we often think sustain us. That is, they feed on the first temptation. Thus the worker does what he ought not to do because he fears the loss of income.

Obviously, the pressure upon the leaders is even greater. Do you recall a few years back when the heads of the seven tobacco companies stood in front of Congress and took an oath that they were not doctoring the cigarettes or aiming their advertising at kids? Of course we know today it was all lies.

Christ's answer focuses the issue: "It is written you shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only."

Every instant of every day of our lives is to be one of worship and service to the Lord our God. When we work in corporate America -- including in corporate Christian organizations as pastor, deacon, trustee, missionary, or whatever -- we are daily faced with hard choices. The beast will demand things which God's law will not allow us to participate in.

When in conflict with someone, God tells us to go to that person and then bring others if that does not work. God tells us to drop all we are doing to accomplish reconciliation. But the "thing" will tell us that if we stop our work, the "thing" will perish. If we show weakness, we will be taken advantage of. Etc, etc, etc.

The world will always demand things of you which God will not allow. Your issue is: do I take a stand, or cave in to the pressure? Will I worship and serve the corporate beast, or the Lord my God?

To the extent you have conquered the first temptation -- to the extent you truly know that God meets all the mundane needs of food, clothing, housing, relationships, etc. -- then you will find it easier to chose to serve and worship Him and Him only. But if you are weak in the area of the first temptation, then you have little chance of withstanding the onslaught of the second.

The third temptation is, for the active Christian, the most subtle and dangerous.

Matthew Henry speaks of it in terms of presuming upon God's power and protection. One problem with being assured of our personal salvation is that we can easily fall into the trap: "Well, if I have sinned and hurt someone, God will be faithful and forgive me." The end result is that we do not practice righteousness. We do not go to those we have hurt and confess. We do not go to those who have hurt us and extend forgiveness. Yet we expect God to understand and forgive us!

But I think much more is involved. As the second temptation had aspects of the first within it -- fear over loss of job and provision -- so the third adds to the corporate aspect of the second.

Notice that Satan took the Lord to the pinnacle of the temple. The area below would have been crowed with the believers and tares of that day. This temptation has at its core the issue of what is our relationship to God vis-a-vis the religious structures and personalities of our day.

Had Christ thrown Himself down, He would instantly have started a denomination in which the miraculous would have been the center-point. He would have silenced the religious leaders of Judaism, and all would have left that "church" to go to the "church" of the miracle worker.

Every denomination of today -- and many, many individual churches -- exist because someone grasped an overlooked, forgotten, undervalued theological concept. They elevated this one to the top of the ladder and focused upon it. They gathered people to them in exclusion of the one body which Christ tells us we are!

Martin Luther grasped a forgotten point of theology: man is saved by grace alone and not by works. We now have Lutheranism.

Eastern Orthodoxy refused to accept the idea that the Holy Spirit proceeded from God the Father and God the Son, and so split from the common church of its day.

The Mennonites decided that baptism was a confessional act and thus required a rational human being. They broke from the Catholics (and did not join the Lutherans) because infants were not rational and could not be baptized.

The Evangelical Free Church has in its statement of faith the pre-millenial return of Christ. When I joined an Evangelical Free church, I struck that word out as it has only the function of distinguishing them from others, thus dividing the body of Christ. It also serves to create a distinctiveness such as Chrysler vs Ford so you will always buy (give your tithes) to one or the other. And it has nothing to do with salvation or how we should live our lives.

Southern Baptists, proclaim their history begins with Christ and the Apostles, and that they are, in their individual churches, autonomous and democratic under the headship of Christ. But autonomy of that sense is not in the Scriptures; you are to be acting in concert with all others who profess Christ as Lord and Savior regardless of the outward trappings their denomination places upon them. Nor is democracy in the Bible. For we have but one Head (which is totalitarianism). You may well point to Acts 6:1-8, but you misperceive that passage; but that is for another day.

But there is yet more in this temptation: it is to take the power of the secular portion of the religious institutions and use them to advance yourself. It is to operate the religious institution indistinguishable from the ways of the world.

It is for this reason that Christ warned the disciples, in Mark 10:35-45, to not follow the way of the gentiles (the secular world) by taking titles, positions and powers and lording it over others.

It is why Paul so carefully distinguished in I Tim. 3:1, between desiring an office -- which carries the title and power -- and desiring to serve.

Soon, the structured Church will demand your obedience -- your worship and service -- to it lest it perish. Every position will be filled not based upon a search of the Spirit of God for whom God wants in the position, and finding the one person God has prepared for such a time as this, but rather the search will be for someone whom the institution feels will re-fill the pews and, thereby, the treasury.

And if one came to you and healed a sick, or demonstrated some sign or wonder, you would likely select them to leadership although they were a minion of Satan which you could have determined by careful testing of the spirit.

And there is a final temptation at work here: to take the power of the religious and use it for political reconstruction of the world and thus usher in the kingdom of God. Had Christ thrown Himself down, there would have been a religious-based political revolution against the power of Rome. Church and State would have been one, and all would be Christian because it would be the in-thing; it would have nothing to do with being born again. It would have been exactly what Constantin did 300 years later, and what some want to do today in the U.S. -- but all that is also for another time.