This afternoon I was invited to speak at our local Methodist church for a community Lenten service. The hymns and the text both came from Matthew 4:1-11 and dealt with the temptation of Christ in the wilderness by Satan. The text reads like this:
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command His angels concerning You’;
‘On their hands they will bear You up,
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.
My focus was on our enemy and how he strategizes against us. Like any enemy – physical or spiritual – he has an objective to achieve and tactics by which he achieves his objective. His objective is clearly stated in verse nine: he would have us bow down and worship him. But what tactics does he employ to accomplish this objective? His tactics are temptation.
How does Satan, our enemy, employ his tactics? Well, as we see here with Christ, he always tempts us with our weaknesses and when we are most vulnerable. I don’t think it an accident that he comes to Christ on the fortieth day of his fast. Interestingly enough, for the first four to five days of going without food, your body experiences hunger pains. However, after about day five the pains subside and do not return again until about day forty. On day forty our bodies begin experiencing severe hunger pains due to the immanency of starvation. So, when Christ is most vulnerable, Satan tempts Him with bread.
His tactics are no different with us. He waits until the point at which we are weak, vulnerable, and susceptible. Perhaps our weakness is greed; perhaps it is pride. It could be lust, it could be any number of things. Whatever our weaknesses are, it is important that we lay them at the feet of Jesus.
Hebrews tells us that He was tempted in every way just as we are, and yet was without sin. Therefore, we can approach His throne of grace with confidence and find help in our hour of need. Give Him your weaknesses and find your strength in Him with those areas in which you are vulnerable.
Earlier this week, someone was describing to me in detail a particular situation that they found themselves in. They felt they had been wronged – really, objectively, wronged – by someone. They were describing to me how it made them feel. As I was listening to them, I found myself empathizing with them. They felt betrayed, confused, and angry. I felt that, if I were in their situation, I would likely feel the same way.
I began wondering, “How would Jesus feel if He found Himself in this situation? What if someone treated Him this way?” My initial thought was that He would surely respond as this person did, and as I myself would have. It was at that moment that I realized that I was projecting my emotions and reactions onto Christ. I was, essentially, making Christ into my image, rather than the other way around. I was not, at that moment in time, being transformed by the renewing of my mind and being conformed to the image of God. I was creating within my head and heart a God who was fashioned after me – how I felt, how I thought, how I reacted, how I spoke. And yet, the God that we read of in Scripture is nothing like the way I was making Him out to be.
Matthew 26 is an amazing chapter. It begins by talking about Judas Iscariot, who of course betrayed Christ and gave Him over to be crucified. Matthew writes of the Last Supper, when Jesus is gathered with His disciples. He informs them that one of them is going to betray Him. Judas, feigning ignorance and innocence proclaims, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus’ response says it all. Essentially He says to Judas, “You said it!”
Now, that scene of betrayal was exactly the type of conversation I was having at the time. Betrayal, confusion, anger, all began to circle in my head. Would Jesus respond the way I envisioned Him responding?
Not at all. Scripture records in Matthew 26:26-28 the response of Christ to the ultimate betrayal by one of His closest associates.
“While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”
It was at that moment that I realized that I was extremely guilty of idolatry. I was creating a god that looked and thought like me – vindictive, selfish, and vengeful. But the Jesus I saw in Matthew 26 was gentle, meek, selfless, and loving. He didn’t throw Judas out, He didn’t proclaim Him a traitor, and He certainly didn’t seek to betray Him in return. He simply shared His last supper with his betrayer, and pronounced blessing and thanksgiving over the body and blood that would enable forgiveness for even the vilest of sinners.
Wow. My heart was broken. How could I be so shallow? How could I paint a picture of the Lord by looking in the mirror? It was not possible, and yet that time was one of many that I had attempted to paint the ever-loving Christ in such a way.
Let me encourage you to look to Scripture and seek Christ. Let me encourage you to continually visit Him in prayer and ask Him to change your heart and fill it with Him. If we do not, we will find that even in the informal settings of drinking coffee and talking about life with others, we will portray a false god whom we have imagined and constructed in our image – thinking like us, feeling like us, acting like us. The unchanging Good News is that Christ died for your sins, to provide forgiveness and reconciliation. Even when we are guilty of selfishness and idolatry.
Abraham Lincoln is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s greatest presidents. He guided the fragile country through its most troubled period – the Civil War. How does someone take upon themselves that mantle of leadership? The key is in preparation. Lincoln was quoted as saying, “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” He was self-educated, driven, and, though he suffered multiple political defeats, won the office of the presidency in 1860. His preparation for the future was the catalyst that drove him to action in the present.
In Matthew 25, Christ is talking to His disciples about the importance of preparation. This is still part of His “Olivet Discourse” where He is answering their question about the signs of the end of the age. After giving them some signs to look out for in Matthew 24, He shares with them about the necessity of being always prepared for His return. His parable of the ten virgins deals with the difference in those who are preparing and those who are not. His parable of the talents highlights the difference in those who are active while waiting for the return of the master and those who are not. Lastly, His story of “the least of these” highlights, again, the necessity of actively preparing for the return of Christ by always ministering to those around us.
All of this ties back into the words of Christ in Matthew 24:14 where He says, “This gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Christ is emphasizing the obligation that we have as Christians to be preparing for His return. We are not to be as those who have no oil in their lamps, or who buried their talents, or who neglected their neighbors in need. Rather, we must be those who are re-filling the oil in their lamps, who are investing in others on the Lord’s behalf, and who are serving our neighbors in the name of Christ. By doing this, we are not only ministering to those around us, we are also being faithful and obedient to the Lord’s commands and preparing this world for His return.
Take some time this week and conduct some self-examination: How prepared am I for the return of Christ? Have I given my life to Him? If not, then please do it now. The end of the chapter provides a very stern warning about hell and those who reject Christ. If so, then what are you doing? Are you doing your part to preach the testimony of Christ through word and action? Do you spend time with Him every day? Do you share His words with others? Are you seeking to meet the practical needs of your neighbors in the name of Christ? Like Abraham Lincoln, my prayer is that our preparation for the future becomes our catalyst for our action in the present. It is truly an incredible thought to imagine that through our efforts, we may actually bring about the return of Christ! There is no more glorious purpose that we can dedicate our lives to than this.
This week I have been preparing to teach on Matthew 24. When I came across the words of D.A. Carson, a leading New Testament scholar, it brought me a measure of comfort. He says:
“Few chapters of the Bible have called forth more disagreement among interpreters than Matthew 24 and its parallels in Mark 13 and Luke 21. The history of the interpretation of this chapter is immensely complex."
Within this chapter alone you will find Jewish history, Jewish archaeology, and Jewish geography. In addition to those elements, though, there are also parables, prophecy, and eschatology (end times prophecy). I don’t know if I have ever studied a more complex and intricate chapter. And yet, in the midst of all the storm of this chapter, Jesus is careful to reiterate a point to His disciples over and over again.
When they find out the Temple is going to be destroyed (which it was in 70 AD by the Romans), I imagine they are a little confused. Jesus says, in verse six, “see that you are not troubled.” He then tells them that they will be delivered up to tribulation, killed, and even hated. But, in verse thirteen, He reassures them that if they “endure to the end” they “will be saved.”
After telling them of the Great Tribulation that is to come, and all of the terrible occurrences that accompany that time, He reassures them again, saying in verse thirty-one, “He will send His angels…and they will gather together His elect…from one end of Heaven to the other.”
When we read of this future time which will precede the second coming of Christ, we can sure get worried. In fact, we ourselves – though Christ clearly tells us that we will never be able to discern the hour of His coming – can get caught up in the hype and sensationalism of trying to fit world events into our timeline of His expected return. It can absolutely consume us to the point where we are no longer engaged in the lives of others around us, and it can cripple our trust in the Lord in the midst of life’s circumstances.
Even in the midst of describing these circumstances to His disciples, Christ makes sure to remind them that He is always and forever in control of this world. He created it, after all! Remember the beautiful words of Christ to His disciples when He was sending them out in Matthew 10? He told them:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
No matter how many terrorist organizations rise up, no matter how many plane crashes we have, no matter how bleak the economy gets, God is still in control and He still knows, loves, and takes care of His own. He always has and He always will. Give Him your fears, worries, and concerns and let Him use you today to impact your life and the lives of others with this hope.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.