St. Matthew, in the last part of Chapter 3 and the first 17 verses of Chapter 4, describes a sequence of momentous events in the life of Jesus just before the beginning of his public ministry of teaching and preaching. Matt. 3:13-15 describes how Jesus came to the Jordan where John the Baptist was baptising, and after answering some reluctance on John's part, he was baptised by John. Then, as he came up from the water, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove, alighting upon him, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Then immediately Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, and afterwards, while he was hungry and weakened in body, he faced a series of temptations by the devil; temptations which could have derailed and compromised the ministry he was called to share. William Shakespeare once stated that even the devil can quote Scripture to his own purposes, and these temptations which Jesus faced in the wilderness very clearly are examples of the devil's wily deceptiveness. If a person is not focused on true spiritual truth and value, sometimes the devil can make evil almost sound and look like good.
I want in these reflections to focus on how Jesus moved from grand high spiritual moments and heavenly assurances to come again face to face with the imperfect world, where the devil often encourages rationalizing compromise and wrong with nice-sounding excuses, and often promotes warped perceptions which would see good as evil and evil as good. In the real world of imperfections in which we live, we often are tempted when we are off guard, or when we are weary and stressed. We can note that here Jesus faced just such a situation, and that can give confidence that as he works in our lives he can help us in such circumstances (See Heb. 2:18 and Heb. 4:14-16), and we may find grace to help us in time of need. At times we may face taunting and teasing, and may be goaded toward unreasonable measures to show what we are made of.
We see the devil using these strategies on Jesus. He would say, "If you are the Son of God, show your stuff and prove it by doing what I tell you!" If you are hungry, there is an easy way to fix that, just turn these stones into loaves of bread. You'll make a big impression, and it will make you popular with everybody! If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the Temple! Show everybody that the angels will catch you and protect you from being hurt. You'll make a huge impression!! But to these deceptive appeals, Jesus answered with insightful scriptures, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God!" and "It is written, you shall not tempt the Lord your God!" Spiritual genuineness and truth and vital ministry are not manifested by exhibitionism and sensationalism!
It is to be noted that Jesus did not seek a ministry in which he would have guaranteed physical safety, or in which he would be assured of never having to feel the pressures of human hunger and trials and suffering. He did not seek the personal agrandizement of worldly power and wealth and the impressiveness of worldly fame. Rather, Jesus was committing himself to a ministry in which he shared the common needs and stresses and temptations of life, as all human beings experience these. His was a ministry that would move toward a cross of suffering and of self-giving, not toward an easy triumphalism.
Sometimes when we have experienced high moments of spiritual joy and assurance, we may come away assuming that from now on everything will just go great for us, or that our life should now be a continuously thrilling ride! How often, when life asks of us that we take up our cross of self-denial and service, or when we experience pain and difficulty, or when our path becomes rough and our heady thrill is calmed, we drift into questioning our faith, or questioning the Lord, "Why?" It may help us to remember that our Lord came not that he might show out before us and lord it over others, but to give of himself so that our lives would be blessed. Greatness is not necessarily demonstrated by showing out for others to see, or by securing all the advantages and comforts for oneself, but by contributing a caring, serving spirit which shares blessings with others. Jesus once said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. He came with a serving heart, that life may be made whole, that we may seek truly greater things in life, and that we may reach for the best we can be through his love and grace!
Editor's note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge, is an award-winning columnist, is a retired Methodist minister. He can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com, or call 621-1621.Religion on 02/01/2017
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