While the temptation to jump to from the top of a high mountain may not appear very enticing at first glance, it’s a temptation we all face today. When life gets hard or overwhelming, like Jesus, we’re very tempted to believe God has ceased to take care of us and we need to take a “leap of faith” to get back in His good graces.
For each of the temptations, we’ll answer 3 questions:
- Why is the choice wrong?
- Why is the choice attractive?
- How does Jesus respond?
At Jesus’ baptism, we have a dramatic heavenly confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah. After that, we might expect Jesus to rally an army and march to Jerusalem to establish his rightful reign. We might expect him to claim the throne of David amidst the cheers and adoration of his nation.
Instead Jesus is led into the wilderness, alone, to face starvation and temptation.
- On the one hand, Jesus has been powerfully confirmed as the Son of God, the Messiah. On the other hand, God has put him in a place where he is facing great hardship and deprivation. This tension lies behind all these temptations.
- Satan wants to destroy Jesus personally and more importantly he wants to disqualify Jesus to be the Messiah.
- God is testing Jesus and demonstrating that Jesus is, in fact, worthy to be the Messiah.
- God tests Jesus in a way that echoes the story of Israel’s journey in the wilderness to teach us that Jesus is succeeding where Israel failed.
- Jesus shows he understands this parallel between his situation and Israel’s by quoting from Moses’ sermon to the nation before they enter the promised land.
5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” – Matthew 4:5-7
Why is the choice attractive?
- The “holy city” is Jerusalem. We’re not told how Satan took Jesus there. The method could have been miraculous or mundane.
- The pinnacle of the temple was on the corner where the outside wall of the temple mount met the outside wall of the city.
- According to archaeologists to have jumped from this spot would be about 1000 foot fall outside the city wall.
- Satan is not creating a public spectacle as a demonstration of God’s power that would advance Jesus’ cause or thwart it if God doesn’t come through.
- Satan is not challenging the fact that Jesus is the Messiah.
- Satan is asking Jesus to jump as a demonstration of his faith.
- Satan quotes Psalm 91.
9Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place– the Most High, who is my refuge– 10no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. 11For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. – Psalm 91:9-12
- Psalm 91 describes how God will protect the one who trusts Him (note Psalm 91:1-2).
- The psalmists gives various metaphorical pictures of how God protects those who trust Him.
- Psalm 91:12 is not a promise that you will never even so much as stub your toe. It is a metaphorical picture of God’s protection.
- Insofar as Jesus was human, Jesus wanted to be loved and accepted by God.
- Satan suggests God is angry with Jesus (as evidenced by his present hardship) and offers a solution.
Why is the choice wrong?
- Satan is asking Jesus to create a spectacular act of faith which is beyond the call of duty.
- It’s not possible for a child of God to go beyond the call of duty. If it is the right thing to do, then it is your duty to do it (Luke 17:5-10).
- Mature faith is simple, mundane, straightforward, ordinary, everyday obedience — nothing spectacular or magnificent.
- To jump off the pinnacle of the temple would have been presumptuous and insubordination. It would have been taking initiative where initiative is not appropriate.
- Jesus would be threatening bodily harm to himself unless his demands for a miracle were met.
- Throwing ourselves into stupid, dangerous or crazy situations is folly, not an act of faith. Instead, we go when and where God tells us.
- When the nation of Israel is suffering in slavery in Egypt, God sends Moses to them with a message of deliverance (Exodus 4:1-31).
- God promises that He will deliver them from their slavery with a striking display of power. He will be their God and they will be His people (Exodus 6:1-130.
- God delivers them through a series of ten miraculous plagues, including the Passover (Exodus 7-13).
- Pharaoh agrees to let them leave, but later pursues them with his army.
- The people panic when Pharaoh’s army approaches (Exodus 14:10-13). But God miraculously saves them by parting the sea (Exodus 14). The people believe God (Exodus 14:31), but their trust does not last.
- When they face hunger, the nation again loses confidence in God (Exodus 16:1-3). But God miraculously provides food for them (Exodus 16).
- All these events happened before the events at Massah (Exodus 17).
1All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” – Exodus 17:1-7
- The word massah means testing and the word meribah means quarrel.
- Up to this point, God has proved that He is both able and willing to take care of His people.
- The people are thirsty. They quarrel with Moses. Moses is afraid they are going to kill him.
- At God’s direction, Moses strikes the rock with his staff and water gushes out. Once again, God shows Himself both able and willing to take care of His people.
- Israel is testing Godm by demanding that He demonstrate His protection immediately by giving them water.
- Compare with Numbers 14:1-23; Exodus 14:10-12; Exodus 15:22-24; Exodus 16:2-3. Notice the consistency in the way Israel responds to each difficulty.
- At Massah, the nation of Israel refused to believe that God was still with them, in spite of copious evidence to the contrary. They tested Him, by demanding further proof of His protection.
“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” – Deuteronomy 6:16
- In his sermon, Moses urges the people to remember that God is trustworthy and refrain from demanding proof that He will protect them, no matter what obstacles they face.
- Satan is urging Jesus to test God in just the way Moses warned against.
- God led Jesus to the wilderness. Jesus is waiting for God to come to his aide. By jumping, Jesus would be demanding spectacular proof that God still cares.
- By jumping, Jesus would be coercing God into action. He would be faithlessly demanding that God prove himself, testing God test, just as Israel did at Massah.
- Satan left out a very important point: Jesus has already committed an act of faith by following God into the wilderness and remaining there without food.
- The key difference is Jesus did not create a situation and then expect God to solve it. He did want he was asked to do.