I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.
- John 10:10
If Gallup, Zogby and others testing the whims of the populace today had been around 2,000 years ago, Jesus wouldnt have cared about the first poll.
He already knew the percentages: most of the people He came to save wanted a militant Messiah. He also knew His reasons for coming to earth transcended theirs, and no one, not even hid powerful rival, Satan, could persuade Him to change His mind.
The Gospel writers call the encounter between Satan and the Son of God The temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). But temptation, as in to seduce or lure someone into a behavior they know is wrong, doesnt really define what Satan was trying to accomplish. The word test would be more appropriate. Just as God tested Abrahams faith more than 2,000 years before, Satan was testing Jesus resolve to stay on an unpopular course.
Its unwise to make a decision when we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, for those are the times we are most vulnerable. Jesus had been in the wilderness for 40 days without companionship or food, and He was probably tired. With Jesus suffering from three basic, human vulnerabilities, Satan must have thought he had a good chance to wear this do-gooder down. Every other leader he knew had fallen prey to his cunning ways when they were at their weakest.
Theres no doubt Jesus was hungry, nor that God could feed His only Son now. But convincing Jesus to feed His own body was not the primary motive behind the first test. Satan, the master of human nature, was trying to derail the mission of the Son of God.
Miracles, Jesus, he whispered. Thats the way to get people to flock to your side. Turn these desert stones into bread for yourself now, and imagine how popular youll be when you perform even greater miracles.
But Jesus replied, Man shall not live by bread alone. Though He would perform miracles, that would not be the central purpose of His ministry. Choosing the miracle route would have been wrong for two reasons: Giving people bread or other material things would have been to bribe them to follow Him; and feeding only their bodies would have been to miss the hunger in their hearts.
For the second test, Satan turned to another human characteristic: a thirst for thrills. As the two men stood on the pinnacle of the Temple, 450 feet above the ground, Satan whispered again:
If you really are the Son of God, fling yourself down. You know your Father will send angels to protect you. Sensationalism, Jesus. Thats the way to get people to flock to your side.
Jesus was equal to this test, too. You should not put the Lord, your God, to the test. Again, Jesus knew sensationalism, like materialism, can only succeed with repetition. One act demands another, usually with greater doses of that thrill. Jesus knew that appealing to the seeing-is-believing side of human nature was to rob them of their need to trust God.
Satan had one more trick up his sleeve: Fall down and worship me, and Ill give you all the kingdoms of the world. You wont have to lift a finger to gain their allegiance.
This might have been the easiest test. Jesus had taken part in creation; why would He need Satans help to gain the world again?
This is also the most convincing test for us that Jesus would be the Messiah who seeks to gain mens hearts and not their kingdoms. Most of all, to follow Satans route would have meant saving the world by becoming like the world. All who have followed that course have already failed.
Jesus plan for saving the world was higher than the Temple, greater than the temporary needs of human nature, and more enduring that the greatest nation the world has ever produced.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@aol. com.)
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