"I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly."
-- John 10:10
As we approach the season of Advent, I'd like to spend time considering why Jesus left his heavenly home to live, by comparison, amid the squalor of earth. To begin with, as his (and our) adversary Satan would learn, there is at least one reason we can debunk from the start.
If Gallup, Zogby and all those testing the whims of the populace had been around 2,000 years ago, Jesus wouldn't have cared a whit about the first poll.
He already knew most of the people he came to save wanted a militant Messiah. But he also knew his reasons for coming to earth transcended theirs, and no one 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). But temptation, as in "to seduce or lure someone into a behavior they know is wrong," doesn't quite define what Satan was trying to accomplish. The word "test" would be more appropriate. Just as God tested Abraham's faith more than 2,000 years before that, Satan was testing Jesus' resolve.
It's unwise, we are told, to make a decision when we are hungry, angry, lonely or tired, for those are the times we are most vulnerable to error. By the time Satan arrived on the scene in this incident, Jesus had been in the wilderness for 40 days without companionship or food. Satan must have thought he had a good chance to wear this do-gooder down.
Convincing Jesus to feed his own body was not the primary motive behind the test. Satan, the master of human nature, was trying to derail the mission of the Son of God.
"Miracles, Jesus," he whispered. "That's the way to get people to flock to your side. Turn these desert stones into bread for yourself now, and imagine how popular you'll be when you perform even greater miracles for them."
But Jesus replied, "Man shall not lived by bread alone." Though he would later perform many miracles including feeding more than 5,000 people at one time, that was not the central purpose of his ministry. Giving people material things would have meant bribing 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 his angels to protect you. Sensationalism -- that's the way to get people to flock to your side."
Jesus replied, "You should not put the Lord your God to a test." Jesus knew that sensationalism only succeeds with repetition, one act demanding another. Appealing only to the seeing-is-believing side of human nature was to rob them of their need to develop their faith in God.
Satan had one more trick up his sleeve: "Worship me, Jesus, and I'll give you all the kingdoms of the world. You won't have to lift a finger to gain their allegiance."
This may have been the easiest test of all. Jesus had helped create the world. Why would he need Satan's help to reclaim it?
It's also the most convincing test for us to learn that Jesus would be a Messiah who sought men's hearts, not their kingdoms. Most of all, to follow Satan's route would have meant saving the world by becoming like the world. All who have followed that route have already failed.
Jesus' plan for saving the world was higher than the Temple, greater than the temporary needs of mankind, and more enduring than the greatest nation in the world.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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