Saturday, September 7, 2013

Jesus' Temptations: A Test of Intimacy, not Identity!

     I cannot tell you how many people I have heard talk about the temptations of Jesus as a challenge to His identity (myself included). It's easy to see how this happens since most translations mistranslate the devil's words, so don't feel bad if you have joined me in this. But the temptations in the wilderness (recorded in detail in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 and referenced in Mark 1:12-13) were not challenging Jesus' sense of identity as God's Son but rather tempting Him to deny His identity by disrupting the intimacy He had with His Father by acting independently of Him. Catching the difference between these two is very, very important. 
     It seems highly unlikely that Jesus could have been tempted to doubt His identity. We know that by the time that Jesus had reached 12 years of age, He knew who He was and Who His real Father was. We also know that He was sure of His identity going into into his baptism by John (the conversation with John strongly suggests that Jesus knew He was the Messiah). We also know that the Father affirmed His identity in a powerful and public way as Jesus came up out of the water (and just before the temptations!). Finally, the language of the temptations, correctly translated, shows us what the devil was really up to. The Message gets it right: ""Since you are God's Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread." (Matthew 4:3) and "Since you are God's Son, jump." (Matthew 4:6). Yup, the Greek language here uses what is called a "first class condition" which, although it uses a word that can be translated "if," is better translated "since" because in a first class condition, the "condition" is assumed to be true. You will find the same thing in Philippians 2:1 where it's clearer that the meaning is "since." So the devil was saying, "Hey, you're God's Son and you're really hungry, so why not just take care of that need with a little miracle?" And "Hey, you can really speed up this   'Messiah thing' by doing something dramatic, so why not just float down from the temple? After all, the Bible says, 'He will give His angels charge over you!"
     It's probably fairly apparent why we need to understand the difference between Jesus being tempted to doubt His identity versus "use" His identity independently of His Father. Any disobedience, any independent action on Jesus' part would have destroyed His mission. It was, after all, Adam's choice to act independently of God that Jesus came to set right! And it was Jesus' clarity about His identity and the implications of it, birthed and sustained by intimacy with His Abba that enabled Him to turn aside the enemy's attacks. Jesus' intimacy with His Father, nurtured for 30 years, gave Him a knowledge of His Father's heart that was unshakeable. He knew without question that He could trust His Abba to meet His needs, to lead Him into His destiny in just the right way at the just the right time. So whereas Adam allowed the seeds of mistrust sown into his heart by the enemy to lead him away from God, Jesus' intimacy and clarity about His identity made it unthinkable for Him to consider acting independently of God.
      Even Jesus' quoting of Scripture to "parry" the devil's lies shows His loving trust in His Abba. Let me paraphrase Jesus' words in the Matthew account to help you see this. "It is written, there's more life in my Abba's words than in anything material!" (verse 4). "It is written, Abba is too trustworthy, too loving for us to ever consider putting Him to an illegitimate test!" (verse 7). "Get out of here, satan! It is written, and I know by personal experience that God alone is worthy of worship, trust and service!" (verse 10).
     How does all of this affect us and apply to us? First, as my thoughts above suggest, the test was far more "cosmic" in its implications than a mere test of Jesus' sense of identity. It was there in the wilderness that the first important battle to overcome the effects of sin was won. Jesus reversed Adam's failure and thereby started the process of defeat of our adversary and the winning back of our dominion over the earth. Second, Jesus' obedience, fostered, by His intimacy with His Abba, opened the door for His ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. The testing of His trust in His Abba solidified things in Him and revealed things about Him that led to the next season in His life. Third, if we understand the nature of the tests and how Jesus resisted them we, too, can move into God's purposes for us. Let me reflect on that for a moment.
     What if, instead of merely seeing Jesus' use of God's word as some kind of "tool" to be used against the devil, we understood that He so loved His Abba that Abba's word was at the core of His being? Would that change how we viewed God's Word? Would it change how we used it when we are tempted? Jesus valued God's Word because it was His Papa's Word, and He knew His Papa was good beyond description and loved Him without reservation or limit. What if we also understood that? What if the key to overcoming our adversary is ever-increasing intimacy with the One who pursues us for the purpose of loving us? What if in our being captured again and again by His love we became ever more trusting of His love so that independent action on our part became less and less likely, less and less appealing? Just thinking.... :-) I think you get the point.
     Let me close by acknowledging that we may indeed be tempted to doubt our identity so that we are crippled and left feeling afraid and powerless against life's tests. But I submit to you that the answer to this is not a "stronger sense of identity" but rather an increasingly intimate life with Abba, to the point that trusting in His love is our first and most frequent response to every test.

Surrendering to His pursuit,

Tom, one His little children