Recently, I have been thinking about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness as he began his ministry. As you may recall, Jesus is tempted by Satan in three ways: turn bread into stones; jump from the temple; bow down to the Prince of Darkness. We learn a lot about Jesus in this encounter — about his call and how he will carry out his ministry. But we also can learn a lot about ourselves.
As I read Matthew 4, I see Jesus being tempted, in the first, to use his power for his own sake. If you are the Son of God, Satan says, turn these stones into bread. If you have this power, Satan seems to say, then use it for your own sake. That’s not just a test Jesus faces; I think anyone who has any power or authority is tempted in a similar way. Perhaps this is a reminder that temptations starts by being personal. It starts with me, right where I am, with what I feel I need.
In Henri Nouwen’s book, The Way of the Heart, he says that the second temptation involves the challenge to be spectacular. Jesus is challenged to use his sonship to do something amazing; to wow the masses with God’s magic show. For me, this is the temptation for the church to put on a show that gets people in the pews; excite them and entertain them, and they will come. In short, this is the temptation to take the work of the Spirit, and try to manufacture it. The opposite of this isn’t to be boring or irrelevant; absolutely not. But if we believe in the power of God, then He needs to be the focus of what we preach and teach, how we worship and serve. What the world needs is not more entertainment, but a real encounter with the living God. That will involve emotion, sure, but not emotionalism. And it will include worship that is engaging and inviting, but not entertaining.
The last temptation seems to be about shortcuts, or success. Worship Satan, and Jesus will gain the kingdoms. And who wouldn’t love to have more and bigger? More people, bigger offerings, greater success — a reach that continues to expand, because surely bigger is better, right? But we are called to worship the Lord, only, and trust that HE will bring the kingdom. It is not my job to bring in the kingdom; it’s His. There are no shortcuts to the kingdom coming. Is it possible that we forget this, and choose successfulness, instead of faithfulness?
So, I’m not to look for success in the ways of the world. I am called; our church is called; to remain faithful. To worship God alone, and let Him lead and guide, and provide what He wants us to have. This isn’t passive or inward-focused; instead, it refuses to go for the quick fix or the easy path to faithfulness. It refuses to let slumps and struggles cause us to shift our focus. It reminds us that our job is to pray, and pray faithfully, and pray regularly – to continue to bend the knee to the Lord. And turn away, as Jesus did, from selfishness, and spectacular-ness, and successfulness. And trust God, following Him wherever He leads. Even if it’s to a cross.