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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Temptation in the Desert

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

For reasons I am only beginning to grasp, for a while God has been speaking to me from his Word about how he sometimes takes his loved ones into the desert.  There are multiple biblical examples of this.  In fact, just within the first few chapters of Luke, which I am currently reading, there are at least two.  The latter is the famous account of Jesus being led by the Holy Spirit into the desert following his baptism to be tempted by the devil.

The Hebrew word satan and the Greek word diabolos (from which we get "devil") both mean "accuser."  (You might find it interesting that we don't actually know the devil's name.  We just know his titles: accuser, tempter, evil one, god of this world, prince of the power of the air, ancient serpent, etc.)  At the heart of the devil's temptation is the accusation that Jesus is not the Son of God.  Notice that the devil begins two temptations by saying, "If you are the Son of God . . . ," and in the other temptation he offers rule over the earth's kingdoms that are his by right as the Son of God already.

The title "Son of God" applies to Jesus whether we are looking at him "top down" (i.e., from the perspective of his divinity first) or "bottom up" (from his humanity first).  "Top down" Jesus' essential identity is the Son of God—he is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, the Eternal Word, the everlasting Son of the Father who is before all things, and through whom all things were made (Col. 1:15-17).  "Bottom up" Jesus' calling was to fill the prophesied role of the Son of God by his obedience to the Father, by which he would receive the royal authority over all the earth promised to the son of David (2 Sam. 7:12-16; see also Ps. 2, esp. vv. 7-9).  So when the devil insinuates that Jesus is not the Son of God, he disputes Jesus' identity and calling in relationship to God.

He makes the same accusation against any of God's people whom God has taken into the desert.  When you are in the desert, Satan will whisper to you in your own thoughts or through the critical voices of others that you are not who God says you are and that you are not appointed or fit to do what God has called you to do.

Being in the desert means being unsatisfied, as Jesus' hunger attests.  The devil tempts the believer to "make stones into bread," to go outside of God's appointed order to get satisfaction at any cost.  Jesus' reply reminds us that not only does true satisfaction only come in conformity to God's will expressed in God's Word, but that obedience to that Word itself sustains and satisfies when there is nothing else around that does the job (see also John 4:31-34).

Being in the desert means lacking control over things and people, because there is nothing to possess and use and no one to take your orders.  The devil tempts the believer with "all the kingdoms of the world," all the power and control over the world around you, persons and things, that you lack.  Jesus' reply reminds us that the cost of that power is to yield all one's power to the evil one in worship, which is far too high.

Being in the desert means hearing no applause and praise from others, no "attaboys," no fame.  It means being a nobody, out of the attention of others.  The devil tempts the believer to jump in front of everyone and win their admiration.  Jesus' reply reminds us that, just as he had supreme confidence in his Father and in himself and did not need the adoring crowd to tell him who he was, so it is with us.

When you lack satisfaction, control over your surroundings, and mass approval, you know you are in the desert.  The Holy Spirit takes us into the desert to teach us to detach from these things and to prefer obeying God to them.  The tempter is the Spirit's unwitting assistant.  We learn our lesson by being led by the Holy Spirit, who always uses the Word of God to remind us of who we are, what we are to do, and who we are doing it for.

God leads his beloved into the desert to prepare him or her to handle satisfaction, control, and mass approval properly, because he is going to do something through his beloved that will cause these things to balloon in his or her life.

In other words, he leads his beloved into the desert to make him or her like Jesus.

1 comment:

  1. Good post, Cory. I often fall into the trap of seeking contentment in things other than God (especially my job). In the end, though, it's like how CS Lewis writes about our settling for eating mud pies rather than enjoying the feast that comes from knowing Him.