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Grown-Up Bible Stories

The Testing

Had you been there, you would not have seen anything to suggest the enormity of the crisis. A lone man camping in the Middle Eastern desert hardly would suggest a situation in which the future of Heaven and Earth hung in the balance. Had you drawn closer, however, you would have seen that the man was skinny, unnaturally skinny. Had you drawn even closer, perhaps you would have observed a sickly yellow tint to His skin, a jaundice stemming from enough hunger to have seriously impacted His health. History doesn’t describe His appearance, but had you drawn closer still and looked carefully, you might have even read in his eyes a look of inner struggle. Perhaps you would have wondered what demon was plaguing that man as you walked on your way.

Actually, there was a demon plaguing him, but it wasn’t an inner one. Nor was it just any evil spirit. The man in question had spent over a month under direct pressure from Satan, the king of the demons. The battle was solitary. It was spiritual, but it was intense. It had to be. The stakes were higher than in any other conflict the world had ever known, or ever would know. Under attack was the future--not just of the man in question, but of Satan, of the human race, even of God Himself. A huge responsibility weighed down on the weakening shoulders of a very hungry Jewish construction worker.

By now you’ve guessed, of course, that the man in the center of this spiritual firestorm was Jesus Christ. The incident we’re thinking about occurred shortly after his baptism in the Jordan River. This testing occurred just after God’s voice had spoken from Heaven declaring Jesus to be His beloved Son Who was pleasing to the Father. It happened just after the Holy Spirit had visibly descended on Him in the form of a dove. This time of terrible trial occurred just as Jesus switched from carpenter to minister. As strange as it may seem, we find in the Bible, that it was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness where He spent forty days being tempted by the devil. Some things don’t make sense to us, yet there is an element in all God’s leading that must always remain beyond the best of human logic.

You’ve heard about the three classic temptations that Jesus experienced at the hand of Satan. Actually, there were more than three. Luke’s gospel tells us that He spent forty days being tempted by the devil. Those forty days must have involved intense temptations. While Jesus didn’t long for evil things like we sometimes do, He had to face all the temptations we know. Besides, the devil isn’t dumb. He had to know that if he ever got a shot at deity, this was it. So, Jesus was tempted. Those forty days in the desert with the wild animals and snakes hadn’t been a pleasure excursion. They’d been a time of struggle, a struggle that had carried over into the weakness caused by fasting. I’d like to suggest that the motive for the long fast was maintaining spiritual strength to overcome these temptations. The forty days may well have constituted the hardest period in the life of the Man who knew sorrow and was acquainted with grief.

Then, while Jesus was weak and hungry, the devil hit him up front and in person. This attack towers over the whispered suggestions that so often ruin us. It was a direct face-to-face encounter with an evil so powerful that it overwhelms most people with far less than a full exposure. It was an encounter with an evil being so terrible as to make all those spooky occult stories seem like tamed down children’s tales. Nowhere else in history is it recorded that Satan had the opportunity to stand face to face with a human being and directly put that person to the test three times running.

Actually, he had come face-to-face with humanity once before. Four thousand years earlier, he’d disguised himself as a snake in the Garden of Eden and caught the first woman off guard. He’d come at her through food, fruit growing on a tree that God had somehow linked to the knowledge of good and evil. The tempter had questioned God’s command not to eat fruit from that tree. He’d accused God of holding her back and promised that in addition to superior food qualities that tree’s fruit contained the power to make her like God.

Eve, of course, had failed this test, bought into a lie, and ate the fruit. Then, her husband, the first man and ancestor of us all, had faced the same temptation. He didn’t find himself looking the devil in the eye, though. It was only his wife who offered him the forbidden fruit. He, too, had had the opportunity either to obey the one commandment of God or to go on and get what seemed best for himself. He also failed, and in that failure something died out of the human race. In addition to physical death and trouble, human spiritual life came to an end. Mankind lost the ability to relate to God. The ability to control oneself crumbled away. The knowledge of good and evil had been gained, but the ability to be good had disappeared, leaving a tragic patchwork of evil and suffering in its place.

Now, Jesus Christ stood in the wilderness. God had lowered Himself to become a human in order to bring humanity back into relationship with God, wholeness, and life. But in that process, the old test of obedience and loyalty had to be faced again. This need is part of what gives the next few hours of history such significance.

As in Eden, the devil started with food. This time, food was lacking. Again came the question of the relationship between humanity and deity. To Eve, he had promised the chance to be like God. To Jesus--God and man--he tried to get the man to forsake the will of God, to use divinity for less than divine reasons. The challenge: "If you are God’s Son, make this rock into bread." (Quotations are not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a Bible reference.) What a proposition to put before a man who has been so long without food as to leave his digestive system in peril of malfunction! What a proposition to throw at one who has willingly left Heaven and lived for thirty years as a lowly, hardworking, and tempted human being. In essence, "If you are the Son of God, forget the Son part. Do the God thing. Forget God’s will for Jesus the man. Turn this rock into bread and feel good again."

There was spiritual power in Jesus’ fast. There wasn’t spiritual power in bread. There was glory in Godhood. There was necessity in manhood. All the while, Satan was trying the same trick he had in Eden. "Forget your proper place as a human, eat, drink, and take the place of the Father."

Adam and Eve had failed this test. Now, the "second Adam" faced it. Was it to be satisfied desire and the reputation of being God the devil’s way, or was it to be an obedient spirit ignoring a fainting flesh?

Jesus answered with Scripture. He reminded the tester that life wasn’t based on bread only, but on every word of God. He went hungry, but God’s purpose was fulfilled. The test Adam had failed, Jesus Christ passed.

But it got worse. Satan took Him high up in a tower of the temple. Temptation happens to most of us when we are drawn through our own desires. The voice of Satan through those desires seems more like our own thoughts. But Jesus wasn’t an ordinary man, and He wasn’t getting an ordinary temptation. My guess is that had you been surveying the Jerusalem skyline that day you would not have seen Satan perched on the "steeple." It is possible that Jesus' presence there was also spiritual. Whether they were both there in spirit form, or if Jesus walked into town and climbed up the tower in the flesh with the devil a palpable spiritual presence beside Him, the temptation again called for physical action. This time Satan challenged Him to put God to the test. The specific dare was to jump. It was sort of like the old Garden of Eden question: Has God said? This time the devil quoted Scripture. God had promised, had promised specifically of the Christ, that the angels would hold Him up so that He couldn’t smash his foot against a stone. Challenging Jesus’ deity, challenging even the sureness of His faith, the devil asked Him to prove who He was.  In effect he was asking Jesus to test the reliability of God by forcing Him to provide the promised protection. Was he hoping that the Father would get disgusted with such a carnal show and let Jesus land like a skydiver without a parachute? Was he hoping to destroy the Son of God before his own grip on the earth could be knocked loose? We don’t know.

But Jesus Christ refused to downsize His mission or His faith to a mere stage show. He told Satan that the Bible forbids us to put God to the test. (Your Bible may read in terms of tempting God, but tempt and test are the same thing.) Again, the command of God ruled in the life of Jesus the man, and Satan’s test fell behind a successful Christ.

The Bible is very simple in describing the third big temptation. Yet, please consider this scene very carefully. Again, travel is involved. Again, it is possible that the travel happened in the spiritual dimension. Jesus found Himself on the top of a very high mountain, standing there with a very powerful spirit being. In an instant, all the kingdoms of the world danced before His eyes. Assuming "primitive" cultures haven’t changed much, there would have been the grass-hut kingdoms of Africa with their chiefs perhaps adorned with shell necklaces—it sounds little, but it was the greatest position in the village. Maybe there was a glimpse of powerful Indian chiefs ruling advanced cultures in the South American mountains. Closer to home, and more clearly recorded in history, the vassal kings of Roman territories, men Like Herod in Galilee, sat on important-looking thrones, bedecked in gold and surrounded by pomp and ceremony. These kings had life and death power. They represented cultural high ground. Of course, he’d have seen the advanced marvels of Chinese royalty. Then, there would have been the Roman Emperor, receiving all the honor and power available in the ancient western world. It was all there, from the lowest chieftain to the greatest dictator. And Satan boasted that it was all his. He was the power behind every throne, be it a big rock under a palm tree or gold-plated ivory. It was all his. He could give it to whomever he chose. He would give it to Jesus—on condition of course. The one condition was relatively simple, "Fall down and worship me."

God the Father had promised Jesus a kingdom as part of His plan for reclaiming the world. The plan was for Jesus to face this and other trials successfully, to finish a poverty-stricken life in death by torture, to go to the grave, and to rise again. After that, He was to be given rule of the world, not just the rule He’d always had as God, but now to rule with both the glory of God and as the ultimate man, the One Who’d passed the tests of loyalty and obedience and could reclaim dominion over the earth. The man Jesus Christ was to be the King of Kings, to have all the kingdoms of this world given to Him, but on God’s painful, challenging terms.

Now, for what may have seemed little more than a formality, Satan offered those kingdoms to him instantly. No waiting. No being despised and rejected. No dying, just drop to His face before this very impressive, very powerful, larger-than-life being for a few moments and it would all be His for free.

What would have happened if Jesus had worshipped the devil? The second man with a chance for passing God’s test of obedience and loyalty would have failed. The way to forgiveness and eternal life for mankind would have been closed. Jesus is God. Yes, he is also human, but the fullness of the Trinity dwells in Him bodily. Should He worship Satan, God would be kneeling before His enemy. God would be worshiping, and with that act, Satan would have become God. Nothing in the universe and beyond would ever have been the same again. Jesus might have had all the kingdoms of the world on such terms, but He’d have to rule them Satan’s way, and it wouldn’t be pretty. A bigger mess than God worshiping a created being and changing from God to servant cannot be imagined. Yet, standing in his world-dominating majesty before a weakened, weary, and hungry man the unimaginable is what Satan had the gall to suggest. Theologians debate whether or not it was possible for Jesus to yield to temptation. The fact remains that you and I can be very glad that He did not.

Reminding Satan that only God is to be worshiped and served, Jesus passed the test. With that the devil left--for the time being, anyway.

The God of gods was again a lonely man in the desert. He was still dreadfully hungry and very weak. He was gaunt and still faced a life of hardship, temptation, and a premature death on a torture device called a cross. But, that weary, dropping body had earned its rest. Jesus Christ had passed the test. God was still God. The Father still wanted to bring man to a place of friendship with Himself, and He still had a Man through whom to do it. God Himself had depended on Jesus Christ, and found Him worthy.

Fast forward just a bit, if you will. It’s three years later. The sick have depended on Jesus and have been healed. The bereaved have depended on Jesus and have seen their loved ones brought back to life. The hungry have depended on Jesus and been fed. The sinful have depended on Jesus and been forgiven. Only the devil has tried to depend on Him and lost. To all others, including God, He has proved Himself dependable. And now, He faces the final test.

In the garden last night, he prayed to the Father. He prayed, sweating blood as it were, fearing, and asking that if it could be possible, He be let out of His part in the plan for bringing the human race back into friendship with God. But God is depending on Him. Sure, He has access to twelve thousand angels—more actually. He could but speak the word and the world instead of being rescued from its mess would be destroyed. He is still the Son of God with power to change things for His own advantage.

But He has passed that test. God is depending on Him to bring humankind back to Himself. The world unknowingly is depending on Him to save it from destruction, both self-destruction and the eternal judgment of God. Again, the great test is before Him. Again, the plan of God and the fate of the nations ride on His shoulders.

Yet, He hangs from the cross, bleeding, straining for every breath, condemned, and dying. The criminals dying with Him mock, but one turns to Him and is promised a home in Heaven’s paradise. The crowd repeats the devil’s challenge, "If you are the Son of God. . ." This time it’s more than bread; it’s a challenge to come down off the cross. But the Father is depending on Him. So are the mockers, only they don’t know it. The test, the final test, is upon Him. Can God and the World depend on Jesus the God-man to do the very undivine thing and die, or will He do the power thing and leave Heaven and Earth in the lurch?

He has bled enough. His life is ebbing. With a final cry, "It is finished," He bows his head and deliberately dies for the sins of those who killed Him. "It is finished". Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, has faced Satan and weakness for the last time. He’s been tested long and hard, but He’s passed each test. "It is finished". He has proved Himself worthy for God to depend upon. He has proved Himself worthy for humanity to depend upon. "It is finished" and He is thoroughly dependable.


You know at least part of the rest of the story. He died and was buried. Three days later, God raised Jesus Christ up from the dead and gave Him more authority, power, and glory than the devil could offer. He also declared Him the way for messed up, sinful human beings to have their sins forgiven, to become friends with God, and to have Heaven and eternal life. All they have to do is to put their faith in Him.

The question each of us faces is this. God depended on Jesus and found Him to be dependable. Countless humans have put their faith in Jesus and found him to be dependable. Will you put your faith, your dependence, in Him right now? After all, He is dependable.

Click here to learn how to put your faith in Jesus: How to Have a Relationship with God.

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


How to Have a Relationship with God

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