Matthew 4:1-11 reminds me of a major plot twist in a superhero movie where the hero gives you a glimpse of their true power. As the readers of this short, but intense dialogue, we have the best seat in the house.
In Chapter 3, Matthew shares with us the baptism of Jesus. It was an amazing occasion, as this is one of the few times in Scripture where all three members of the Trinity are clearly present at the same time. After this glorious occasion, we arrive at Chapter 4 where it seems that almost immediately “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted.” (Matthew 4:1 NIV) In the wilderness, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before He was tempted by Satan. We will be looking at the second temptation Jesus faced.
“Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the Temple.” (Matthew 4:5)
We’re not really sure how the devil took Jesus to the top of the Temple. Nowhere in Scripture does it say Jesus was an expert at scaling Temple walls (although in my opinion He’s clearly an expert at walking on water). From His location Jesus could have probably seen all the daily activities of the Temple, including those of the Pharisees. Jesus knew this group was one of the hardest to convince of His divinity. They would need proof of something so unbelievable that it would remove any doubt of who Jesus claimed to be. In order to make things easier for Jesus, Satan suggested that He jump off the highest point of the Temple, because He would not be hurt.
To prove his point, Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 which says, “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” So instead of struggling to prove Himself by arguing with the Pharisees, and facing constant ridicule and pain, Jesus could have jumped and prevented that from happening. However, Christ knew the devil was tempting him to take advantage of God. So He responded with a very stern command: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7)
THE DESERT OF SIN
The command Jesus gave was in reference to a time in history when the Israelites faced a similar temptation on their way to the promised land.
“The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink” (Exodus 17:1).
God had been feeding the Israelites miraculously with manna from heaven to sustain them along their journey in the desert, but they came to a place called The Desert of Sin (which Moses later named Massah) where they had no water to drink.
The word ‘sin’ in The ‘Desert of Sin’ is not the same in translation as the meaning of our English word for sin. It is from a Hebrew word which means ‘thorn’ and Siani is an expansion of that word, hence the title of that place can also be called ‘The thorny desert.’
“So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exodus 17:2-3)
The Israelites were teasing/tempting God in a disrespectful way. They were trying to force God to act on their behalf. It was like they were saying, “God, you didn’t take us from our homes to die did you? You didn’t bring us all the way out here to abandon us and leave us to suffer, right?” Verses 5 and 6 of Exodus 17 show that God was in fact merciful to the people and He provided water for them.
The behaviour of the Israelites reminds me of students who break all the rules at school because one of their parents is the principal. Or an employee that is constantly late for work because they play golf with the boss. Maybe even the many times we get ourselves in trouble and try our hardest to convince God that He has to help us or risk having His child, “the ambassador of Christ,” embarrassed, hurt, or suffering.
When the people of Israel finally got to the promised land, Moses gathered them together and gave them commands from God for how they should conduct themselves in the land. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.” (Deuteronomy 6:16) Moses was warning the children of Israel not to assume that because God is merciful and loving, that they could try to force Him to work on their behalf.
As Christians this is one of the temptations we face daily. It is the temptation to assume that we don’t have to wait on the Lord for His guidance and direction. The temptation to believe that we can make our own plans and God will have to help us, or prevent us from falling. Jesus’ command meant having the promises of God available and does not give us the right to abuse or take advantage of God’s love.
We should not think we can manipulate God into working for us. Instead, we must ask God to teach us how we may better serve Him, so we can avoid taking the jump and falling for this temptation.
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In addition to being the Young Adult Pastor with Interaction, Andre Parris is also the current Youth Pastor of St. Michael & All Angels’ Anglican Church and shares the facilitator role at the bi-weekly co-ed Bible Study with Westview Young Adults. He is also often present at his newlywed wife’s side, Danielle Parris, who leads the Youth at Briarwood Presbyterian Church. He is in the process of completing a Bachelor of Arts Degree with Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Ontario. He can be contacted via e-mail here.