Indecent Proposal

It is Monday morning! I hope you are enjoying the start to your week. Please forgive me for skipping over the pleasantries today. I’m very excited about this week’s email. It has special application to me personally. I really want to get into it right now!

So, here we go!

I’m sure this week’s title brings to mind the 1993 film featuring Demi Moore, Robert Redford and Woody Harelson. However, as we look back to revisit a passage from about a month ago we find a far more indecent proposal than the million dollar offer Robert Redford's character put forth in that blockbuster film. 

This passage outlines the tempting of Jesus in the wilderness.There are a few things in this very popular story that I have been brooding over for the past weekend. I've been focused on the seoncd temptation. The whole discourse around this part of the story strikes me. Here it is:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Matthew 4:5-7

Now, I’ve heard this story since first grade - over and over again. It wasn’t until this past Saturday night that I began to contemplate the depth of what was going on in these verses.

Let's start here: Satan is crafty! He is skilled at suggestion. In fact, that’s the tool he uses most. It is his most covert attack. As I read these verses this weekend I found myself marveling at Jesus’ approach to handling this. His methods here boil down to three applications that I can see.

1) Jesus considered the source.

By the time we get to verse 5, Jesus is near the end of a fast and already has smacked down one of Satan’s temptations. He is physically weak, yet his spiritual focus is intensified. If you’ve ever fasted, you can relate to this state. The body craves nourishment. As physical faculties grow weak, we shift to our spiritual constitutions to provide us with sustenance. 

Jesus was focused at this point! Yes, his body was weak, but his spiritual senses were keenly aware of his adversary. He knew exactly with whom he was dealing! When “the tempter” came, Jesus was already squared-up and ready for him.

The tempter had done his homework for approaching Jesus, as well, though. He didn’t come to this event without having done his own training. He throws his second jab at Jesus using the same methodology he applied in his first temptation: the use of scripture.

Jesus was ready of course, and the passage shows that he didn’t waste time contemplating what the tempter had to say because he already knew with whom he was dealing. He considered the source and recognized that Satan’s use of scripture was not credible. He stuck to his guns and stayed in line with his purpose.

2) Jesus resisted rationalization

This is where the second temptation stands out the most to me. I am a consummate rationalizer! I have a bent for living in my head. If you are like me, Jesus’ response here is instructive.

Jesus didn’t get into his natural mind to make sense of what the tempter said. We don't get any information that suggests he even considered it! Had I have been Jesus (thank God I’m not!) my internal monologue would have sounded something like this:

“Well, if I do throw myself off this building, Satan is right. My father will send his angels to protect me. Satan is quoting the scripture accurately. Maybe the people will see and know that I am God’s son. This way, I won’t have to endure the agony of the cross! They’ll see the angels! They’ll know who I am! This whole dreadful ordeal can be over!”

C’mon! If you’re honest, you’ll recognize that this kind of thought pattern makes sense to our natural minds! But, Jesus in his divine wisdom knew what to do. Having considered the source, he did not allow his carnal mind to be engaged. He dismissed it. He didn’t give the suggestion a second thought.

This is critical for people who like to think and analyze and pick apart. Once we recognize the source as being one that is not credible, we must resist the fringe temptation to rationalize the primary temptation itself. We must not take temptation and make it “okay” through reason!

3) Jesus relied on the authority of the word of God

Satan was crafty in approaching Jesus with the word of God. If we look, we can see where he has craftily bent God’s word time and time again to create abominations of murder and abuse throughout history as well. The difference here is that Jesus’ handling of Satan’s craftiness blunts the devil’s efforts to derail the plan of redemption.

It is almost as if we were watching a spiritual game of Spades here:  

Satan lays down the Little Joker: For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus plays the Big Joker and wins the book:  “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Satan can quote scripture, but he cannot blunt the word of God spoken with the authority of God himself!

Jesus spoke the word of God with authority! This is key! Quoting a scripture we heard some preacher say won’t give us this kind of efficacy with the word. Cliches and repeated phrases have no power in a duel with the tempter. Jesus’ application of the scripture is effective because it is an authoritative application! We must study the scriptures and know them. We must learn to speak them with authority just as Jesus did!

Satan stepped to Jesus with audacity and cunning. We can be sure that he will approach us with the same gravitas - maybe more. The second of the three proposals he places before Jesus is particularly indecent. This first is practical. The last is desperate. In the second, he tempts Jesus to co-opt his own purpose. The audacity!

Satan knows that if he can get Jesus to cut a corner then the work of redemption is knocked off course for all eternity! When the tempter sets his sights on you and I we can be sure that his intent is to offset our assigned purposes as well. Satan is consigned to the hopeless task of attempting to offset and derail God’s plans. When we acquiesce to his meddling, we become complicit in his efforts. God’s purposes stand regardless, but we grieve him and misappropriate his glory when we surrender to Satan’s attempts!

You and I do well to look to Jesus’ example as he begins his ministry facing these temptations. In his example we can find the strength, skill and strategy for resisting the tempter. In Jesus’ perfect pattern, we have the keys we need to resist even the most indecent of our adversary’s proposals! 

Questions this Week:

  • Am I prone to rationalization? Do I try to make right out of wrong?

  • What spiritual or moral corners have I been willing to cut to get what I want? Might I be giving in to suggestions from the tempter?

  • How well do I know the word of God? Do I rely on others to feed me or do I go to the source for myself?

  • Do I have strong enough discernment to know the source of my motivations?