The Wilderness of Testing Part Three
For the past two months, we looked at the first two temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness and how his experience applies to our lives. Now we come to the third and final temptation of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s account. If you haven’t read the previous featured blogs, I encourage you to take a moment and review The Wilderness of Testing and the Wilderness of Testing Part Two. It will give you a better understanding of the progression in this passage. Of the three temptations, this one resonated with me the most. It seems the first temptation is in the area of our physical desires. The second temptation seems related to spiritual issues. This final temptation seems connected to our emotional lives – areas of ego and how we view ourselves in context with others. Here is our passage for this month:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:8-10, ESV)
Let’s look deeper into this passage.
In this final scene of the temptation of Jesus, Satan goes for broke. He takes Jesus to the top of a high mountain and in a sweeping gesture shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I’ll give you more than you can imagine,” he whispers. “All you have to do is to trust me. Worship me. You don’t need God. I’ll give you all this glory and more.”
When Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of this world, I do not think he was referring to political kingdoms and nations. I suspect he was referring to kingdoms of wealth, kingdoms of happiness, kingdoms of power, kingdoms of celebrity and fame, kingdoms of significance. These are the kingdoms of this earth. “Worship me,” he says, “and I will give you all this.” Note the passage says he offered Jesus “the kingdoms of this world and their glory.” He’s not just offering him kingdoms, he’s offering him their glory. This is key to understanding the basis of this temptation. It is the temptation to seek glory for ourselves. It is the temptation to take our eyes off God, and to worship anything but him. It is the temptation for self-worship. It is the temptation to seek our glory over God’s. It is the temptation to seek wealth, happiness, power, celebrity, fame and significance and the glory they represent.
The problem with this is that none of these things ever satisfy. All leave us longing for more. Satan is a fraud. He offers glory, but fails to mention it will never satisfy. We want more. More significance. More money. More toys to play with. More followers on social media. More likes. More retweets. But none of it satisfies. Sadly, we’ve been duped. We bought the lie. We bowed down. And it left us empty.
The rise in social media has fueled this temptation. In December 2017, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya shared how the site was intentionally developed to hook users by manipulating their emotional responses. “We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection, because we get rewarded in these short term signals: Hearts, likes, thumbs up,” he said. “We conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth, and instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short term and leaves you even more vacant and empty than before you did it.”
We rate our success based on the number of Twitter followers or friends on Facebook. I’ve done it. Lately I’ve questioned this. How much of my social media use is ultimately to promote myself? This is where we have to ask ourselves the hard questions.
The Search for Significance
Satan offers us significance. God offers us the opposite. Jesus said “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11, ESV), and “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4, ESV). Note he did not say the greatest among you will have the largest church. He did not say the greatest among you will influence the most people for the cause of Christ. He did not say the greatest among you will have the largest social media following. He did not say the greatest among you will have the nicest home, drive a newer model car, or live in the right neighborhood. He said the greatest would be your servant.
Even the disciples dealt with this issue. They argued over who was the greatest. Here’s Luke account:
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:24-26, ESV).
If the disciples grappled with this issue, is it possible we do as well? I know I do.
My desire for significance is an ungodly motivating factor in my life. I grew up in a difficult home environment where often I struggled. Most of my life I have felt insignificant, worth little, etc. I have a natural sinful desire to counter those feelings. It crouches in the background of my life. My whole life it has hidden behind the curtain on the stage, peeking out at me. I hear its whisper when I am preaching.
I pray for influence. But does my prayer for influence come from a heart to see God’s kingdom made great, or do I desire to see my kingdom made great? Even just a little? Is my desire for influence actually just a desire for significance? These are the difficult questions with which I wrestle in quiet moments alone with God.
I asked myself this question in regard to publishing the next book I’ve written. I spent time last year looking for a publisher and speaking with literary agents. Is my desire for a publisher just another example of pride? Do I want to say, “I am published by so-and-so.” Am I trying to find a publisher so I can feel significant? So many questions.
Satan does his best to tempt Jesus away from God. Jesus will have none of it. He counters with a stunning command to Satan. “Be gone, Satan! You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Here he quotes from Deuteronomy 6:13, where Moses instructs the Israelites, “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.”
In the original language, the command “Be gone, Satan” is the same statement Jesus says to Peter. Jesus shared with the disciples he was about to go to Jerusalem to lay down his life. Peter responds, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, (be gone) Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:22-23, ESV).
There it is. Did you catch it? “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” He is referring to the kingdoms of this world, the things of man. It is the core temptation with which we all deal. Gratefully, Jesus continues and explains how we are to live.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25, ESV).
Satan offers us the chance to be served. Jesus offers us servitude. Satan focuses on building wealth. Jesus focuses on the poor. Satan offers power. Jesus willingly set aside his power and submitted to death on a cross. Can you see the contrast?
God does not share his glory. The wise never try to capture it for themselves. It never ends well. His command to us is to love him with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength. All, not most of our hearts. All. He alone is worthy of our worship. We bow to him alone.
There is hope!
While this may sound discouraging, what I found was greatly encouraging. It frees us to address each of these issues. It frees us to seek influence without significance. It frees us to seek ministry without titles. It frees us to serve without needing someone’s approval. Each area I addressed brought a brighter light of God’s glory into my heart. While difficult to process, it brought me to a new place in my relationship with God. For this, I am extremely grateful.
As I mentioned in the earlier blogs, at the end of this Wilderness of Testing I was exhausted, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Good news, my friends, a season of rest is coming! In God’s plan, the Valley of Wait usually leads to a Wilderness of Testing. But the Wilderness of Testing leads to a Valley of Rest. We’ll look at this in detail in the next featured blog. For now, let’s review what we discovered in this passage.
- Satan offers us the kingdoms of this world – kingdoms of significance, power, prestige, celebrity, fame, wealth and glory – if only we bow down to him instead of to God. Be careful to worship God alone. God does not share glory. Don’t try to take it for yourself. It will not end well.
- Ask the hard questions. What are the motivating factors in your life? What actually drives you? Let the Holy Spirit dig deeply in your heart. Find freedom when you yield to his touch to transform your life in these hidden places.
- Bow to God alone. Love God with all your heart. The challenge here is the word “all.” It is one thing to say we love God. It is a far different thing to say we love him with all our hearts. “All” leaves no room for second place.
The third test is this: Is God worth more to you than the kingdoms of this world and glory? May we do the hard work of addressing these issues in our lives.
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