Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
We’re here today because we’ve gone through these trials; we've been tempted countless times to love something more than truth, and for the love of it, we’ve chosen truth instead, though our choice entails baptism into Christ’s death, the world's brief triumph. We know that the eternal triumph, the resurrection to new life, follows the inward dying to the self. In that triumphant inward resurrection, we know not only rightness but the joy and the peace of having received Christ, the life, of having received the power to become sons of God. When we have known Christ, the life, we are powerfully drawn to get the relationship with God right, to seek it with our whole heart. In the fourth chapters of Matthew and Luke, we see the elements of right relationship with God revealed by Jesus, who was led by the holy spirit into the wilderness, there to be tempted by the devil. Each of the three responses that Jesus gives holds one key element to that divine relationship that enables the human to surmount the core threat the devil poses: that is to say, the threat of separation from God, the loss of dialogic relationship.
Though appearing in different sequences, Satan's three temptations are the same in both the Matthew and Luke stories. Jesus's first response in each version describes what the human receives from God; in Matthew, the second response defines how the human is to enact his obligation to God; and the third response, what is his duty to God. (In Luke, the order is reversed for the second and third.) It is important for Jesus to affirm his understanding and partaking of the divine relationship prior to the start of his ministry, for he (as was John and every other prophet) is assaulted by the same power of Satan again and again during his work. The prophet's understanding and its source must be realized and available before he begins; that is his anointing to preach the gospel.
Jesus answers Satan's first challenge in the following statement:
It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4).
Jesus implies that Man is a spiritual being who cannot survive apart from the Spirit. Human sustenance is spiritual, the Word of God, not stones or bread, which are earthly. As human beings, Jesus says, we live “by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Satan intends to famish the human spirit by severing it from the provider of its true sustenance. Jesus rebuffs the temptation and articulates right understanding of what constitutes human life and what sustains it.
In the second temptation in Matthew, Satan suggests to Jesus that he cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple; that if he believes the Scriptures, he should expect angels to prevent him from coming to harm. Jesus responds with these words:
It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord Thy God (7).
Right relationship to God is again the issue in the second temptation. For man to assume that he knows what constitutes right action apart from God's command is usurpation. The devil tempts Jesus to take the initiative and to expect God to follow along. Conventional piety, ideals, speculation, doctrine are all typical ways man displaces the righteous hearing/obeying relationship with God. God is not tempted to follow along behind man's doctrines, principles, piety, and ideals to ensure that nothing goes amiss in man's determination to realize his ideations. No, ideals are no substitute for a hearing obedience to God; nothing humanly contrived is acceptable. The pious person falls into vanity when he fails to believe and accept Christ’s admonition, “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn.15:5b). Piety is a self-deception that one’s own mind is an adequate substitute for God.
Although a man may take up and perform, something which is called religious, and some carnal outward ordinances, and pray in words, and read and talk of the Scriptures, and in that find contentment for himself for a time; yet the witness of God’s Holy Spirit shows him his hypocrisy, and that he seeks a cover to shelter himself under in his disobedience, in order to be at ease in the flesh; which is all in vain for there is no peace within; but the measure of God’s Spirit still shows him that he serves sin and follows his own will, and in this will brings forth a worship which is only will worship, (worship from the carnal mind of man, instead of the Spirit of God). Francis Howgill
The third temptation that Jesus undergoes sums up the matter of right relationship with God in one defining statement:
Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve (10).
Satan would entice by promising power and glory in exchange for subservience and worship. This is the stark choice: man worships God, or he worships the devil in his desire for worldly power and glory. The human obligation, states Jesus, is to worship and serve God only. This third and final response completes the description of right relationship between God and the Son of God.
From the start of our movement, Quakers held that we are to look inward while reading the Scriptures to find the truth of them in ourselves. We know that this Scripture passage of temptation in the wilderness refers not to Jesus alone but reveals the threat directed at our humanity to become less than human. We all regularly undergo this trial: to engage in deceit in exchange for power; our life depends upon our loving, prizing, and esteeming truth above worldly power and glory. The world will not love us for our choice, for we are not of it. Nevertheless, we can do no other than look to God, as Jesus did when tempted by the devil. For overcoming the world, death, and the devil can be done only through the power of God. Reason is insufficient to fathom or defeat evil. It is God’s Word that sustains us in Life when we are tempted to confusion or deceit, and this is the substance of Jesus’s retorts and example in the Scripture passage we examined. We receive sustaining life from God alone; we are not to usurp God’s position of command by substituting our own human will; and we owe God our worship and service. We thank God that we have this passage to remind us of our rightful place and, more so, that we have the light within to guide us. The early Friends knew the strength of the enemy and heralded the only power great enough to overcome it. Christ's Light, wrote George Fox, is "the only antidote to overcome and expel the Poison of Satan’s greatest Temptations"(The Works of George Fox. 4:303).
So if you mind the light, and in it stand, you will see the Lord giving issue, whereby you will find deliverance standing in the light, which comes from the word, which is a fire, and a hammer, and a sword, which beats down that which is contrary to the truth, divides and burns up, but keeping the word, the temptations will not come nigh, but the word of reconciliation be witnessed, and the word of faith which makes clean, and purifies, and sanctifies; where the old garment is put off, and the knowledge in the flesh denied, and the knowing in the life, in the spirit, where nothing comes to reign but life and power, where all is overturned, and with the power of the Lord comprehended, the dread and life of the living God, to whom be all honour and glory for ever.
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