Monday, January 6, 2014

Matthew 4: Testing to Qualify for Ministry

Mt 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 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.’”  Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Jesus had to overcome three challenges before he was released by the Spirit for ministry:
  • The Physical Challenge: Jesus was hungry after 40 days of fasting. The devil challenged him to turn stones into bread to feed that hunger. Eating is not a sin in itself, but the issue here isn't eating but whose voice will we listen in times of need. Here Jesus faced Satan's first challenge: take care of your physical appetite since you're so hungry. Jesus rejected that suggestion not because eating is wrong but because obeying that suggestion would put him under Satan's control. So, he rejected Satan's challenge by saying that obedience to God takes priority over satisfying our physical appetites, though the appetites are legitimate: "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (v.4). We could extend this physical challenge to sex, sleep and drinks. The issue is not whether it is okay to satisfy these physical appetites--the issue is whether the urge to satisfy them is Satan-inspired. 
  • The Spiritual Challenge: Jesus was being taunted to prove his identity as the Son of God, that he had this special relationship with God. So, what better way to prove that He was then to throw himself down and let God do something miraculous and dramatic to prove his identity. After all (Satan arguing from Scriptures) God has promised his angels to protect His own. Again, Jesus rejected Satan's suggestion by saying that "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test." God can and will test us, but we don't have the same privilege to test him! It's question of who is the higher authority--Jesus or God. Jesus had chosen to submit himself to the Father's authority and He would never do anything without His Father's sanction. Satan took a verse from Psalm 91:11-12 out of its context to  undermine God's authority. But Jesus placed that verse in its context, which is the entire Scripture, quoting from Deuteronomy 6:16. Here is a good reason why we must read the whole bible and not quote isolated texts and passages to support our favorite doctrine, otherwise Satan will introduce deception into the church by using scriptures.
  • The Psychological Challenge: Satan's last challenge was to appeal to Jesus' own self-worth and self-esteem. He showed him the power and glory that would come to Jesus if He would just bow down and submit to him. But Jesus' self-worth was not derived from WHAT he would do but from WHO he was as the Son of God and also from His own mission. He would indeed receive the kingdom of the world from His Father, but his path to kingship is not through pomp and power but through humble obedience to His Father, even to the point of death at the Cross. So, He could not be tempted by such psychological appeal--for He did not need it to confirm His self-worth. Unfortunately, this is where many of us are weakest--we want to be somebody and the devil willingly offer to us many paths to self-esteem e.g. power, fame and money. Many have succumbed to this challenge and has therefore lost their effectiveness for God in ministry.
So, Jesus passed all three challenges the devil threw at Him. And that qualified Him for ministry. If we are still struggling with these three issues: lack of self-control in physical appetites, unsure of our relationship with God and always trying to prove our self-worth in things we do, then we need to learn to deal with them before we launch into ministry. Being in ministry does not protect us from these three challenges; it only makes the harm greater because it affects not just the ministers but also the congregations.

Father, strengthen us to resist and reject Satan's three challenges once for all, that we might be committed to listen to Your voice alone based on right reading of You Word. Amen.

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