A third time, Satan tempts Jesus. v8-9–
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus is the Son of God. He is the rightful King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And so in a sense, Satan is offering to Jesus what is already rightfully his–the kingdoms of the world.
Jesus could almost rationalize his predicament in this way. Hey, I’m a king. This world is mine. All the kingdoms of the world will eventually answer to me. That’s the end game.
It’s like David before he was king and he was being chased by Saul. Everyone knew Saul was crazy. And David knew he was going to be king after Saul. So, David could have taken matters into his own hands. He could have made himself king the easy way by taking Saul out.
It’s a similar battle here. Jesus could rationalize, if being king is the final destination, does it matter what path I take to get there? The ends justify the means. Why not just bow down to Satan? It’s the easy way for Christ to get what he wanted. All the kingdoms of the world bowing down to Him.
Jesus was presented with the choice. Choose the easier way and get what you want by bowing down to Satan. Or choose to stay in the will of God and get what you want by dying on a cross. It was the choice between a cross-less kingdom and a cross-centered kingdom. In both cases, he would be a king, but the kingdoms would look vastly different. One is a kingdom where might makes right, where the subjects are oppressed and dominated, where the rich and powerful are served. Then Jesus would be no different than a Caesar Augustus, or a Ghengis Khan or a Stalin or a Hitler. He would just be a stronger, more powerful version of these past human kings.
The other kingdom, the cross-centered kingdom, is quite different. It’s a kingdom where the greatest among you is a servant, where its subjects are won over not by force, but by self-sacrifice, where pride and self-importance are replaced by humility and self-emptying.
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says–All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Jesus eventually did become king as all authority in heaven and on earth was given to him, but he did it, not the easy way, not by bowing down to Satan, but he did it by dying on a cross.
What kind of king is this? A king who would not hold onto his rights, a king who would not exercise his rights, but who would deny himself and make himself obedient to death, even death on a cross. Jesus passed the test, not just in Matthew 4, but all the way through to the end.
He paid the penalty of sin by dying on the cross in your place the death that you deserved. And 3 days later, he rose from the grave in victory to conquer sin and death.
Jesus passed the test with flying colors. He demonstrated that he really loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. And he demonstrated his love for you and for me. How? By staying in the center of God’s will.
In spiritual life, you and I will always be presented with choices. One path will be the easy way. It will be the broad way. It will be the way that most will choose. And it will end in judgment. The other path will be harder. It will require self-denial, and death and sacrifice and humility.
Many times, you will have two choices in life. And as you pray, it may not be clear which path to take. God does not always give you clarity. My advice to you when you are in that kind of fork in the road is to choose the harder path. If you are not sure, choose the path which will cause you to die more, to sacrifice more, to depend on God more. I can say this because I am confident that God’s will always involves a cross.
The path of taking up your cross daily will be accompanied by suffering to be sure, but it will also involve a resurrection. The cross bearing life will involve victory, and vindication and joy and salvation for others and your reward will be intimacy with Jesus as you are brought into the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.
Do you think that Jesus would’ve gone to the cross if he had given in to his physical appetite and turned stones to bread? Do you think that Jesus would’ve gone to the cross if he had given up and asked for divine help by jumping from the top of the temple? There is no short-cut in spiritual life. You can try to cut corners, but if you are sincerely following Jesus with all that you are, letting go and forsaking everything else, Jesus will always lead you back to a cross where you and I need to learn to die and let Christ in us live.
As we begin to wrap up, I want to share one word of encouragement. Nobody likes taking tests. When you are in the midst of testing, you dread it and you just want a way out. Thankfully, the testing does eventually end.
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Christ endured, he passed the test and the angels ministered to him. If your commitment is to love God and trust him in all circumstances, God will work on your character and increase your love for Him, but he knows you, he knows me, he knows our limits. And just as our strength is about to give way, he sends angels. Like Elijah the prophet in 1 Kings 19, when Elijah was about to lose hope, God came to him and gave him rest and fed him a nice heaven cooked meal. A cake of bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water. There will be an end to the testing. Let God minister to you in your weakness and your dependence on him.
Let me end by reading from James 1:5-12. Turn with me there.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Jumping down to v12–
12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
The next time God tests you, hang in there. Allow him to develop perseverance in you. Allow him to finish His work in your life. Don’t let your life be one of those unfinished projects lying around in your garage. Let God finish the work so that you and I may be mature and complete. Perfected. Sanctified. And in the end, for those who persevere and carry a cross, the good news is that there will be a crown, a crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.