The second test is in v5-6.
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “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.’”
I’ve heard some interpretations saying that this was a temptation for Jesus to do something sensational. Jump from atop the temple and wow an audience of bystanders so that the masses will follow you. That could very well be. But upon closer study, I find that the emphasis in v6 does not seem to be the sensational because this is a personal battle and there is no mention of crowds. Instead, the focus appears to be on safety. Jesus, throw yourself down and force God’s hand so that He has to send angels to come to your rescue. Because surely, if you are the Son of God, your Heavenly Father wouldn’t allow you to injure yourself by letting you strike your foot against a stone, which literally means he wouldn’t let you strike the ground and kill yourself, right?
This test harkens back to Exodus 17 when the Israelites were in the wilderness. Through God’s miraculous deliverance, Moses had just led them out of slavery in Egypt and now they are kicking sand and having revisionist memories of how life was so good in Egypt. It’s funny. I mean, how good could it have been? They were slaves. But people are people. They are freed men and women, they have their independence, they’re no longer oppressed. Yet they complained about the monotony of their meal and now they’re thirsty. It’s like my kids. Right before they go to sleep, suddenly, they say, I’m thirsty. They act like the staircase in our home is a 40 mile trek through the scorching desert and if they don’t get a tiny sip of water, they will shrivel up and die of dehydration.
The Israelites in Exodus 17 are like overgrown kids. They’ve forgotten about the 10 Plagues and Pharaoh, they’ve forgotten about how hard it was being slaves, they’ve forgotten about the parting of the Red Sea and miraculous manna falling from the skies, the only thing on their mind is water. They’re thirsty and they’re complaining.
Aren’t we like this? We experience something great. Our salvation, for one. Someone we have been ministering to comes to faith in Christ. An answer to prayer. And we praise God. But the very next moment, we’re complaining. Our needs aren’t being met and we want to throw in the towel and go back to Egypt. People are people. We’re sinners.
So Moses prays to God because the Israelites are so riled up, they’re ready to stone him. And God relents and says to Moses, go and strike a rock with your staff and water will come out.
And that section in Exodus 17 ends rather oddly, in v7 —
7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Why was this incident about a people complaining about thirst described as a test against God? Because beneath the symptom–the lack of water leading to thirst–beneath it was an underlying sentiment, which is captured here, is the Lord among us or not?
Thirst was a symptom, but the underlying issue is, God, where are you?
That was Satan’s taunt to Jesus–you are the Son of God so prove it. Jump down and let’s see if God shows up. Let’s see if He catches you.
Jesus was the Son of God. He had every right to spare himself further suffering. He could have jumped off the highest point of the temple and with one word a legion of angels would have formed a giant safety net to brace his fall. Instead, he forgoes those rights. And insodoing, He demonstrates his love for God. He didn’t need to jump off the top of the temple to force God’s hand. He didn’t need to jump ship because things were getting tough. He had a relationship of trust with His Heavenly Father. Jesus knew God would come to His aid HAD he jumped. But Jesus didn’t need to test the relationship. That’s what trust is. I trust you. I love you. I know you love me. You don’t have to prove it. I know you’re there for me. Without a doubt, I’m confident, you’ve got my back.
How many times do we say, is the Lord among us or not? We complain, God, show yourself. Prove yourself. I need you to come through for me right now. I’m dying here. Don’t you care? God, where are you? Why do I feel so alone? God, if you were with me, you’d be answering my prayers. God, if you were with me, that tragedy wouldn’t have happened. Satan tempted Jesus, jump off the top of the temple. For us, Satan tempts us in this way–God, pfft, God is not with you. So jump ship. Christianity doesn’t work. It’s too hard. Give up, give in, go home.
Remember the goal of the testing. It is to reveal what is in our hearts. It is to reveal how deep our love for God goes.
We are a culture that is emotion and experience driven. There is nothing wrong with emotions. Emotions are a God-given blessing to enhance our relationship with Him and others. But emotions cannot be the key motivator and driver in our spiritual lives. Spiritual experiences cannot be the key motivator and driver. Recall the Israelites in Exodus. They experienced so many miracles. How long did the emotions from those miracles last? Not long. In Exodus 14, we have the miraculous deliverance from Egypt and the presence of God was evident in the wilderness through the daily provision of manna and the pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. By Exodus 17, three measly chapters later, they are already testing God by complaining to Moses because of God’s seeming inability to address their physical thirst.
Do you think that a God who rescued the Israelites from Egypt miraculously and who has been sustaining them miraculously all along would allow his people to die in the desert of thirst? Think about it. Was God among his people? Yes, of course, He was. God’s presence was all around them. But these people could not see the fingerprints of God in their midst. All they could see was thirst. I’m thirsty. And because they had tunnel vision and could only see their immediate physical need, they could not perceive God. You could say, God’s felt presence was not a tangible reality for them. Or at least you would have to say that their thirst outweighed any emotional sense of God’s presence. Or that thirst was more real to them than their experience with God. God’s felt presence was a fading reality at best.
Let’s bring it down to our level. Do you find yourself complaining that you don’t see God’s work in your life? Could it be that you have tunnel vision and you are focusing on a physical problem or a physical need and you’re missing out on what God is doing in you and all around you? Whatever you are holding onto, surrender it to Jesus, that your spiritual eyes may be opened up.
More importantly, we need to heed this lesson that spiritual life is not about signs and spiritual experiences and emotional outbursts. God is looking for one thing and one thing only–faith. Faithfulness. On the cover of some toy boxes, there is a label–batteries not included. Spiritually, if you are constantly looking for signs and emotional experiences, your spiritual life will be labeled, faith not included. If God gave you experience after experience and your spiritual life was a constant stream of emotions, then faith is not needed. Faith is needed because in the absence of visible evidence, we focus not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. Faith is created during periods of testing when there is scant evidence of God’s felt presence. It is impossible to please God without faith. He’s looking for love born out of faith. Faithfulness means being steadfast. Obeying him, putting one foot in front of another because you love God and you know He’s got your back. Constantly seeking His face even when everyone around us thinks we’re fools. If you don’t learn this lesson, you will fail God’s test over and over. And you will never graduate from kindergarten Christianity.
You may be going through a period of testing right now. Things are hard. Things are not going your way. You’re thirsty, you’re hungry, you’re worn out. If this is you today, hold on. Don’t give up. Keep trusting. An answer from God may not come for a while. Maybe he is revealing to you an area of unconfessed sin. Or idolatry. Repent. Surrender those idols.
But if you have searched your heart and you don’t see any blatant sin, then trust him. Through the testing, he wants to show you what you are made of. He wants to humble you and reveal the depth of your love for God and how much you are willing to place your trust in Him. And if we find that our love and trust for God is shallow, may we go deeper in our relationship with Him. How? By placing our faith in him. By being faithful in seeking His face. By knowing that God is among us, that He is with me, no matter what the evidence around me suggests.