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Don't Test God!

A Study from the Temptations of Jesus

Temptationo of Christ

by Dennis Pollock

Before our Lord Jesus could enter into His world-changing ministry, it was necessary for Him to first spend weeks out in the wilderness, fasting and being tempted by the devil. Forty days later Jesus rejoined his followers, probably around 40 pounds lighter. He had a strange story to tell. Three times the scornful, malicious spirit known as Lucifer confronted Him, using all his ingenuity and persuasive powers in an attempt to entice the Son of God to act contrary to the will of His Father. Three times Jesus overcame temptation with the words, "It is written…" Finally the season of fasting, weakness, and temptation concluded. Satan left in failure and Jesus returned to His friends in the power of the Spirit to begin a ministry such as the world had never seen before.

 In this devotional study we will focus upon only one of these temptations. Jesus was somehow transported from the wilderness to the heart of Jerusalem, and He and Satan were standing together on the pinnacle of the temple. Having rebuffed Satan with the Scriptures previously, the evil one decided to quote the Scriptures himself. He said to the Lord:

"If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.' " (Luke 4:9-11)

Many Bible scholars have concluded that Jesus was on the Southwest corner of the temple mount, which overlooked a major street and a number of houses. They suggest that the prince of darkness was attempting to entice Jesus to reveal Himself as Messiah of Israel by the spectacle of Him jumping from a great height, and being softly carried to the busy street below in the arms of angels. In any case our Lord would have none of it. He decisively responded, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test." What Satan was trying to get Him to do was put God to the test by deliberately placing Himself in a dangerous situation through the foolhardy action of jumping from a great height, and then demand that God keep His promises about angelic protection. This Jesus would not consent to do.

There is a great and valuable lesson for the followers of Christ in this. When we are born again we thrill at the wonderful promises given us through God's word. We learn that we have a loving Heavenly Father who watches attentively over all His children, our great El Shaddai. He is the healer of our bodies, the sustainer of our lives, the provider of all our needs, the comforter of our hearts, our defender from every foe, our Encourager in every trial, and our never-failing Resource in every situation. All of this is true and very much Biblical, but if we are not careful it can lead us to some false conclusions and an illusion of invincibility, which can have disastrous effects.

The wonderful promises of God for His children were never created to negate or render irrelevant the ordinary principles of cause and effect, or the need to live carefully, wisely, and circumspectly. Normally speaking, jumping off 450 foot walls is not a wise thing to do. And although Jesus Christ was the Son of God, He obviously did not consider it particularly wise in His case either. To put it in plain words, to place yourself in a perilous position for no good reason, just because God promises to protect His children, is stupid. And God does not reward stupidity!

Watch Where You Walk

walking

In John's gospel we read: "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him" (John 7:1). There is a tremendous truth contained here. Jesus left an area where people were trying to kill him (Judea) and went to Galilee for awhile, where He knew He would be safe. This would hardly seem strange, except that we are talking about Jesus Christ! The Son of God, the co-creator of heaven and earth, the One who was God manifest in human flesh, was allowing His circumstances and ministry location to be changed because His life was in danger in Judea but not so much in Galilee. Why could He not have simply trusted God to protect Him, or struck his enemies dead with a word when they approached Him? Why run off to Galilee?

Our Lord Jesus was living and functioning and ministering as a man. He was operating as our High Priest, following the rules, principles, and conditions God has set for His creation as we live and minister in this world. And one of the most basic of those rules is this: Unless you hear from God otherwise, avoid dangerous situations and take reasonable precautions to protect and preserve your life and health. And if Jesus who possessed perfect wisdom and intelligence, and a direct line to God the Father, felt it necessary to live prudently and cautiously, how much more should we, His followers, live in such a manner? Promises of angelic protection, divine provision, victory over our foes, and abundance and sufficiency in all things are wonderful, but they do not do away with the need to exercise wisdom and prudence in our daily living. Or as Paul puts it, "See then that you walk circumspectly (carefully), not as fools but as wise" (Ephesians 5:15).

All of this might seem pretty fundamental, but some Christians need to be frequently reminded of this. And it seems that often it is the believers who are the most radical, the ones who read their Bibles the most, who can quote the Scriptures freely, and who never tire of church services and Bible studies, who are the worst offenders in this area. One reason for this is that there are indeed times when the Lord will lead us by His Spirit to make decisions and go into circumstances that appear reckless and even foolish to others. And if it is truly the Lord leading you, you will succeed and you will come through in such a way that all your critics will have their mouths shut and will be put to shame. This is tremendously exciting and builds our faith, but sometimes it is such heady stuff that it leaves us with the erroneous notion that we are invincible; we can ignore the basic laws of cause and effect in every area of our lives and still come out smelling like a rose. It doesn't always happen that way.

Early Deaths

One of the ways we "put God to the test" is to fail to follow the basic rules of nutrition, rest, and regular exercise, and expect that God will keep us healthy, since we are doing His work. Kathryn Kuhlman was a good example of this. Kathryn was an evangelist who had a powerful healing ministry in the mid-twentieth century. She wasn't a great speaker, she spoke with a strange and exaggerated style, she was divorced, and she was something many people had a problem with in those days: a "lady-preacher." All of these things should have utterly spoiled any chance she had for a significant ministry, and probably would have, except that people kept getting healed in her meetings.

Kathryn had tremendous enthusiasm for ministry and gave it her all, probably more than was wise. She often went with little sleep and worked almost non-stop in her passion to do the Lord's work. Eventually she developed a heart condition and her doctor warned her that if she did not slow down, she would kill herself with her immoderate lifestyle. She ignored him. She bought time on CBS and aired a TV program on a major network every week, for years, something almost unheard of for a Christian minister. The television show ate up thousands of dollars each week, and it forced her to increase her meetings around the country to pay for it with the generous offerings that came in. Her ambitious schedule would have exhausted most young people, and for a woman in her sixties it was far too much. Her biographer, Jamie Buckingham, described how she called her radio producer, Steve Zelenko, to touch her ribcage and feel how forcefully her heart was beating. Steve said:

I could feel the organ of her heart beating, trying to force itself out between her ribs. When I removed my hand I could actually see her heart, pulsating between her ribs under her dress. It seemed as if it would explode.

Still Kathryn could not, or would not give up or even moderate her exhausting schedule. Finally, the lady who had been such an instrument for the healing of others succumbed to a worn out heart, dying at the age of sixty-eight, well before her time as far as I'm concerned. She had said that the wonderful anointing she felt in those healing services refreshed and renewed her physically. What she apparently did not realize was that even with the anointing we are still very much human and very much susceptible to the laws and principles God has woven into the fabric of our world.

Another example of a minister who died before his time was the great singer, songwriter, preacher, and writer, Keith Green. Keith became popular in the 1970's and early 80's, and was unique among the contemporary Christian singers of his day. He seemed to have it all. He was handsome, had a great voice, a prophetic style of ministry, and a burning passion for souls. His monthly magazine, produced under the banner of Last Days Ministries, was exploding with new subscribers and readers. His ministry seemed like a rocket hurtling into the stratosphere: anointed, attractive, and unstoppable.

One tragic day in July, 1982 the unthinkable happened. Keith had a visiting minister and his family with him and decided to take them up for an aerial tour of their ministry facilities and the surrounding area in the small Cessna airplane that his ministry leased. Taking two of his young children with him, plus the visiting preacher, his family, and a pilot, the plane was overloaded by over 400 pounds beyond the legal limits. Twelve passengers were stuffed into a plane with only six seats. In addition, the weight was poorly distributed in the plane, again in violation of the standards for that small aircraft. The result was predictable. The plane never reached its proper altitude, was entirely uncontrollable, and crashed less than a mile from its point of takeoff. Keith Green, his two children, and everyone else onboard was killed. The world was robbed of a great talent and a wonderful minister of the gospel, because he forgot that we must never put the Lord our God to the test.

No Free Pass

We do it in dozens of ways. Sometimes Christians live well beyond their budget, waste their money on unnecessary luxuries, and then wonder where God is when they fall onto hard times because of some unexpected emergency and they cannot pay their bills. Some Christians gorge on junk food, never exercise, constantly slurp sugar-laden sodas, and then expect Jesus to keep them healthy and strong all their days. Some folks continually belittle their spouses, show them almost no affection, live selfish, me-first lives, and then wonder in amazement why God let their marriage fall apart.

Being a Christian does not mean you get a free pass from following the basic rules and principles which God built into our universe. By all means learn and quote the promises about God's protection, provision, and enablement in Christ Jesus. But don't suppose this means we have no need to walk in wisdom, and can freely disregard the rules that apply to the non-Christians. If a sinner and a Christian fall off a tall building at the same time, they will both hit the ground at about the same time. If a Christian and a sinner hit their thumbs with identical hammers, they will both receive equally black thumbnails. And if a believing and an unbelieving farmer plant poison ivy seeds in their fields, they will both get identical crops of poison ivy. A Christian farmer would be pretty foolish to plant his field with poison ivy seeds, and then complain to God when he fails to see any wheat, and ends up reaping exactly what he has sown.

In the Bible we do indeed have some wonderful promises of provision, protection, and blessings. But God expects us to do our part, and to avoid those activities that tend toward scarcity, misery, and ruin. As children of God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, we must obey God, trust God, and expect good things from our generous Father in heaven. But we must not put Him to the test.

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