Jesus Passed The Test

Written by Joel on March 25th, 2011

Mar 13, 2011
First Sunday in Lent
Matthew 4:1-11

Do you remember when you had to take tests in school? You know, sit down with pen and paper and answer questions. Try to remember the most difficult test you have ever taken. I know that was longer ago for some of you than for others. I remember sometimes it felt as if the teacher was just out to get me with trick questions. I just imagined Mrs. Cook sitting home late at night, tapping her fingers on her desk asking herself “How can I make this question more tricky so that Joel will fail my test?” And then she would finish with an evil laugh. Muhahahaha!

I know now of course that teachers don’t design tests to be instruments of torture. In the best of worlds it is simply a tool to assess your understanding, to ask what kind of student you are.

As we enter the season of Lent we recall testing of Jesus, which we read in our Gospel this morning. It comes immediately after his baptism when the voice from heaven declares “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” Jesus is then led into the wilderness by the spirit, and he is given his test – we are going to see if that declaration made at his baptism is true.

And so the devil begins his test. Satan infuses doubt in the temptation, it is his own version of a trick question. “If you are the son of god…prove it.” Of course, this is an from satans old bag of tricks. We hear similiar words from our first reading when he tempts Adam and Eve “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” So, those first people begin with doubt “Well, now I’m not sure, is that what God said?” Satan attempts to put doubt in Christ “If you are the son of God…” Hoping that Christ may fall like Adam and Eve, wondering “Well now, am I the son of God?” But no such doubt exists for Christ; he is secure in his knowledge of who he is. That is what this test is for – so that we may understand who this Jesus is – the son of God.

Doubt does not work for the devil against our Lord. So he tries other tactics. Satan seems to know Jesus’ inner desires. Perhaps he has been watching and is aware of the 40 day fast. So he makes a play on something good – on food. Food of course isn’t bad or evil, and it is difficult to understand just how food may be a temptation. God gave us food, and Christ shows us how good it is to eat; remember his miracles of feeding the 5,000? His first miracle involved food, specifically drink at a wedding feast; and of course we remember the feast of Holy Communion. But here, Satan asks for a miraculous sign: turn this stones into bread. And surely Christ could have done it. But he needs not prove himself with signs and wonders; especially not to himself – he is who he is; he is the son of God.

Satan tries to question Jesus’ relationship with God the father. Will god protect you if you were to fall from the temple? Of course Christ knows that he could call down an entire legion of angels to save him from a fall. But this temptation is quite odd when you think about it; especially when as we remember in this Lenten season – that Christ is making his journey to the cross. Falling to strike his foot against a stone is a day at the spa compared to what Christ will choose for himself upon the cross. The devil says “God can save you from all harm.” And Christ says “I do not seek safety.”

Finally Satan offers Christ something he truly desires: to rule over all the earth. Philippians chapter 2 comes to mind with this temptation: At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord! This temptation is something Jesus actually wants. The temptation here though is how Jesus gets it. Christ knows the way before him: the trial, the pain, the cross. This way will lead to his glory and his dominion over all the kingdoms of the world. Or, the devil says “Here is the easy way; just bow down to me and avoid the cross and you can have what you want in the first place – the easy way.” But our Lord is not one of short cuts, and he had a mission to accomplish. Away from me Satan!

So, it is probably not best to think of Jesus’ trial in the wilderness like a school test. Its’ not something that he could have either passed or he would fail, its more like testing an unknown substance. Chemists can measure the density, volume, weight, how it dissolves, and what it looks like to tell the differnce between a diamond or cubic zirconia; between fools gold and the real deal. This is a testing which tells us that Christ is the son of God, the promised savior, our only Lord!

The 40 days of Lent are meant to draw us into Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. But it is important that we don’t try to understand this story as a call to “go and do likewise.” We don’t face trials and temptations in the same way as Christ did, we are not Christ. Recall the Lord’s prayer in which we are taught to pray “Lead us not into temptation.” Don’t be tempted to understand this story as a way we can better face our own temptations – I believe that misses the point. This text is about Christ, not about us.

Back in army basic training, I think I had some religious drill sergents. At least if the bumper stickers on the back of their cars were any indication, also the fact these two drill sergants out of the 12 drill sergants in the company never swore at us (they got angry, but they never swore) and that was quite odd. Well, I think their Christian faith inspired this one exercise which I learned to hate. They would have us stand on the balls of our feet with our knees bent and arms out. It very much looked like Jesus on the cross. And then they had us just hold the position. Those were my least favorite exercises – the ones where you just held it. And really, in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t for all that long, a few minutes, maybe 10 at the most. But it hurt. I found strength by contemplating on the mystery of Jesus on the cross and his trial in the wilderness. I thought to myself Jesus did this for you, offer this up for Jesus. But, you know something. Sooner or later my legs would fail, I would break the position and I would fall. I was not strong enough.

This is what the temptation of Jesus is about; he passed this test to show us that he is the son of God so that sin and temptation were defeated. There is no test we must pass. Yes, we are called to righteousness for his sake, but it is not by any righteousness of our own that we accomplish our salvation. It is the righteousness of Christ, the fact of his divinity and his coming sacrifice which gives us the hope of our salvation.

He passed this trial because he is the Christ, our Lord, the son of the living God, come to bring grace and salvation into the world because of who he is.


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