CORAL GABLES, Fla., April 6, 2013 — God often leads His children through the wilderness to be refined. His goal is to chisel away impurities of the heart and mind so we can reflect His glory and be ready to be used by Him for His purposes.
Satan’s goal, on the other hand, is for us to trip over our flesh and fall flat on our faces in the dirt. More than anything, he desires for us to wander around the wilderness, totally consumed by our emotions so that we, and everything we hold dear, are ultimately destroyed.
So how do we get through this refining process with our heads held high in victory rather than getting stuck in the wilderness and being destroyed? Matthew 4 holds the secret: It’s by knowing who you are in Christ Jesus, knowing who God is, and looking at the world in light of eternity, not in light of the here and now.
As I’ve read Matthew 4 in the past, I’ve always focused on the targets of Jesus’ temptations — the flesh, mind, pride, and object of worship. But as I’ve revisited this passage in the midst of my wilderness experience, I’ve begun to see Satan’s motives behind the temptations.
Behind every temptation is this purpose: Satan wants us to take our eyes off God and put them on ourselves, on our perceived rights and injustices. He wants us to think about “right now” instead of eternity. He wants us to react out of our flesh rather than respond under the Spirit’s guidance. Satan wants us to feel entitled to take matters into our own hands and to defend and prove ourselves rather than trust God to provide for our needs and vindication in His perfect timing.
Why? Because Satan wants us to fall into sin so we step out of the will of the Father. He doesn’t want us to carry out our divine purposes on earth because he knows if we do, he’ll lose souls. We need to see the truth behind the trick: Satan doesn’t care about our rights and our comfort, he just uses them to get us caught up in the moment so that we’ll react to a situation and lose our joy, peace, fruitfulness, testimony, relationships, and health (among other things).
You’ll notice in the first two temptations that Satan issues challenges to tempt Jesus to prove Himself and to prove God. Matthew 4: 3 says, “If you are the Son of God”, then turn these stones into bread.” Satan tempted Jesus to prove His deity. In Matthew 4:6 Satan tempted Jesus to prove his deity and God’s love for Him when he said, “If you are the Son of God, then jump and see if God catches you!” The purpose behind both of these challenges was to get Jesus to step out of obedience and humility and step into pride.
Fortunately for all of us, Jesus didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, least of all Satan. He knew He was the Son of God and He knew in due time that God would reveal His true identity just as He had done at His baptism (Matthew 3:17). He trusted God’s love for Him, God’s ability to do anything, and to provide for His every need in both good times and hard.
At any time, Jesus could have changed the stones to bread and fed Himself. But He didn’t. He knew His purpose was to glorify God in Heaven, to serve others, and to seek and save those who are lost. He focused on completing the task and made honoring God and laying His life down for others more important than satisfying His flesh and proving Himself at that particular moment.
Think about this sobering fact: If Jesus had taken matters into His own hands, or felt the need to prove Himself or defend Himself, He would not have been obedient to God and able to fulfill His purpose — to be the perfect, spotless, Lamb of God. Reacting would have cost Jesus His purpose, and it would have cost us our salvation through His blood.
It is this fact alone that helps me subdue my flesh when it wants to scream out to the top of it’s lungs in defense; or when my flesh wants to prove itself right in a situation; or when I want to take matters into my own hands; or worse yet, seek revenge. I know that as soon as I rise up in my pride, or in my pain, and try to prove myself or defend myself, I and others will lose.
Jesus’ temptation has taught me that life isn’t about me and my perceived rights. It isn’t about my comfort “right now”. It isn’t about having things and power. It isn’t about God performing miraculous deeds in my life.
Rather, life is about intimately knowing God the Father, the Son, and His Holy Spirit. It’s about trusting His love and plan for my life. It’s about laying aside my personal agendas and desires so that I can complete the task God has laid before me.
By knowing who I am in Christ (a child of the living God), by trusting the character and promises of God, and by focusing on God’s bigger picture rather than my comfort “right now”, I can continue to move forward and emerge from the wilderness purified, strengthened, and ready for my ministry. And so can you!
Are you in a situation where you’re tempted to have the last word because your flesh demands it? Are you in a painful situation where you think you have to act on your own behalf rather than wait for God to move? It’s time for us, as children of God, to tell our flesh to shut up. It’s time to start looking at the bigger picture and grasp the truth that life isn’t about us. It’s about God and what He wants to do in us and through us. By keeping our eyes on Him and His will, there are no limits to what He can do in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
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