And he ate nothing in those days, and when they were completed, he was hungry. 3And the Devil said to him, “If you are the son of God, then speak to this stone so that it might become bread.” 4And Jesus answered him, “It has been written, ‘Not by bread alone will a person live.’”
5And after leading him up, he showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited world in an instant of time. 6And the Devil said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and this glory, because to me it has been given and to whomever I might wish I give it. 7Now if you might prostrate yourself to me, all will be yours.” 8And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been written, ‘To the Lord your God you will prostrate, and to him alone, you will worship.’”
9And he led him into Jerusalem, and he was made to stand upon the parapet of the Temple, and he said to him, “If you are the son of God, cast yourself down from here. 10For it has been written, ‘His angels he will command concerning you to preserve you from danger,’ 11and ‘Upon hands they will lift you up, that your foot might not hit against a stone.’” 12And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said, ‘You will not put to a test your God.’”
13And when all these tests were completed, the Devil withdrew from him until a suitable occasion.
As most of y’all know, right before coming up here to the minister at Cove, I was a part-time preacher and a full-time high school history teacher. And although I really enjoy working in the church, there are times when I miss teaching. I mean, there are things you can do in classrooms that you can’t do in churches. Take, for instance, tests; y’all would probably be surprised if I stood up here and said, “Put all your stuff under your seat and take out one clean sheet of paper.” Man, if I did that here, y’all would think I’d lost my mind, but in the classroom, I did it all the time.
And I’ve got to tell you, I really enjoyed giving tests. I’d write them all myself, always multiple choice, and that was a blast. And with Mozart playing in the background, I’d have the kid fill in answers on these sort of scan card. I even had my own electronic grader right by my desk. And of course, I enjoyed looking at the results, both at how well they did which gave me a pretty good idea about whether or not I covered the material and at individual questions to see if they were confusing or misleading. At least for me, testing was a lot of fun. I guess you could say that I’m sort a test junkie.
And maybe that’s why this particular passage kind of peaks my interest. I mean, here we have the devil giving Jesus a three-part test that’s he’d obviously written himself. But instead of using multiple choice, the devil’s test was more in the line of true/false. I mean, in each situation, the devil posed a problem and offered a solution, and all Jesus had to do was to say whether the solution was right or wrong. As Maggie would say, “Easy peasy.” And like I said, each situation dealt with one particular aspect of life.
I mean, think about the first situation, you know when he challenged Jesus to prove he was the son of God by just turning one stone into a loaf of bread, something he probably wanted to do anyway, given the fact that he hadn’t eaten for forty days. Right here the devil was zeroing in on Jesus’s priorities and his security as God’s son, something that he passed with flying colors when he said, “Not by bread alone will a person live.” The devil wasn’t going to distract him from what he was called to do.
And then the second situation, up there on the top of the world, something that the devil offered Jesus if he’d just do a little bowing and scraping, in a place no one would see. Right here, Jesus’s values and his willingness to compromise a little of his integrity for something huge, all that was at sake, something Jesus threw back at the devil when he said, “To the Lord your God you will prostrate, and to him alone, you will worship.”
And then the third situation, by far the trickiest, because it really involved faith, you know, whether Jesus was willing to test God. And to make it even trickier, the devil quoted scripture to show that he was right. But that didn’t fool Jesus, not when he said, “You will not put to a test your God.” And that was that. Jesus not only passed the test but got a one hundred percent, without a point of extra credit. And the devil, well, what else could he do. According to Luke, “the Devil withdrew from him” which would have been fine, if he hadn’t continued and wrote “until a suitable occasion.”
And you know, right there’s the kicker. That old tester just left for a while, ready to return when someone maybe a little less solid, a little less capable, a little less confident would have to take his test. That would be a more “suitable occasion.” And I’ll tell you, I think now’s that time, because as soon as Jesus ascended, I think the devil came back like white on rice with his little true/false test. In fact, I think we have to face the same kind of situation Jesus faced in the wilderness, with one big difference. I don’t think our results are anything to write home about.
I mean, just like Jesus, I think our priorities are always being tested. And although it may not involve bread, I think the devil throws things in front of us that can distract us from how we know we’re called to live. For example, I think most of us here this morning know what Christians are suppose to be doing, right? Man, it’s not rocket science. It’s two things: love God and love neighbor, that’s it. But then the devil tests us by saying stuff like, “Well, if you’re really a Christian and if God really does love, he doesn’t want you to suffer, right; and he wouldn’t want you poor, right; he wouldn’t what you go without, right? So go for it. Grab the gusto. Look after yourself. And that’s what we do. Although we may say that God’s first, come on, we all know who’s really number one, right? Change the stone into bread so you can eat, even if your neighbor doesn’t see a single crumb. That’s the situation the devil offers us, and let me ask you, how do you think we usually do on that part of test.
But of course that’s not all, because just like he did with Jesus, I think the devil also tests our fundamental values and our willing to compromise for the sake of what we consider important. I mean, although we may not say it out loud, the ends often justify the means, if the ends are good. Of course we can see this call to compromise all over the place, even in the church. Let me give you an example. In modern America, what’s the most important indication that a church is healthy, I mean, really on the ball? Is it the number of poor folks it helps? Is it a willingness to stand up for issues and people because it’s the right thing to do, but maybe not popular? Is it a decision to bury the hatchet and put those petty little things that divide behind us so that we can proclaim the gospel with unity and force? Do those define health in modern American churches? I don’t think so. Health is defined by numerical growth. Growing churches are healthy. And those that aren’t, well you know the answer. And how do you grow? Any way that works. If it means not talking about sin, if it means doing what it takes to make people feel good, if it means picking out some group in our society to be the scape goat; in other words, if it means moving away from the Word of God and presenting a more comfortable gospel...but remember, we’ll grow. “The world is mine, all you have to do is worship me.” Now, have we done any better on part two of the test?
And then, as sort of the cue de grâce, I think our faith is also tested. I mean, we know that “blessings are on the head of the righteous,” Proverbs 10:6. And “if God is for us, who is against us,” Romans 8:31. And “ask and you will receive,” John 16:24. These things we know, right? They’re in the Bible. Well then, how can we be wrong if we ask God to deliver? I mean, along with some hair, I could sure use a few more blessings on this head. And it might be nice if I didn’t have to go up against a few things. And “ask and you will receive,” daa, what more can you say? And I don’t even need God to save me from taking a header off the temple. Why can’t I expect some physical relief? And so ends part three of the devil’s test.
And if I’m honest with myself, based on the results, and understand that these same results I get over and over again, I really don’t think I passed. What about you? Man, there’s not enough extra credit in the universe to pull me up to a D and unless he’s using one heck of a curve, I’m toast. That is until I remember who’s grading the test. Because you see, although the devil may give it, I think it’s God who grades it. And although I don’t think he gives extra credit, he does grade on a curve, and that curve is called grace.
You see, I believe that God is well aware that even though we are his children, we just don’t have the focus and the strength and the confidence of his Son. We have feet of clay, and we make mistakes. That’s just who we are. And yet he loves us anyway. And even though the devil assumed that by distracting us, he could distract God, it just doesn’t work out that way. We may stumble and fall. And our priorities and our values and even our faith may be confused, still God is with us and just like Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I guess you could say that the Good News is that in spite of the fact that we consistently come up short, God grades the test, and because of that fact we can have hope as we face the future.
Remember, a little while ago, I said that I like giving tests. Well, I do like to give them, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy taking them. As a matter of fact, I’ll do an awful lot to avoid tests whenever possible. Unfortunately, though, there are some tests that we just can’t avoid, and I’m talking about the one that the devil loves to give us, a test that causes us to question and even to doubt our priorities and values and faith. But you know, before we just give up and drop out, I think we need to remember that, ultimately, it’s God who gives us our grade and that our destinies are grounded not on how we do but on what he’s done. In others words, although we may fail to make a very good score, we still have reason for hope and joy, knowing that God grades the test.