Today we start looking at the First Desert Temptation of Jesus:
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” (Luke 4:3-4, ESV)
The devil commands Jesus to do a miracle, but there is something strange about this miracle. We usually associate miracles with God’s power in advancing the Gospel. But there are some miracles that bear no relation to the Gospel.
Watchman Nee explains in his little book, The Latent Power of the Soul, that people can in fact do miracles without God’s power. (Think of Pharaoh’s magicians imitating Moses.) There are evil miracles, and even carnal miracles. Not all miracles are wrought by God. A miracle in itself is not a moral good, and should not impress us.
One of the strange documents that is sometimes hawked as a “missing gospel” has an aloof picture of a teenage Jesus. He finds an injured bird, and heals the bird, and this is meant to be the beginning of his miracle ministry. But this mystical picture of Jesus is quite far from what we have in the Gospels. Jesus’ miracles always meet human need, glorify the Father, Miracles are an indispensable part of Jesus’ gospel, but they have a direction, a motive, and a method behind them.
Satan’s requested miracle was wrong for three reasons.
The miracle was wrong-headed in its direction—a miracle done for self, not for others. Jesus did miracles to relieve human suffering and to glorify his Father, but never to help himself. God’s power divorced from God’s purposes becomes twisted and selfish. Three times Jesus was challenged to “save himself” from torture and crucifixion, and he refused, choosing rather to complete his mission. Jesus never did any miracles for himself, but always to meet the needs of others.
Satan’s request was wrong-headed in its motive—he wanted a miracle as proof for proof’s sake. Jesus said, “The Kingdom does not come with observation.” When the crowds saw Jesus heal the lame, “they were afraid, and they glorified God.” (Matthew 9:8) We should never pray for miracles that serve no purpose other than philosophical proof. (John 7:17)
Satan’s request was also wrong-headed in its method—the idea is intentionally sensational. When Jesus fed the masses, he did not take center stage and shout commands at the stones on the ground. We might be flabbergasted to notice, as the disciples did, that we were merely distributing food routinely, and Jesus had quietly multiplied it! He wants many to hear his message; but he cares more about meeting needs than building an audience.
The power of the Spirit is incompatible with a selfish attitude and a desire for glory. When we ask God for miracles, let us remember the humility with which Jesus’ miracles happened.
In the end, the devil was daring Jesus to question his heavenly Father’s care. And Jesus did not need a miracle to believe in that—he had seen it all his life, and had no reason to doubt it now.
Father, thank you that you have shown your care for me all my life. You feed the sparrows and tend the lilies, and I know you will not cease to care for me.