On the Pinnacle (#22)

The troubled sea, the desert air,
The furnace depth, the lion’s lair,
Alike are safe, when Christ is there.
Captain Allen Gardiner

“And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’
and
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:9-12, ESV)

Today we begin looking at the third of the desert temptations. This temptation seems to me the trickiest of the three. “Command this stone to become bread.” That’s a temptation of the flesh. “If you will worship me, it will all be yours.” That’s a temptation to selfish compromise. And then we come to a strange request, which doesn’t seem to offer Jesus anything: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” Where is the temptation?

Satan has set his trap, and the bait is in the first clause: “If you are the Son of God.” In the first temptation, Satan was questioning; here, Satan is supposing. One commentator expresses it, “If you really are what you seem to think, cast yourself down.”

The Cambridge Bible commentators write that the devil is using the opposite tactic of the first temptation:

“The third temptation was based, with profound ingenuity, on the expression of absolute trust with which the first temptation had been rejected. It asked for a splendid proof of that trust, and appealed to perverted spiritual instincts.”

If Jesus believed his sonship, then he should jump to prove his calling by showing God’s protection. If the angels will “bear him up,” then maybe he would soar over the crowds of the temple courts, proving his deity and sonship. This would be a great miracle. The people would worship him, as he deserves.

The enemy’s rhetoric is also double-edged. If Jesus believed in his sonship, then he should leap down and prove God’s care for him. And if Jesus questioned his sonship, then he should jump from despair of his calling. Satan believes, then, that he has Christ on the knife edge of a pinnacle, and he must fall to one side or to the other.

Jesus rejects the whole scheme because it is based on a false understanding of God’s character. God may save from danger, but he does not call us to endanger ourselves to prove that.

The answer for Jesus was another of God’s commandments: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Amazingly, this quotation has a double meaning in the mouth of Jesus: First, I must not test my Father’s care for me, and second, you must not test the divine Son. With the sword of his mouth, Jesus conquered, and the devil had to flee at this speech of Jesus.

Father, thank you that I both know you and know your Word. I pray that your Word would be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Help me to live by its light in every moment.

Amen.

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