Catch me if you will

Read Matthew 4:1-11

How cunning. Jesus says that God's word is his major source of sustenance. He lives by what comes from the mouth of God. So, the Devil quotes God's word and asks Jesus to live or die by it. Our commitment to God's word needs to be thorough-going and all-encompassing. But it's easy for that commitment to become warped. The Devil is a manipulator, who uses a healthy commitment to create an unhealthy, super-spiritual and ultimately ungodly attitude. And even our attitude to God's word can be manipulated. How subtle; our commitment to the Bible becoming a means of leading us astray. It happens when we use the Bible for our purposes, to win arguments or to harshly judge others, rather than submitting humbly to its authority. For this temptation Jesus is removed from the desert. The new setting is a spiritual place, a place of worship. But the pinnacle of this place of worship is just as fertile ground for temptation as the desert.

Again, the "if you are the son of God" formula is used, echoing the baptismal experience. It is a challenge to Jesus' identity, challenging his Father's declaration and calling into question the trust Jesus puts in that word. The temptation for Jesus is to prove God's word to himself and at the same time to prove his identity to the Devil. Jesus decides to do neither. He is confident in his Father's love, holding onto the word spoken at his baptism. But he is also unwilling to be drawn onto the Devil's ground of argument.

He doesn't need to defend God or prove anything to the Devil. For Jesus to throw himself down from the temple would have been a test of sorts. But it would have had no value in terms of ministry, service or worship. Who would it have benefited? It could, I suppose, have been reassurance for Jesus and for the Devil's satisfaction. But there are enough real dangers and opportunities to experience God's protection without manufacturing any! There are things that look and sound like tests of faith. They seem on the surface to be putting it out there in dependence on God when all they are really doing is setting out to prove things that are already clearly established promises of God. Basically, do I live by faith or do I live by sight?

Andy Bathgate

Andy has been CEO of SU Scotland since 2001. When he's not busy with us, you'll find him playing with his grandsons or in an art gallery with his wife.