By Clint Loveall - First Presbyterian Church of Spirit Lake
In the temptation story, there’s a really interesting moment when Satan takes Jesus to the top of the holiest spot in Jerusalem, the temple, and challenges him to jump. Satan’s case is that since Jesus is the Messiah, God would not allow him to be harmed. It’s not a bad argument. God is in control, and God loves you, therefore God wouldn’t let something bad happen to you. The implication behind the scenes is that if Jesus doesn’t jump, he either doubts who he is, doubts who God is or is afraid because he doesn’t trust God. Given how often the scriptures invite and instruct us to “be not afraid,” it seems like a pretty good trap. If Jesus trusts God, he should jump, and if he doesn’t he’s afraid. I imagine as they stand there, on top of an entire building dedicated to God, Satan thinks he’s got Jesus cornered.
But Jesus doesn’t jump. He doesn’t take the bait. Instead he responds that scripture teaches us “Do not put God to the test,” which is an interesting response. Jesus isn’t afraid or doubtful, but he isn’t reckless or foolish either. He firmly trusts the good will and work of God but doesn’t test it. Jesus isn’t one for showing off, but more than that Jesus understands he has agency, the ability to make decisions, and that his choices can be either faithful or not. I think we often forget that Jesus didn’t love people and do God’s work simply because he was Jesus, but because he chose to.
It makes me wonder if trusting God is trickier business than it appears at first glance. It’s easy to imagine Satan accusing Jesus of being afraid, when in reality it’s actually faith that keeps Jesus’ feet planted, not fear. Maybe the devil even tried the tired old argument, “Since God is in charge, if you hit the ground that must be what he wanted.” But Jesus knows better. Trusting God doesn’t mean being arrogant or foolish, it means being faithful. Jesus doesn’t jump. He doesn’t “test” God. Jesus isn’t a fatalist who believes that every moment in our life has been cast in stone and it’s all “up to God.” He knows God is the ruler of all things and yet somehow, he still has a choice to make about his behavior.
Christ-followers have always believed that we have choices to make in our lives, and those choices matter. We can’t simply pin the needs of the world and the outcome of our action (or inaction) on the hope that things will “work out the way God wants.” God has demanded more of us than that. God has given us work to do and asks that we navigate our choices faithfully, looking to His word and Spirit for guidance on when to leap and when not to. Satan tempts Jesus, and the rest of us, to believe that those choices are about self, rather than the God who calls us to be faithful. Instead, Jesus shows us again what it means to actually trust God, which is to put His will above our own in our choices and our actions.