8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'”
The great lie of sin is that it gives us control over our lives. When we say to ourselves, “I choose to do this for myself,” we are effectively handing the keys to our lives over to Satan. We are led astray by our own desires, we yield to temptation, and next thing we know, we are enslaved to the sin that awaits us. And then, try as we might on our own to escape, we find that the snare gets tighter with each attempt to flee from that sin. It is only when we resist the devil with Christ as our strength, with God as our song, that we find salvation and freedom at last.
In the gospel account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, the devil tried to tempt our Lord to use the very power and glory He had laid aside. Of course, Jesus, being utterly obedient to His Father’s will, stayed true to the course laid out for His life. When tempted to feed Himself with new manna, Jesus relied on the fullness of spirit that is gained by reliance on the providence of God. When tempted with allowing angels to save Him from the death that was His fate, Jesus rebuked the devil and remained obedient. But the tempter’s last temptation here was the ultimate deception, and it is the one for which we humans all-too-easily fall: power over our lives.
Worldly power is fleeting and hollow, and seeking it inevitably leads us to slavery to sin. To gain power or fame or worldly glory, we leave behind purity and integrity, we abandon our desire for righteousness and the kingdom of God. Worse yet, we create our own moral code–one that allows us to step on others, to bend the truth, to judge ourselves. And, of course, we DON’T judge ourselves, nor do we think we shall ever be judged for what we’ve done. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:31) That is the place at which so many unrepentant sinners are today, unwilling to judge themselves and unbelieving that God will judge them. A recent survey showed that a vast majority of people who identify themselves as Christians believe in a literal hell, a place of punishment for sinners and the devil. And yet a similar majority do not feel they will be judged and sent there. Paul was so right!
It is not always about that dark quest for power and glory, either. There are just as many well-meaning people who think they can serve God better if they just have a little more money, a little more fame, a little more control over others, a little more direction over their own and others’ lives. And as they make that bargain with the world to build their own empire “in the service of God,” these men and women always form their own secret morality. They bifurcate their lives into their private life of sin and desire and their public life of power and apparent service. But whom do they serve? Whose feet do they wash? Whose chains do they wear?
Satan took Jesus to the top of a high mountain and showed Him the glory and kingdoms of men. The tempter promised our Lord dominion over all the world…but ONLY if Jesus put Himself in dominion under Satan. That is the catch, the trap, the snare that so easily entangles. Satan whispers in our ears, “You can take control of your life, you can be rich and powerful, have all the glory of men. You can guide others as you will. But first, you must serve ME.” We must yield to sin, serve under Satan. And what will that get us? What will that gain for anyone except more sin and death? God sent His Son into this world to serve US, not Satan. God sent Jesus to bring us FREEDOM from Satan, not further subservience in Satan’s reign.
42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
43 “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.
44 “And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.
45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The service that the Father desired of His Son–and which He desires of all of us–is to love and obediently serve the Lord our God.
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
25 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
26 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Had Jesus yielded to Satan on the mountaintop, it would not have only been His own soul that was lost, it would have been all of OURS, too. But by losing His life for our sakes, Jesus enabled us to gain new life, eternal life. Jesus asked His disciples what profit there is in gaining the whole world. He might just as well have said those words to Satan in the desert. He might have said to the devil, “How is the will of My Father served by gaining power over the earth under your dominion? How is salvation gained for all men when I who have been sent to save them instead give them over to you?”
Jesus saw the trap that Satan laid, saw that the tempter was offering a hollow glory, one that did not serve the will of God the Father at all. Why don’t WE see that? Are we so gullible? Are we so weak? Yes, we are. As Jesus said to His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) We WANT to pray, but we do not. We WANT to live lives of integrity, but we do not. We WANT to read the Word of God more, but we do not. We WANT to follow the will of God for our lives, but it is difficult and contrary to the world. The path the world offers is so much easier, so much more satisfying to our weak flesh. We tell ourselves that our yielding to temptation is just a temporary thing, that we will be able to come right back to the Father’s purposes eventually. But we do not. Instead, we live a double life, thinking that we can serve God and sin at the same time.
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
Knowing the gospel of peace with God, knowing the lordship of our Savior Jesus Christ, would we crucify Him again and fall under the lordship of sin? Would we drive the nails once again and cut His brow with more thorns for our shame? Would we prolong His death with a deeper thrust of the spear? Would we allow the barbs of the scourge to score His back even more? Would we listen to His words from the Cross and be unmoved?
There in the desert, Jesus chose that passion–that pain endured for all of us, that path of shame and derision, that death that was rightfully ours. By refusing dominion over the earth under the worship of Satan, Jesus chose obedience to God and service to all men. In despising the devil’s lordship, Jesus restored to us the lordship of our own lives. And now that we are captains of our own souls, to whom will we yield? For yield we must, either to sin leading to death or to righteousness leading to eternal life. (Romans 6:16)
14 “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!
15 “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
Those mute gods of wood, metal, stone, and money do not gain us salvation and strength. Where is power when a loved one is ill or dying? Where is fame when we cannot find our way back from despair? Where is nature when our dearest friend needs hope? Where is wealth when we cannot find love? We can choose to seek power and wealth and fame, and we can choose to serve other gods of our own making, but we must know that in doing so we are bowing before the altar of Satan, that we are not gaining glory but yielding it to the devil. If we would truly gain salvation and power over our own lives, then we must yield to the One who has the power to grant such strength: Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 1:14-16
14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
As Paul also wrote, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) But through the faith and love we find in Jesus Christ, we find God’s abundant grace awaiting. Though we may be chief among sinners, Jesus is yet faithful and longsuffering toward us. Though we may once have yielded to desire, temptation, and sin, He is yet merciful to bring us to Him.
The choice laid before Jesus on that mountaintop was not simply for glory and power, it was the choice between life and death.
19 “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;
20 “that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”
Jesus chose LIFE for all of us. What will we now choose?
O Precious Savior and Lord, when I reflect upon Your Cross, I must weep for the sins I committed that put You there. And as I daily trespass and seek forgiveness from You, I know that it is my weakness that is so greatly contrasted in Your strength–Your strength in bearing that cross, Your strength in carrying my sin, Your strength in rising again into new life. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for choosing the mortal life that the Father had dictated, for choosing obedience, for choosing the nails that struck a deathblow to sin. Now, my Lord, all that I seek is to be so strong as You, to choose life every day, to repent of all my sins and live not at Your mercy but within Your grace. Help me resist the devil, Lord, so that he will flee from me, and so that I may serve You better. Amen.