Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When there's real reason for shame (part 1)

I'm continuing in my read through Matthew, and I'm here at Matthew 4. What's going in Matthew 4? Well, first Jesus, newly baptized, goes into the wilderness and is tempted by the devil. And then, having passed the test, Jesus begins to call up His first disciples.

Here's what came to me in reading the first part of this chapter, this time.

Ancient people's often believed that the devil lived in the wilderness. We can certainly understand that while out there, Jesus - the man of flesh and blood - was far beyond anyone's help, far beyond the law, should someone set on Him. Scary enough, but when it was the devil himself (and not just some run of the mill robber) getting in His face, for this trial not even the angels came to help Him. No, Jesus was on His own.

And that fits, doesn't it? One of Jesus' tasks on this earth was to do -- sometimes literally, and sometimes symbolically -- what we human beings have proven through Old Testament, New Testament, and into the modern age that we can't do for ourselves. In this case, Jesus the man goes into the wilderness for forty days, just like the ancient Israelites were in the desert for forty years. He's tempted just like they were -- but He succeeds where they failed miserably. There is symbolism here, to be sure, but there's real world too: Jesus, the human being, takes on the devil - and wins.

As Christians, when we have Jesus' power behind us, we can also win against the devil. But we have to actually want to do that, for it to happen. Unfortunately, while continuing to believe ourselves going along with Jesus, Christians often follow along after the devil, and don't even realize it.

In Matthew 4, for example. Jesus was hungry. And the devil tempted Him to use God's power to take care of that hunger. Jesus refused. He chose to remain hungry and wait for God's power to accomplish God's will, and not the devil's will.

But what do we Christians often do? We also get hungry - for more money, for better cars, for better things, and more. And, we tell ourselves, it makes sense that God our Father would want to always take care of our comforts and concerns, right? So the devil whispers in our ear: "If you are a child of God, use the Power of Jesus to get you want you want!"

And too often we say "Amen!" -- and we often get that money, that car, that thing.

But, who do we think, then, is really fulfilling that prayer? 

Another example. The devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of religion, and tempted Him to prove God wouldn't let Him fall.Jesus refused. But to our minds, in a lot of ways what the devil proposed doesn't sound like such a bad thing. We want assurance that God cares for and protects us. So the devil whispers in our ear: "Rest assured in your solid position in the church and/or as a child of God! Go ahead and do what you will - God won't let you fall!"

And far too often, we cry "Amen!" -- and we are protected from being found out when we've lied, cheated, fornicated, committed adultery, gossiped, power-played, and so on.

But just who do we think is protecting us in that position? 

One more example. The devil took Jesus to the highest place in the world - and here the devil gave away his true evil design. Here the devil offered Jesus what belongs to the devil -- "..all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.." -- if only Jesus would bow down to and worship him.

We know that in the end everything belongs to God, but here the Bible tells us that for now the devil is allowed to own the world's power and place, and all the wonderful things that go with power and place. The Bible also tells us here that the devil is allowed to offer those things -- and he does so to those who bow to him, and who worship him. 

When the devil offered these worldly things to Jesus, Jesus refused. But the devil whispers in our ear: "Go ahead! God wouldn't have put you in a place of ease in the world if you didn't deserve it! And think of all the good things you can do with your power and position!" And too often we Christians praise Jesus with our lips as we kneel to the devil, taking on whatever power and position we can get our hands on. All, we claim, "for the glory of God", of course!

It isn't hard to understand that only a remnant of those who believe themselves to be God's people will actually be saved, because when we truly look in real repentance, ashamed of our greed and gluttony and self-service, we can't help but realize that it's we who choose to go with something besides God. Too often, we Christians want to have it both ways:
  • We want to be saved by Jesus, and to claim Him as our own
  • But we also want just a little bit more (sometimes a lot more) what the devil has in hand.
And that just can't be.

But that want is  part of our fallen human nature, isn't it? To keep hearing that whispering devil -- and keep falling for his garbage -- over and over again, until at last we tell him to truly take a hike - and we really mean it.

But what does that look like, when we Christians are truly following Jesus and no longer being part-time devil-worshippers?

It looks exactly like what Jesus says it does, in the Bible. It looks, for example, like turning the other cheek, instead of going off to war.It means things like doing good deeds in secret, instead of making sure everyone can see how righteous we are.

And it means taking Jesus - literally - at His word. Even when it hurts. Even when it costs. Even when it doesn't make sense (now).

It means really, truly, being a Christian.

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