Jumping For Approval





She was crazy! You know that girl who was a nightmare. That guy who was a pig. You know that relationship that is the source of all your problems. We’ve all been through a breakup at some point in our lives. And when we do, even your minister might seek out comfort, seek out my bro’s, get a beer, and complain about how “she” was the source of all my problems and how I am better off without her. And it is the job of my bro’s or your girlfriends to agree with you and say, “yeah you are right. You are better of without him or her. It’s all her or his fault.” There isn’t a better feeling in the world than to be brought in front of people and hear them say, “you were right.”

The Devil is trying to get Jesus to go down that road today. He is trying to get Jesus to rely on the world’s vindication and not on God’s vindication. He is trying to get Jesus to jump for approval instead of resting in the Father’s love. For a long time I thought this temptation was about taking risks. “Do not test the Lord” for me basically meant to not try to defy God’s natural laws like gravity. Thus, since there is no way you would ever get me to jump out of an airplane I thought I was good on this temptation. My plan is to outlive everyone. Not to engage in extreme sports or fast cars. Not to smoke, chew, or run with those who do. But as Russell D. Moore author of “Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ,” points out, “At first glance the second temptation might seem to be a temptation to engage in risky behavior. After all, what could be riskier than throwing yourself off a tower in hopes that some angels will catch you? But this action would have instead been an evasion of risk. Jesus could have in this way cleared away all the ambiguity and faced his enemies with the clear, proven truth that his Father was on his side. But it was Jesus’ refusal to jump that was courageous.” (Moore, 113)

The Devil is trying to get Jesus to betray his trust in the protection, the vindication, the provision, of his Heavenly Father. And the Devil does this in the most effective way possible, by quoting scripture, specifically Psalm 91:11-12. What the Devil is saying is true in a sense, the LORD promises to protect his Son. But the application of this scripture, the Spirit with which it is applied to these circumstances is twisted. This should remind us that just because we know the Bible doesn’t mean we know the Spirit of Christ with which the scriptures are to be applied.

In response to the Devil’s use of scripture Jesus responds with a scripture of his own from Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.” The full quotation of this text says, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test as you did at Massah.” Massah is a Hebrew word that means “testing” and it points us to the story of Exodus 17:1-7. In this story the people of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness after having been delivered from slavery by God and being fed with bread from heaven by God. Now the people are complaining because they are thirsty. And because they are thirsty they are doubting that God is really among them, and even accuse Moses of freeing them from slavery only to kill them through dehydration in the desert. And yet in the previous chapter God provided his people bread form heaven, through an obvious miracle, without accusing them of lacking in faith. So we must ask what is the Biblical view of miracles, divine intervention, and “testing the Lord.”

There is a strand of Christianity called cessationism, which suggest that miracles, prophecy, and the more miraculous occurrences in the New Testament, ended with the death of the Apostles and the closing of the canon. The thought is that the miracles where designed to establish the authority of the Apostles and the New Testament, and now that we have the New Testament, we should not seek miracles because we would thereby be “testing the Lord.” But this theology is more a theology based on modern experience, that miracles seemed to have ceased, than something based on scripture. A more useful exercise would be to see what conditions Jesus performed a miracle or sign and what conditions he did not.

It is true that when tested by the Devil to perform extravagant and miraculous acts, Jesus refused. Yet, though Jesus refused to turn stones into bread, he apparently had no problem taking five loaves of bread and feeding over 5,000 people with them. Some modern commentators have suggested that this was more a miracle of love than an apparent defying of natural law. That Jesus act of breaking the bread, convinced people in the crowd who were hiding food for themselves to share. But this goes beyond the scriptures, which are all clear that the crowd had no food. The feeding of the five thousand is the one miracle that is recorded in all the Gospels, so we can be very sure that it has some historical basis. The question becomes why was Jesus willing to perform a massive miracle to feed 5,000 people but not to turn a few stones into bread to feed himself?

We should note that whenever people approached Jesus with a need, in faith, that Jesus was willing to meet that need. He never said to a sick person, “suck it up, trust in God’s providence. If you die, you die, if you live, you live.” Yet, many times when Jesus is asked to prove that he is the Son of God by doing a miracle, Jesus refuses. In Matthew 12:38, when the Pharisees seek a sign from Jesus to prove he is the Messiah, he refuses. In Matthew 26:53, when Judas comes with Roman soldiers to the garden, to arrest Jesus, one of his disciples pulls a sword and cuts of the ear of the servant of the high priest. In response to this action Jesus replied, “ Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” And when Jesus is hanging from the cross the crowd mocks him saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” And yet, Jesus refuses to use his power to vindicate himself. God is not against answering prayers, meeting needs, moving in miraculous ways, even today. God is against skepticism, having to prove his existence. Our generation lives by the X Files motto, “Seeing is believing.” But the Bible says we hear the word of God, and though we cannot see, we believe in Faith. And when we believe in Faith, sometimes we will see the evidence of our faith made manifest. Miracles and Signs are meant to encourage God’s people and build our faith. They are not meant to answer our doubts or reverse our lack of faith.

We’ve all been there haven’t we? Bargaining with God. Saying if only this would happen, I would believe, or if only you would do this, I would do your Will. Yet, God has nothing to prove to you, the evidence of his love is in all of creation, and calling to your heart, though the ruler of this world tries to blind us to it. God has nothing to prove to you just like Jesus had nothing to prove to the Devil, or to those who mocked him on the cross. Often, God is patient with our bargaining. But eventually he will break of this sin. For me, my bargain was to have a companion, a help mate, a wife, to go with me in ministry. Serving this church, walking along side you all, praying for you all, the calling that has been placed on my life, it is the greatest honor of my life to be provided the blessing, the opportunity to be a shepherd full time. But for a long time I bargained with God. God give me a wife and then I will go. Because more than anything else I feared being alone. And that fear held me back for many years. But finally I decided to take a leap of faith and not a leap for approval. And now I find that there are many days that I am lonely. I gave up a lot of friends to be here. And there are times sitting on my couch watching TV that I realize that there is no one next to me, and that is something my heart longs for. But I was testing the Lord, not asking Him to provide for my needs, not trusting that wherever I go I am not alone, whether I am married or single. Proverbs 13:12 declares, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” And I do believe that if God put this longing in my heart he will fulfill it at the right time at the right place. But if I am sixty five and not married do I have the right to be bitter? If I do get married, and my spouse dies before I do, as is the case for many of you, do I have the right to say that God was not really with me? I don’t think so. The scriptures say that all these desires, all these gifts we are given here in this life, they are good, but they are temporary and are designed to point us to a greater Truth. The Truth of the Glory of God. The truth of the coming vindication, revealing of Jesus Christ, the day when our Lord will make himself known to the world, not to prove something to the world, but to claim what is rightfully his. The true tree of life, the fount and source of all goodness, of all our hope and desire awaits those who preserve in faith to the end. As Revelation Chapter 22 declares, “ Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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