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Confronting the Temptation to Shortcut God's Plan

by Rev. Mary Harmison, Academic Director for SEU Ohio

In your weariness, have you ever been tempted to take a shortcut? You are not alone. Jesus was tempted, too. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” (Luke 4: 1–2, NIV).

If you have participated in the spiritual discipline of fasting, you can relate to the hunger that Jesus felt. Are you experiencing the devil’s temptations, too? Let’s see…

Temptation 1:

The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’

“Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone”’” (Luke 4: 3–4, NIV).

This is an interesting thing for the devil to throw at Jesus. On a surface level, Jesus is hungry, and his stomach wants food. We understand that. But this temptation goes deeper than hunger pangs. Jesus knows He is the bread of life sent by the Father in the power of the Spirit to give life to the world (John 6: 48). The manna God provided to the Israelites in the wilderness and Jesus’s soon-to-come miraculous feeding of the thousands foreshadow the final sacrifice that Jesus would make with his body to feed us the fullness of eternal life. Jesus knows that the path he must take involves the blessing and breaking of the bread of life before it can be multiplied to feed the world. The bread that must be broken is his body on the cross. In a sense, the devil is asking Jesus to take a shortcut. “Avoid this path of pain and suffering before you. Command this stone or some other object to become bread, and let it be broken instead of yourself.” Jesus refused to shortcut the Father's plan of salvation because of his love for you.

Temptation 2:

"The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours’” (Luke 4: 5–7, NIV).

There is no doubt that Jesus knew Psalm 2 in which David wrote prophetically of the perfect unity between Father and Son. Though the rulers of the world try to resist God, Psalm 2 declares that Jesus will reign in the eschaton:

2 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”

4 The One enthroned in heaven [the Father] laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 5 He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6 “I have installed my king [Jesus] on Zion, my holy mountain.”

7 I [Jesus] will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He [the Father] said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. 8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will break them [the rebellious rulers] with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery" (Psalm 2: 2-9, NIV).

In Luke 4, the devil offers Jesus a shortcut to reigning over the earth. The devil says to him, “Young Jesus, rather than wait on your Father’s timing, why not rule now? Why go through all the steps in the Father’s plan, Jesus, when you can have your destiny today? All you must do is worship me.” (Can’t you hear the devil saying that in the Emperor’s voice from Star Wars?) “Use your impatient feelings, Jesus. Let the greed flow through you!” (I wonder if the devil looked like the Emperor, too?)

Jesus came to do the will of his Father. To disobey the Father’s will and shortcut the Father’s timing is to break fellowship with the beloved Father. Jesus already has the Father’s promise (Psalm 2: 8), and because of his perfect obedience and willingness to sacrifice himself, he knows the Father will deny him nothing. “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only”’” (Luke 4: 8, NIV). The devil’s shortcut is moot before the Son of God because the Son loves the Father.

Temptation 3:

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written:

‘“He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone”’” (Luke 4: 9–11, NIV).

I’ve often wondered about this one. Is the devil insinuating that as the darling Son of God, Jesus is bulletproof and can afford to take a massive shortcut to the ground without injury? In other words, the devil is saying, “If you really are God’s Son, Jesus, then nothing bad will happen to you. You can neglect self-care and do something utterly foolish, and the Father will ensure that you are immune to the consequences and the laws of nature.” Jesus’s answer to the devil indicates his recognition that even He—though fully God and fully human—will reap what He sows (Galatians 6: 7). “Jesus answered, ‘It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”’” (Luke 9: 12, NIV).

If Jesus could not escape the consequences of his actions, how much more are we subject to the consequences of ours? In Psalm 10: 11, King David wrote, “The wicked think, ‘God isn’t watching us! He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!’” But we know our heavenly Father sees all (Hebrews 4: 13). Our actions make clear the intentions of our hearts. Praise God that Jesus had the character to always make the right choice when seen and unseen.

What shortcut is the devil tempting you to take? In your quiet time today, consider these questions:

  • What pain and suffering are you trying desperately to avoid? Jesus brought us salvation as the suffering servant.

  • What long-term process do you wish was over? Jesus obediently waited on the Father’s timing.

  • What foolish thing in your life would you stop immediately if public knowledge and consequences were guaranteed? Are you taking shortcuts with your spiritual, mental, or physical health? Jesus knew the Father’s patience is not to be tested.

As servants, we are not above the master. Just as Jesus surrendered to his Father’s will (and the pain, waiting, and obedience God’s will entailed), our path to the joy of the Father involves our surrender as well (Hebrews 12: 2). Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and He pours out the same Holy Spirit to strengthen us.

Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10: 13, NIV).

If you are tempted to take a shortcut, the way out is to confront the temptation directly with a strong decision to surrender to God’s will as Jesus did. Few people can withstand continued temptation on their own. That is why it is so important to yield to the precious Holy Spirit who strengthens us. God’s Holy Spirit often directs us to confess our struggles to trusted members of our loving Christian community (and yes, that is humbling) so that our Spirit-filled brothers and sisters can pray for us and hold us accountable when we need it. Be encouraged: Shortcuts are a common temptation. Our high priest, Jesus, who knows what it is like to be tempted, is making intercession for you right now at the throne of God (Hebrews 4: 15, 7: 25, Romans 8: 34). The way of escape and endurance is found in loving Christian community and in obedience to God’s word. God will not abandon you, beloved (Hebrews 13: 5)! Jesus was motivated by his love for the Father and for us. I pray this look at Jesus’s character and his active love for you will stir your desire to draw closer to Him through the Holy Spirit who indwells you.

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