The Elephant: The Temptations of Christ Pt. II

When you see that elephant of temptation running toward you down the road, don’t be stubborn or proud – get out of the way!

+Scripture Reading: Matthew 4:5-7 Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command His angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’” Jesus replied, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

There’s this old story about a Zen master and his disciple. One day, they’re walking down the road, and there’s an elephant on the rampage, heading right toward them. The Zen master jumps off into a ditch, and calls for his student to get over here, out of the way! But his student just stands there. Lo and behold, the elephant comes, and runs right over the student.  

Now, a few days later, he wakes up all bandaged up, with his leg up here and his arm over here. His master asks, “What on earth were you thinking? Why didn’t you get out of the way when you saw the Elephant running toward you?” 

The student says, “Well, I thought I was enlightened, so I thought that I was One with everything, including the Elephant. I’m the elephant and the elephant is me. Why would I run myself over?” 

The Zen master laughed, whacked him over the head with his stick, and said, “If you and the elephant were One, and you are the elephant and the elephant is you, why didn’t you get out of your own way?” 

Now the main moral of this story is to just get out of your own way. But there’s another moral for the religious and the spiritual, and it’s not to let your religion and your spirituality make you arrogant and stupid! And trust me, arrogance and stupidity go hand in hand. 

Now we just read about how the Devil tried to convince Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple, saying, “Hey, the Bible says that God would send his angels to make sure nothing bad happens to you.  If you’re really the Son of God, you can prove it by jumping off the top of the Temple, and nothing bad will happen to you.” 

You can imagine the Devil there on the road with the Zen monk, whispering in his ear, “Hey — if you’re really one with that elephant, you wouldn’t run yourself over, would you? Prove it!” 

Now, Jesus’ answer is simple and direct. He quotes scripture, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” And this applies to two different things: first of all, Jesus is an obedient Jew, and every Jew is commanded by Torah not to put God to the test – even if God is your Father! But second, Jesus is the Son of God, the image of the Father — “I and the Father are one,” he said. So he was also saying – don’t test me. It was another way of saying, “Get behind me, Satan” — get out of my face! 

*** 

In your walk of faith, you’re going to be tested. We will all be tested. We should want to be tested – but only by our true teacher, God. It is appropriate and good that God should test us, and good if we invite him to, like the Psalmist said, “Examine me, O Lord, and try me; Test my mind and my heart.” This is the heart of repentance, inviting God into our hearts to examine us, test us, show us who we truly are. We might not like what He finds – but we should still pray that He shows it to us, so we can see as He sees. 

But there is another kind of test, which we call temptation. And this does not come from God. St. James writes, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone. But each one is tempted by his own evil desire, luring and enticing him away. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” 

Now, did anyone notice who does the tempting here, according to James? Not God. But not the Devil, either. It says “each one is tempted by his own evil desire, luring and enticing him away.” 

That means St. James is not going to let you say, “the devil made me do it”! He’s not going to let you get away with that. 

But Jesus isn’t either. He says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, but an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.” And the Proverbs say the same too. 

So what role does the Devil play in this? He’s the Deceiver. He justifies sins. He rationalizes them. He tells you that evil is good, and good is evil. That is what he did in the Garden, and that’s what he did in the desert while Christ was fasting. 

Now, Satan means “Enemy,” and that’s what he is – the enemy of humanity. But he is chiefly the enemy of Christ, and Christians, since Christ is the truth – the way, the truth, and the life – and Christians are followers of the truth, while he is the Deceiver. The Bible says, “the world is under the power of the evil one,” which means that the world believes his lies. Christians on the other hand are taught to distinguish lies from gospel truth – and that’s a threat to the Enemy. 

“Be alert, keep a sober mind!” Peter says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” He wants to take the truth that’s set you free, and make it a noose around your neck. Just like in the Garden, he’ll ask you, “Did God really command such and such? Maybe he said this. And if he did, maybe that means you should do such and such – it’s not evil, in fact, it’s good – right?” 

You already have desire, we all do. We all get carried away by them. We usually know right from wrong – but he plants the seed of doubt. “Hey, maybe it’s not so bad. Hey, maybe it’s even good.” 

Now, they say that idle hands are the devil’s playground – but so is the Bible. Look how subtle he was, citing scripture in the desert, trying to get Jesus to hurl himself to certain death! And yes, surely angels would have come – Jesus said he could have commanded them to prevent his arrest in Gethsemane, if he wanted – but that wasn’t part of God’s plan, God’s word, God’s commandment.  

Jesus countered with more scripture. And that’s how it should be for all of us. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: scripture proves scripture. The Devil loves to take scripture out of context. But if you read it all together, there’s no room for ambiguity. But the Enemy likes to play at that, and pretend that there is. That’s how he operates.  

One of these days, someone is going to come along and say, “If God said, ‘Thou shalt not murder’, why did he command Saul to murder all the Amalekites, and punish him for sparing some of them?” 

The more scripture you know, the more you’ll be able to discern the false premises in these kinds of questions. You’ll be able to say, there’s no contradiction — God used Saul’s disobedience as an opportunity to glorify himself, since God never intended for there to be a King over Israel. The vengeance that Saul was ordered to carry out on the Amalekites would have been carried out by God himself, as he did in Egypt, if the children of Israel hadn’t disobeyed Him, and rejected Him as their King. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay” — but the Israelites didn’t heed His word, and took that vengeance upon themselves in the person of their king. They broke that sixth commandment, “thou shalt not murder” and they all incurred the wrath — Saul was cursed and so was the whole nation because of this. God is just. There’s no contradiction. 

Or they’ll say, “If the Bible says, “The Lord your God is one,” how can you believe in a Trinity?” 

And you’ll be able to say, there’s no contradiction — from the beginning, God says “let us make man in our image,” and when He appeared to Abraham, He appeared in the form of three persons; and when He appeared to Moses in the Bush, He appeared in the Angel of His Presence, and went before them in the desert, and all the Apostles confirm that this was the Son; and as for the Holy Spirit, He comes to dwell in the Temple and comes upon prophets and Kings and warriors of His own accord, yet without the Father or the Son leaving their place in heaven. 

Knowledge of scripture is power. The Word of God is a sword, and it’s your weapon of spiritual warfare when you are tested like this.  

Or, it’ll be a different kind of test. Someone says, “If the Bible says that believers can drink poison and handle poisonous snakes without being harmed, drink some cyanide and hold this snake and prove it! Or, if the Bible says that God forgives sins, why not live the way you want? Sin freely!” 

This is when you answer as Jesus did in the desert: “It is written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  

Think about it this way: we’re in a marriage covenant with God. The church is the Bride and Christ is the Bridegroom. Married couples promise to stay with one another ‘til death do them part – but does that give you permission to be unfaithful? To be unloving? To be cruel to one another? Not at all. To do those things would test your marriage, to the point of awful strain.  

Similarly, we are not to put our marriage with God to the test. 

James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” How do you resist the devil? Here’s how: rather than getting lured away by evil desires, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” 

And we draw near to God by abiding in His word, obeying His commandments. Just like Jesus said: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” We will draw near to them. 

Love is the commandment. Love! Every Sunday, every day, I am that preacher shouting Love from the rooftop. Love is the commandment. There are so many words in the Bible, and the Enemy wants to entangle us in his interpretations of it. But the Key to the Word is the love which God has shown us in Jesus Christ. So let us draw near to God in love, that God may draw near to us.  

Don’t put God to the test, don’t put that sacred marriage covenant to the test. Hold your ground in the Word of God – with Love. Love is patient, love is kind. Love delights in the TRUTH, and love is not stubborn or proud.  

So when you see that elephant of temptation running toward you down the road, don’t be stubborn or proud – get out of the way! 

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