The Temptations of Christ: Part Two

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[1] Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. [2] And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry. [3] And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. [4] Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. [5] Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple,

[6] And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone. [7] Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. [8] Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, [9] And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me. [10] Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve.

Matthew 4: 1-10

Go here to read part one of our Lenten examination of the temptation of Christ by Satan.

The first temptation of Christ by Satan was devilish, of course, clever.  Pretending not to be sure that Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity, Satan challenges Christ to turn stones into bread.

On the surface this challenge is simple enough:  Christ hungers and Satan asks for a simple miracle so that he may be sure that Christ is God, and by this easy feat of divine power Christ can appease his human hunger.  However, as Satan knew, the temptation went far deeper than a mere appeal to human hunger.

How to tempt God?  The very concept is blasphemous, of course, but Satan is blasphemy incarnate.  I suspect that Satan’s answer to this puzzle was by appealing to God’s love.  As Christ would note, God marks the sparrow’s fall.  He loves each man, as if there were no other.  How He must pity us in our travails here below, our struggles against poverty and all the other ills that our fallen state and our fallen world present to us.  How many an atheist, bringing up one of these ills, has thrown back in the face of believers the taunt, “How could a just God allow this!”

Thus the Father of Lies appealed to Christ to use his divine power, not just to appease His hunger, but as a sign of how He could use His power to end hunger and all the other ills that Man is heir to.  Satan tempted God by appealing to His mercy, to place sinful Man back in the Garden and satisfy all Man’s material wants, ending human physical suffering with the slightest exertion of the divine will.  Temptations to evil are the most difficult to resist when the sin proposed is being utilized for a good end.  Satan, no doubt, who fell from pride, felt a surge of it when he suggested the clever bread temptation to Christ.

In the very small interval between Satan proposing the temptation and Christ responding to it, Christ may well have thought that the temptation was ironic.  During His three years of preaching bread would assume a central role:  from the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, to the prayer He would teach us in which we would ask God for our daily bread to His startling proclamation that bread would be transformed into His body.  Satan, unknowingly, was treading upon very sacred ground in bringing up the subject of bread.
Throughout Christ’s coming mission He would frequently use miracles to relieve human suffering, but the miracles, as He frequently said, were secondary to His message to Love God and Love Neighbor, and to take up our crosses and follow Him.
Satan’s temptation, if accepted, would in effect restore Man to the Garden, all his material wants sated, and remove from Man that essential component of free will: consequences.  Man is made in the image of God in that he has, through the divine gift, some of the attributes of God, and of these one of the  most significant is free will.  When Man exercises his free will there are consequences, here and in Eternity.  Satan would have God give Man the illusion that He could commit sin and be free from these consequences.  God would in effect revoke His admonition to Adam after the Fall that he and his descendants would earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.  Man’s material wants would be met by God, and Man would be left to sin as he pleased, with the reckoning for His sins a thing of Eternity and not a part of this mortal life.
Satan would have God effectively give Man a future in which he would be secure in this world and damned in the next, rather similar to the atheist totalitarian states of the last century with their false promises that the State could meet the material needs of their populations and that the satisfaction of material wants and desires is the alpha and omega of our human existence.
To this lie Christ responded, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.  Christ would not give Man the illusion of earthly salvation by becoming a divine dispenser of Welfare.  He had come to bring eternal salvation by having Man freely choose to follow Him.  No iota of the Law of God would be annulled by Christ, but all would be fulfilled by Him.  It would not be mercy to leave Man in his sins and give him earthly bread instead of the bread of angels.  The height of mercy is to call Men to live by every word from God, and thus Christ refused the temptation of bread.

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One Comment

  1. When He was teaching a multitude, which stayed on to hear more, He performed the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes showing mercy for those people. They wanted to hear His teaching, and, so, were graced with that miraculous food.
    .
    “To this lie Christ responded, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. Christ would not give Man the illusion of earthly salvation by becoming a divine dispenser of Welfare. He had come to bring eternal salvation by having Man freely choose to follow Him. No iota of the Law of God would be annulled by Christ, but all would be fulfilled by Him. It would not be mercy to leave Man in his sins and give him earthly bread instead of the bread of angels. The height of mercy is to call Men to live by every word from God, and thus Christ refused the temptation of bread.” The devil didn’t care whether He suffered hunger, he just wanted to see God rejected and himself served.
    “Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve.”

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