Volume 28 - Issue 1

The Mad Mirage of the Heart

By Robbie F. Castleman

Temptation is often the subtlest enemy of truth. In the wilderness temptations of Jesus the Son, the core contest centred around the denial or erosion of trusting God the Father with the truth of how things really are. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Temptation makes the point that for the Christian, what matters is how God deals with us in the hour of temptation. The divine paradoxes of discipleship are the ways God maintains his authorship of Truth. It’s easy to forget that we lose our lives to keep them, we must die to live, the cross is public and the resurrection happens nearly unobserved, God’s truth is just not something we would ever come up with on our own. The subtlety of temptation, as Bonhoeffer points out, is that, ‘Satan does not fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.’

When faced with temptation, we have to remember what the truth is, what is really real. The reality is that the Christian life is often uncomfortable, inconvenient and plain hard even on the good days. His word, as well as his way, is not ours. And it’s easy to be deaf to a hard word even if it is God’s word. The tempter wants us to listen to a different, an easier, and more attractive word. Only as we abide in Christ can the Christian enter the obedience of Jesus and know deliverance from the evil that lurks on the other side of temptation. Remembering the dynamic depths of Jesus’ experience is immeasurably helpful.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into a situation that only he could handle without sin. He stood in our place, identified with our humanity, and began the journey to the final battle of Golgotha. From his incarnation, baptism, temptation, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus took our place to fully redeem our humanity.

The reality of the first temptation was to see if the Son would forget the goodness of the Father who gives bread and not stones. Can God really be trusted to be good? Satan tempted Jesus to take things into his own hands in the provision of good. Turn these stones to bread, your Father would if he could, but he isn‘t! So, go ahead and do it yourself! God the Father desired from Jesus the Son a faithful remembrance of who he was, the incarnate Word of God who spoke all reality into being. If that Word was denied or undone—if the Son had doubted goodness and had made his own bread, would the cosmos have ceased to exist? Would the one who holds all things together as the Word of the Father deny the goodness of God to assuage his own hunger? The cosmos for a crumb. This is the hidden inequity of all temptation. But Jesus, true Son of the Father, remembered the Father’s Word, said NO, and in due course, the good Father provided bread for his Son.

Father in heaven, lead us not into the temptation that forgets your goodness even when we are very hungry. Help us to trust you by faith to give us daily bread. Like Jesus, help us renounce to receive, to lose our lives, to hate our lives that we might be kept as yours forever.

If the first temptation was a test of the Father’s goodness, the reality of the second temptation was a test of the Son’s humility. Again, the evil one tempts Jesus to do something—Throw yourself down! Make God jump through hoops of his own making! Satan wanted to force God to keep his word through a feat of death-defying arrogance on the part of the beloved Son. For the evil one to prevail in such a deceptive power play would have meant the dethronement of the Almighty. This temptation echoes again at the foot of the cross, Come down from there—prove you are the Son of God. The coercion of God’s promise would be the bondage of God. Would Jesus trust for the Father’s exaltation and even be obedient unto death? The proof of Sonship, both in the wilderness and on the cross, was refusing rescue. And in the self-emptying humility Jesus, the Son secured the perfect freedom of the Father. In the embrace of weakness, the power of God prevailed.

Father in heaven, lead us not into the temptation of thinking we can manipulate your truth to make a point that vindicates or empowers us. Help us to have the mind of Christ, forsaking celebrity for the promised exaltation of the self-emptying life. Help us believe your Grace is sufficient in our weakness because it is grounded in the unrivaled freedom of your very self as Father, Son and Spirit.

In the third temptation Satan discards his reasonable disguises and, at the height of his attempts at seduction, makes his own offer of power and victory. Diogenes Allen in his book Between Two Worldsasserts that for the first time, Satan offers to do something for Jesus, something, indeed tempting. The tempter offers the Son in the wilderness what the Father refused him in the garden: another cup to drink. All the kingdoms of the world for sale! Clearance-rack prices! Why not? Why pay top price for the same goods? But, the deeper reality of the third temptation is that it was an offer to rule over a glittering graveyard, not the city of God. For the price of cheap worship, it is our souls that would be lost. If the Son had bowed his knee, if the Father had offered another cup, then God would not be Love. As the prince of this world Satan offers Jesus a kingdom without subjects, a world without his marvellous light, a throne without grace, an eternity without love. The offer is really a cheap kingdom, a cross-less kingdom. The goods, in fact are not the same, no matter how temptation tries to fake the labels. And Jesus knows this. Not only does the Son not bow, but in the only imperative directed at the devil in the wilderness temptations, Jesus commands Satan to leave. And he does.

Father in heaven, lead us not into the temptation of a cross-less discipleship that can grant an earthly kingdom that glitters for a season, but costs us more than we can imagine. Keep our knees from bending at any throne but yours. Help our worship to always include the cup of your suffering. Help us refuse the sweet seduction of lesser loves.

Helmut Thielicke in his book Between God and Satan calls temptation the ‘mad mirage of the heart’ because it offers us what we desire at the expense of reality. Satan’s temptations are temptations because they look beneficial to us. And easier. And less costly. And, frankly, not bad at all. Blind to temptation, we love to make our own bread. Mindful of our own egos, we supply our own needs if God seems slow or neglectful. Forsaking kingdom costs, we applaud ecclesial celebrities who peddle the most popular proofs of God’s power for a world addicted to the sensational. And our knees bow easily to worship tiny idols like style and preference, consumer satisfaction and a good reputation.

Our Father in Heaven, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil! For yours alone is the kingdom and the power and the glory because Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by other kingdoms and powers and glories. And, the Word said NO. Remind us of this forever and ever. Amen.

Robbie F. Castleman