Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Heir’s Claim is Challenged

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘ He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘ In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’”

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”

Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. Matt. 4:1-11

In every good legendary tale there is always someone who challenges the heir’s claim to the throne. Most often this is the usurper himself, who, believing his or her claim to be legitimate, is unwilling to allow anyone to take it from them. My personal favorite is Alan Rickman as the sherrif in Costner’s ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’(see picture). If I was casting a film and needed a great heavy.. Rickman’s my first choice.

However, in the story of the Gospel Kingdom the challenge to the Heir’s claim comes from Satan himself.

It is important to note here that Satan’s claim is not without merit. Indeed, God gave the throne of this world to Adam and Eve in the Garden, but they surrendered the title to Satan when they disobeyed God and bought into the Deceiver’s lies. So while Satan has a legitimate claim to the throne, it was won by trickery and deceit and is therefore defiled by his evil intentions.

It is also important to note that the challenge is a necessary part of the process. Satan does not surprise Jesus in the wilderness. He does not interrupt one of his teaching sessions in the courtyard of the temple and challenge his claim in front of the people (well, not directly anyway). No... Jesus is led in to be tempted in the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Before he can begin his ministry the matter of the legitimacy of his claim to the throne of the kingdom must be settled, he and the Usurper must have it out before His campaign for the hearts of the people can even begin.

And that is because once again, Jesus is walking the same road as the nation of Israel. It’s not just that they spent time in the wilderness and so must He. The temptations He faces while in the wilderness are the same temptations faced by Israel when they journeyed out of Egypt. Jesus is tempted with: a) hunger, b) putting God to the test, and c) false worship. These are the same temptations, and in the same order, as Israel faced in Exodus 16, 17, and 19-32. They are also the same temptations the church faces today as she struggles to find her role in the Gospel Kingdom. Let’s quickly look at each one making a few observations. I leave it to you to flesh these ideas out in full and see if they too stand up to the test.

First of all we have hunger. After 40 days of fasting no one is surprised that Jesus is hungry. The Usurper offers a quick fix; “You’ve got the power - use it.” Why doesn’t Jesus simply turn the stones into bread? This temptation is about vision! It’s about dealing on too small a scale. Jesus’ mission is about feeding the spiritual hunger of the entire human race, not just His own current physical need. If Satan can get His mind off the big picture and onto some small personal need (however important) then he’s won! He tries to do this to the church as well. We get side tracked into fighting over details instead of keeping our eyes on the bigger need. And while it’s true that we need to lead people into the Kingdom one person at a time, we must never lose sight of the fact that an entire world is dying out there.

Next we have putting God to the test. The usurper’s tactic is a classic. He says, “Fine! You want to quote scripture - we’ll quote scripture. Try this one on for size.” It’s really about faith! The world wants us to do this all the time. They want some tangible proof that everything we believe is true. Herod does the same thing later at the end of Jesus’ ministry - “Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool!" (Great line from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’) But if we give into this, if we say, “God show me that you’re real by doing such-and-such” expecting that He will react in such a fashion, we reverse the relationship between us and God, attempting to put ourselves in charge and put God in a position of obligation to us. Satan knows this when he poses the question. Jesus knows it too, and doesn’t fall for the trap.

Finally there’s false worship. The Usurper takes an interesting approach here. He sort of acknowledges the Heir’s right to the throne but tries to include himself in the deal. In a sense he’s saying, “Okay, you are the rightful heir to the throne. But! Since I have it now, and my claim has some legitimacy, why don’t you be My Heir? I mean, it would be easier right? We can avoid all the conflict, work together, and in the end you’ll still be in charge... so why not do it the easier way?” The church faces this temptation on a daily basis. It’s about how we define true worship! Worshiping God means making a sacrifice. We don’t use bulls and doves anymore, but sacrifice remains at the heart of worship. However, as human beings we always look for a less painful way to do things, trying to soften the cost of discipleship. The problem is whenever the “power of positive thinking” replaces the power of self-sacrifice through grace, the Usurper wins. Jesus didn’t take the easy path, and neither should we.

Remember when I wrote about character types in the first episode? Most people would classify Satan as a flat character, fairly two-dimensional, only get to see him once, not that big a player in the story. As a storyteller however, it would be a mistake to classify him this way, because in the narrative of the Gospel Kingdom we see Satan far more than we realize. He is the embodiment of every antagonist that opposes the Gospel Kingdom. He stands behind every demon, he is responsible for all the suffering, the blind, the cripple, even the dead. It is he who blinds the scribes and pharisees to the truth of Jesus’ rightful claim to the throne. His greatest skill lies in his ability to hide himself in the words and actions of others.

The storyteller must remember this when telling the Kingdom Gospel. For in order to take back his throne, the Heir must defeat the Usurper completely, and the wilderness is only the opening round.


Exploring the Kingdom Gospel - episode EKG007

1 comment:

John Bryson said...

I like how you melt pop culture with scripture. It makes it enjoyable to read, and makes a little more sense for people to read!