The “Second Week”: Week Sixteen/Session Two.
Theme: Jesus’ Public Ministry Begins.
Our reading for today: Luke 4: 3-13.
The Devil, playing on His (Jesus) hunger, gave the first test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to really live.” For the second test he (the Devil) led Him (Jesus) up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, “They’re Yours in all their splendor to serve Your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re Yours, the whole works.” Jesus refused, again backing His refusal with Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve Him with absolute single-heartedness.” For the third test the Devil took Him (Jesus) to Jerusalem and put Him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘He has placed You in the care of angels to protect You; they will catch You; You won’t so much as stub Your toe on a stone’?” “Yes,” said Jesus, “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’ ” That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity. (Luke 4: 3-13 MsgB)
In my book, The Perfected Self (2002) I write in detail about the three major tests that Jesus is presented with here in His forty-day wilderness adventure. There, I conclude that these unique temptations Satan throws at Jesus should be categorized, not so much as ‘temptations to sin,’ but as three highly-volatile tests of Jesus’ self-will. In my book, I define these tests as follows:
The temptation of self-preservation. (Luke 4: 3-4)
The temptation of self-promotion. (Luke 4: 5-8)
The temptation of self-perpetuation. (Luke 4: 9-12)
As I see it, Satan is much more interested in undermining Jesus’ life and ministry through the unraveling of self than he is in getting Jesus to sin. Sin, you see, is a by-product of ungodly self-management. A secondary action resulting from a primary problem. In my humble opinion, we, in the church, would do much better in this world if we’d let up a bit on pressuring people to live of life of quality sin-management, work a bit smarter, and help people deal with our underlying issues of self.
So, in order to better understand these underlying problems with self, let’s go back to the beginning for just a moment. In the Beginning (see Genesis 1), God chose all of us to be made in His image. As men and women, we reflect the very nature of God. We are, at the very heart, very good in God’s sight and well worth His diligent efforts to save and redeem us from a lost and dying world.
On that special day He created us, He breathed upon us, placing His Life within us, gifting us with a very unique gift I like to call the ‘gift of self.’ This gift is very unique. No other animal or creature on earth has been given this unique gift. The ‘gift of self’ is the gift of free will. Only humans, and apparently angels in heaven, have been given such liberties in life. The ‘gift of self’ comes with a unique independence, which mercifully removes us from becoming robots. In God’s perfect wisdom, He loves us so much, He wants us to experience this wonderful gift of choice and free will just as He does.
But alas, the Book of Genesis also shows us how we humans abuse this ‘gift of self’, choosing through our independence to take life into our own hands. Choosing self-initiative over God-reliance, our ‘gift of self’ has now become, in our fallen state, more of a curse at times than an actual blessing. If we look carefully at the inward workings of our lives, our problems in life really don’t emanate from sin, which we all know is a common trait, but more from our inward battles with self. The truth of the matter is that when everything in life is all about me (self-consumption), my world might seem good at first, but with all of us running around the planet full of ourselves, we eventually have one pretty dysfunctional place. A planet of self-consumed, self-driven, self-promoting people is a pretty ugly place. Wouldn’t you agree?
But Jesus came to reverse this ugly curse of the independent, all-consumed self. And in the process He modeled a new way of life which demonstrates how a man or woman, created in the image of God, can willingly choose to submit our free will back to God, living free yet using our ‘gift of self’ for the glory and honor of God. I like to call this way of life that Jesus modeled as ‘the perfected self.’
But keep in mind; good things don’t come without a challenge. This explains why Jesus is immediately subjected to three key tests of self prior to entering into His three-year Kingdom ministry! As we see in Luke’s text, the test of self-preservation comes first. If Satan can get the Son of God to take matters into His own hands, ignoring God’s promise of being our provision in life, Satan will be well on his way to winning this battle with the Son of God. Next up, Satan offers Jesus an opportunity of self-promotion. Why not grab for the prize while it’s being offered to you versus waiting for God to give it you. Only one condition. Bow your knee to Satan and we’ve got a deal!
After Jesus says no to both of these tests, Satan finally offers Jesus an opportunity to simply move out of His own self-perpetuation. What’s wrong, for example, for taking a little initiative every now and then in getting God’s work done on the planet? Heaven knows there’s plenty of human initiative down here. Come on, Jesus. Get on board. Fortunately, Jesus decidedly overcomes all three of these major tests of self, demonstrating to us that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we humans can willingly choose God and His will over and above our own tendencies to prefer our independence.
And so it goes.
In my book The Perfected Self, I propose that this God-given ‘gift of self’ has been placed firmly inside all of us, and as Luke states here, the Devil waits for opportune moments to test us with these three temptations of self. In truth, we are given daily opportunities to choose whether we will use our ‘gift of self’ for our own self-consumed desires or submit it back to God, deferring to His discretion and His glory.
And as we ponder on Jesus and His three years of Kingdom ministry, we’ll find that He is continually able to bring His ‘gift of self’ into its’ right alignment, consistently deferring to the will of the Father, preferring obedience to God over His independence of self.
The Perfected Self.
A human life that fully embraces the unique God-given ‘gift of self’, yet willingly submits and defers to the perfect will of the Father.
My prayer: God, thank You for the ‘gift of self’. Thank You for the independence You’ve given me in this life, the free will and gift of choice. May I choose You today, calling on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit within me to willingly say no to the temptations to abuse my ‘gift of self’. May I walk humbly alongside You today, choosing You as my provision, waiting on You to bless my life, and listening carefully so that I move in response to Your promptings, for Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So how am I responding to Satan’s temptations? Am I focusing too much on sin, as compared to issues of self? Am I caught up in trying to live a life of sin management? How can I move my awareness of Satan’s temptations over into the realm of self? Where am I falling prey to Satan’s tests of self-preservation, self-promotion, and self-perpetuation? How can I call upon the power and presence of the Holy Spirit so that Jesus’ ‘perfected self’ might better live and dwell in and through me today?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?
Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!
To go onto the next journal entry…click here.
Consider supporting us here at The Contemplative Activist. You can help create a growing market for the ancient art of Christ-centered contemplative activism. Not through big publishers or big denominations, but through grassroots movements like ours. We believe true reformation of the church could occur by encouraging the growth of contemplative activist voices in the Christian marketplace. Even one dollar will help the cause. THANK YOU.