A Parachute Or A Cross?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 4:6a (Holman) . . .and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God,
throw Yourself down.”
Atop a dizzying height, Satan encouraged Jesus to make a spectacle of Himself. The devil’s second temptation was an effort to incite Jesus into commandeering popularity and applause. Many people could have seen Jesus on the pinnacle. Its high visibility made it a symbol in architecture of the danger we face when we are elevated in the eyes of people. It’s heady up there, and can be a rush. As our standing in life goes up, we need our hearts to go down. Excelling in any area of life forces us to war against pride.
Humility is hard to find in the heights. Historians say, of all the Caesars, only one, Vespasian, was made better by becoming the emperor.
Beware the seductive lure of the power of the heights. Leaders can effectively guide a group, a class, or a congregation only if they first guide themselves into humility. Pride within a leader leads followers into failure.
Matt. 4:6b “For it is written:”
Jesus used the Bible against the devil. Satan returned the favor. Even the devil can quote Scripture. It is possible to have a Bible in our hand, Bible knowledge in our head, and Bible verses on our lip, yet have sin in our heart.
The evil one grossly mishandled Holy Writ. He misinterpreted Psalm 91:11-12. These verses obviously had nothing to do with jumping off a wall.
Remember, a text out of context is a pretext. If Scripture is twisted, it can be construed to say about anything. For instance, someone joked, “A lie is an abomination to the Lord, and an ever present help in time of trouble.”
Keep Bible verses in their context. Don’t maim, murder, and mangle the Bible. Imitate the noble Bereans, who “examined” Scripture (AC 17:11). They seriously pored over the Bible, and sought to interpret it meticulously.
Unfortunately, we mishandle Scripture in an abundance of ways. For instance, we misuse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (PH 4:13). It refers not to feats of valor or strength, but to contentment.
Often the phrase “you have fallen from grace” (GL 5:4b) is said to refer to believers losing their salvation. The phrase refers instead to the impossibility of being saved by any method other than by grace. “You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ” (GL 5:4a).
We say women should be part-Martha and part-Mary, but Jesus praised only Mary (LK 10:42). “What you ask in My name, I will do it” (JN 14:13) is not a carte blanche magic wand. “In My name” limits us to asking for things in God’s will. “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart” (PS 37:4 NAS) is often misapplied. It simply means if your delight is in the Lord, He will give you more delight in Him.
Matt. 4:6c “He will give His angels orders concerning you, and they
will support you with their hands so that you will not strike
your foot against a stone.”
Here was Satan’s dare, “Jesus, You claim to be trusting Your Father. Prove it. Since You won’t use Your own power to promote Yourself by making bread, use the Father’s power to validate You. Look at you: 30 years old without a following. Surely Your Father, who loves You, wants to give You a huge crowd of adoring fans. Let the Father do what He wants to do.”
In Satan’s first temptation, a need actually existed: hunger after 40 days without food. In the second, Satan fabricated a need. He tried to induce Jesus to prove His Sonship by yielding to showmanship, to shallow public huzzahs and people’s applause rather than to the private smile of the Father.
Satan excels in inventing strong urges in us. In an instant, what before had meant nothing to us can be deemed absolutely essential to our existence.
Beware commercials. The devil has effectively convinced our culture we need and deserve instant food, instant fame, instant money, instant sex.
Always ask yourself, “Do I really need that? Did I want it 10 minutes ago? Could Jesus use that money?” Keep saying, God promised to supply my needs, not my wants. Use Philippians 4:13 in its true context. Be content.
This second temptation directed to Jesus was very sinister. Satan, the ultimate murderer, was tempting Jesus toward suicide. He tried to convince Jesus it was worth the risk because the Father would come through, and many temple worshipers would see the spectacle and believe. “Jesus, if You leap from the towering pinnacle of the temple, angels will catch You in mid-air, as a mother gently clutches her baby. They will then lower You to Earth, where You will immediately be celebrated as the Messiah and Son of God.”
Thus, standing on the giddy height, and looking down, Jesus has to decide. Will He choose a magic carpet to glide to fame, or the harder way God ordained for Him? A parachute would be far less painful than a cross.
So Jesus contemplates, “Shall I go forward quietly and humbly, and take ridicule and abuse, or shall I choose an easier, more glamorous route? Will it be My way or the Father’s way?” Every one of us in this room should fall on our faces and thank Jesus for deciding to take the more difficult path.
Matt. 4:7 Jesus told him, “It is also written: Do not test the Lord your
This quote from Deuteronomy 6:16 chastened Israel for making God prove Himself by providing water (EX 17:7ff). Jesus’s words meant don’t use God as a research project. If you want to do an experiment, go buy a chemistry set. YHWH is not the one on trial. We are the ones being tested.
Don’t toy with God. The moment we choose to test God, we cease to trust God. Trust waits, knowing some things are beyond our understanding.
It is okay to prove God by acting on His specific promises found in Scripture. But after this, believers know God has already proved Himself.
Jesus’ resurrection is enough. Faith believes without requiring further miracles. God does not need to re-confirm what He has already confirmed.
If we did try to use the spectacular to win people, we would have to keep producing a bigger and better dog and pony show. Working miracles could become a form of showing off, a way of calling attention to us as much as to God.
This does not mean we should never pray for miracles. By its very nature, Christianity is a religion of miraces. Do pray for them to occur, but don’t base faith on them. Don’t live or die based on miracles. Focus on faith.
Trust God, not the spectacular. We don’t need a show; we need a Savior and a community. Love for God and others is more valuable than shock value. Avoid frenzy. Instead, find a friend. Invest in relationships. As time passes, they unostentatiously become stronger and make us stronger.
If Jesus had defeated gravity here, He would have had to beat something else the next day. People would always be clamoring for more. Miracles become boring. New, more eye-popping material is always needed.
Our text warns us against presumption. Don’t do rash, foolish things, and expect God to rescue us. Don’t carelessly or recklessly run into danger, believing God will bail us out. God does not promise to protect us in paths of our own choosing. He will never forsake us; He encourages us on the path of duty, but will not bless us on the path of sin and our own presumption.
Let me be clear. It is okay to ask God to show us a “token for good” (PS 86:17), as long as we let Him decide what it will be. Don’t presume. It is not our place to dictate to God. Elijah led the contest on Carmel at God’s word (1 K 18:36), not as a product of his own imagination. Even impetuous Peter did not step on the water until Jesus gave him permission (MT 14:28).