Ifs and Question Marks
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 4:3c Holman “. . . tell these stones to become bread.”
Satan ratcheted up the pressure. The first jab was, “Jesus, if You are the Son of God.” Satan deemed this a sensitive issue for Jesus, and later used this challenge again, prompting onlookers at the cross to use the same taunt against Jesus. The crowd jeered, “If you are the Son of God” (MT 27:40). On the cross Jesus endured the same “If” He suffered here in the Wilderness.
Even at Calvary, this taunt was of no avail. Jesus had conquered it once, and did so again. A temptation overcome helps us overcome others.
We can almost hear the derision in Satan’s voice. “Are You God’s Son? If so, why not prove it? If You believe what You heard at the Jordan, why not openly display for us what the Father’s words meant? Didn’t the Baptist say God can raise up children of Abraham from stones? If you are one with the Father, why not prove it by doing something a lot easier?”
Notice two important details in this imaginary quote of Satan. It has “ifs” and question marks. Satan loves to take a straightforward Bible quote, and preface it with an “if”, and follow it with a question mark.
Paul wrote, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (RM 10:13). Satan translates it, “If you call on the name of the Lord; can you really do that? And if you can, will you actually be saved?”
David said, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will support you” (PS 55:22). Satan would say, “If you cast your burden on the Lord—you know you are probably too much of a worry wart to do this anyway—but even if you could, would a busy God really support you?”
Jesus said, “The one who has seen Me has seen the Father” (JN 10:9b). Satan interprets, “If you see Jesus—it’s presumptuous to think a sinner like you can be this familiar with Him—and if you could, do you believe any human, even one as good as Jesus, can be equal with God?”
Beware “ifs” and question marks. Both are dangerous; either can bite us. Verbiage matters. We talk to ourselves more than anyone else does. Be careful what you say to yourself about yourself and God, for you are listening. Too many “ifs” and question marks make you doubt God and you.
Now back to our text. Nothing is inherently wrong with a hungry man turning stones into bread. It could be wrong only if Jesus in His praying and fasting had perceived this was not the Father’s will for Him at this moment. Thus far the Father had led Him only to fast. He had no directive otherwise.
Some of the worst temptations are those that do not look like a big deal. Hopelessly mired in a sin-measuring contest, we deem some sins worse than others. Look out! “Little” sins beget “big” sins. Adrian Rogers said, if we let a little sin in, all Hell breaks loose. Small sin-ripples often become tidal waves. Beware. The lake of sin is always deeper than it appears to be.
Jesus for sure had the capability to change stones into bread. He later showed enough power to turn water into wine, and to feed 5000 with five loaves and two fish. He had the power to make bread, but not the right.
The fact Jesus had opportunity and capability to do this made the temptation worse. I was never presented with an opportunity to do drugs or watch porn. By God’s grace, these sins never crossed my path.
The fact circumstances did not proactively present themselves, I was never in a place providing me occasion to do them. This made it easier not to commit them. Had the opportunities been presented me, had these sins been more accessible, the temptation to do them would have been much worse.
Satan made the temptation even crueler by acting like he was trying to help Jesus. “Eat bread. You will accomplish two good things. You will feel better, plus prove You are God’s Son. I am here to help You.”
Satan was insinuating bad indictments about the Father, “Jesus, You deserve better than this. You are God’s beloved Son, yet reduced to this?”
The temptation’s kernel, its ultimate inner barb, was Satan’s implication that the Father was being unkind to Jesus. How evil is Satan? Bad enough to try to split the Trinity. He had lived near them, He knew how precious their bond was, yet tried to shatter their trust and submission.
The temptation was for Jesus to distrust the Father, to take everything into His own hands. Jesus refused to do this. All that mattered was the Father’s will, not Jesus’ will. “I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (JN 6:38). Whether He lived or died, Jesus had long ago determined He would leave it all to the Father’s choice.
He would not throw off dependency. When He became human, He took a position of depending on the Father. He came to live as we live, to share our life, not sidestep it. He would not do for Himself what we could never do for ourselves. His whole life was an example for us to follow.
Satan tried to ruin Jesus’ relationship with the Father. The devil seeks to cause the same result in us. He doesn’t want us believing the best life is one of utter dependence on God. He knows self-sufficiency brings us down.
He tempts us with this all the time, whispering, “You should have more money, more friends, better health, a spouse, more happiness. This should not be happening to you”.
When battling this temptation, take the circle test. In your mind’s eye, draw an imaginary circle around your feet. Push everything outside the circle, and ask, “God, am I okay without all these things? Are You by Yourself enough for me?” Only if you are able to say yes, should you in your imagination pull the things back into the circle.
God loves His children. We always receive God’s best, but His best is not always our perceived best. Be careful. Remember the prayer of Proverbs 30:8-9. Agur prayed God would not give him poverty; notice why he prayed this. It was not because of its discomfort. Rather, his fear was; “lest I be poor, and steal.” He feared what it would do to him spiritually.
Do not distrust the Father’s provision. The moment we doubt His goodness to us, we are in danger of doing something dishonest or sinful to gratify us. We will be tempted to do wrong things to get out of our dilemma.
Don’t ever help yourself by disobeying God. We are never justified to do wrong. Acts of rebellion are never okay, and never go unpunished.
Satan can use outward afflictions to make us doubt our sonship. Beware failing to remember troubles can accomplish more for our benefit than good times can. If under intense pressure, try not to make huge spiritual choices. Pray to be dependent. Talk to friends. Avoid quick, rash decisions. Don’t cut a tree in winter. Lay low. Bathe everything in prayer. Repeatedly read Habakkuk 3:17-18. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the field produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stall, yet I will triumph in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!”
Satan wanted Jesus to use His divine power to do something solely for Himself, for Him and Him alone; in other words, to be selfish. Our Lord constantly avoided doing miracles solely for His own benefit. He reminds us God gives us gifts and talents to use for Him and for others.
Squelch selfish motives. Any act done from bad motives is wrong. Beware grabbing, demanding, and trying to provide for us in selfish ways.