CrossRoad 4: Temptations

This Lent we’re exploring how the Cross was not just the way Jesus died, but also the new pattern for how Jesus’ followers are supposed to live. We’re called to not only embrace the CrossEvent, but also learn to walk the CrossRoad.

The season of Lent begins with Jesus being tempted by Satan to bring His Kingdom about in worldly ways that avoid the narrow CrossRoad. He’s tempted to do good in a bad way; to bring light to the world with the methods of the kingdom of darkness; to usher in world peace by violent means. In a word: He is tempted to bypass the Cross.

Donald Kraybill in The Upside Down Kingdom sees three temptations at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in Luke 4: economic, religious and political.

First, the Devil tempts Jesus to be an economic messiah by feeding the masses for a short time (“turn stones to bread and feed the world”).  Jesus responds, “Humans don’t live by bread alone.” Thus, “His response categorically rejects the materialist view that life is driven and satisfied by economics, that the sum of life is money” (69).

Second, the Devil brings Jesus to the pinnacle of the Holy Temple — the epicenter of religious life for the Jews — and urges him to do a stunt to persuade all the religious leaders and Temple officials to endorse his ministry. He’s tempted to bring his Kingdom through the powerful channels of the existing religious institutions of the day, rather than bringing a Kingdom that will challenge and ultimately pronounce judgment on the religious institution as it currently stood.

Third, and most significant for understanding the “CrossRoad”, the Devil led him to a high mountain and “showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him,

“To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,’Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Luke 4).

Notice Jesus doesn’t challenge the devil’s claim to be the lord of the worldly kingdoms, or his rightful authority to give these kingdoms to others. Elsewhere Jesus calls Satan the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30) and Paul calls him “the god of this world/age” (2 Cor. 4:4). This is not to say that he rules the world completely; God is still sovereign. But it does mean that God, in His infinite wisdom, has allowed Satan to operate in this world within the boundaries God has set for him. God, in Christ, was coming to set believers free from the rule of Satan and usher them into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).

Jesus resists by asserting that worship, allegiance and service is due to God alone. Jesus’ greatest temptation, to be repeated later on the lips of Peter (“get behind me Satan, you’re thinking like a human”), was to try overthrowing Satan, Evil and Death by resorting to their own rules and methods, i.e., violence. This is to desire a Mighty Military Messiah and spurn a Crucified Messiah and the Kingdom of the Slaughtered Lamb. 

Jesus would practice what he preached. He would count the cost. He would continually choose the Narrow Road while resisting the the Wide & Easy Road that so many are traveling. The CrossRoad to power is one of non-coercive, self-sacrificial, servant-oriented action for the sake of others. The CrossRoad resists all the world’s ways of bringing the kingdom.

Consider a couple thought-provoking quotes today as we continue pondering the paradoxical nature of the CrossRoad this Lent:

“The believer’s cross is no longer any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is demanded. The believer’s cross must be, like his Lord’s the price of his social nonconformity. It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of a path freely chosen after counting the cost. It is not … an inward wrestling of the sensitive soul with self and sin; it is the social reality of representing in an unwilling world the Order to come.”

— John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, p. 96

The cross of Jesus signifies for the disciple both Christ dying in our stead (so that we need not die as slaves to sin, for his atoning sacrifice has undone the power of sin unto death), and Christ calling us to die with him (so that we must be willing to die with him, for the rebellious powers have yet to accept his lordship). That is, the cross proclaims that we need no longer die as a consequence of our sins, and yet we must die, or be willing to do so, because of the world’s sins.”

— Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, p. 83

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