23rd January 2013

Spot The Difference

“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered, ‘It says: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’”
Luke 4:9-12 (NIV)

Further on through the Gospel story, Jesus steps offshore one dark night onto a stormy sea, walks several kilometres, and gives his disciples the fright of their lives.

What is the difference between jumping off a high building and stepping off the shore? The risk according to the laws of nature is not dissimilar: approximately 100% in each case. Life is full of things that look similar, but God sees the differences inside.

The motive for the one proposed miracle was for Jesus to prove his own identity. The motive for the other miracle was to overcome a difficulty and, in doing so, teach a lesson about trust. Although Jesus stated miracles as one possible seed for belief in him (John 14:11), he did not perform miracles primarily for proof or spectacle, or for his own benefit. They were acts of mission, compassion and message. He knew the difference.

Do we ever get tested on the difference between things that look alike? We tend to assume that the most significant tests in our walk of faith are the tests of sheer willpower. Well, certainly the Christian life requires self-discipline: the apostle Paul more than once likened it to an athletic contest. However, if the Temptation in the Wilderness is anything to go by, then just as perilous are the challenges to understanding, discernment, steadiness of mind and resilience in the face of false persuasion.

Avoiding such dangers (like avoiding sin) is to do with honouring God and steering clear of personal damage, more than about whether one is or is not saved. “If you were a real Christian…”, it goes; “if you really had faith…”, or even, “the Bible says….” A full defence against spiritual manipulation, with all the suffering and harm it causes, takes more than determination, as Paul explains in Ephesians 6:11-18. It takes a knowledge of the truth, a disciplined inner life, a motivation of love and peace, a belief in God’s supremacy and of the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice, and an understanding of God’s word—and you still need to keep praying.

Righteous Father, we again praise you for Jesus’ victory over wrong interpretations of scripture, and we pray for guidance and protection for our own understanding of your words. In Jesus’ name.

Study by Fiona Jones

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