The center candle, which we light on the Sunday on/after Christmas, represents Christ, the greatest gift.
Over the next 5 Saturdays, I'll be sharing each of these. My prayer is that they encourage you and focus your heart as we remember that, not only was a Redeemer promised, He was given; and, when He returns, He will bring each of these aspects to their perfect completion on this earth!
If you've ever heard a message on Romans 1, it likely focused on one of three areas:
Paul's declaration of the preeminence of the gospel in changing hearts (Romans 1:16-17)
That God has made His identity abundantly clear through creation (Romans 1:18-20)
A clear denunciation of many things our society tells us that we should accept (Romans 1:26-31) (if you think that's just about sexual perversion, maybe focus on verses 28-31 a little harder…)
I want to focus on one portion of verse 21, though, as it provides a critical fulcrum in Paul's explanation of how we get from the glory of God to the depravity of man (emphasis mine in the text below).
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Paul cites the Romans' failure to honor and give thanks to God as leading to futile thinking and darkened hearts. Rather than focus on all the behaviors that come later in the chapter, let's ruminate on this concept; after all, while “giving thanks” could be interpreted as a behavior, it arises from an attitude. We know how unsatisfying a coerced apology is, and God is not interested in that type of thanks. He wants us to be truly grateful to Him.
While conventional wisdom says that you cannot coerce feelings (as George Strait said, “You can't make a heart love somebody”), Paul's progression here shows us how we can. He highlights how the gospel is the power of God for salvation, and he follows that up with the abundant ways creation should point us to Him. Even if those are the only two things we can ponder, those should fill us with gratitude. Think about it - the God of the universe, the Creator of this world, not only made a wonderful world in which we can live, but also provided a way for us to live with Him forever! We may become so familiar with that concept that it loses its novelty. If you're having trouble being grateful, enlarge your perspective; stepping back and remembering just what we do have for which to be grateful can change our thinking.
Our gratitude shouldn't stop there. Every person reading this has access to power and a global information network; they are also very likely to be reading it in climate-controlled comfort, and on a device powerful beyond prior generations' imagination. They are also very likely to be eating either turkey or ham at some point today. A large part of our culture likes to focus on inequity (perceived or actual), but focusing on what others have that you do not is simply a recipe for feeling either sad or mad. There's a reason the list of sins has covetousness on it (v. 29).
The original Thanksgiving Day was a day set aside to thank God for His provision through the previous year; it was not some amorphous thankful feeling, it was heart-felt gratitude to God. While it is good to set aside time to reflect and give thanks, though, it should not be relegated to one day a year. Gratitude to God should be a daily occurrence in our lives. If you know me, you know that I usually roll my eyes at cheesy sayings; but, here's one anyway…
Today is a gift; that's why it's called "the present"
Recognize each day as a gift from God. If it is refreshing, praise Him for that. If it brings struggle, praise Him in it and trust Him to keep you through it. If you are grateful for people in your life, thank God for them - and then tell them; don't wait for the 4th Thursday in November. Gratitude can inspire encouragement, and that can inspire gratitude in others - a virtuous cycle that was God's intent when He gave us these commands.
8Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to Him, “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
'You shall worship the Lord your God
and Him only shall you serve.'"
11Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.
Remember that Jesus's entire mission - His reason for being on earth at this point - is to redeem mankind, and restore them to Himself, so that He will one day rule over them in righteousness. The temptation here, then, is a huge short cut. Jesus knows what is to come; He knows how difficult it will be, and He knows the pain He will have to endure. Satan has been granted temporary power on the earth (called the “prince of the power of the air” by Paul in Ephesians 2:2), and is offering to transfer this control to Jesus.
Just reading this temptation, knowing what we know now, we might come away thinking “The temptation was to worship Satan? That one should be easy to resist!” As we think about it, though, this may be the most seductive of the three temptations. Turning stones into bread would have satisfied an acute physical need, and throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the temple would have been just another miracle story. But this - this is a way to take control of the world away from Satan without going through the pain and suffering. For Satan, there is the added benefit of distracting Jesus from His mission, which means an ultimate thwarting of God's plan to redeem mankind. He'd gladly cede some earthly power now to win the long game in the future.
However, Satan miscalculated in this temptation; Jesus's mission was not to come to earth to control it, but to redeem it. Power wasn't the goal; salvation was. Once again, Jesus uses Scripture from Deuteronomy to rebuff this temptation:
13It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by His name you shall swear.
The translation here isn't quite the same (Deuteronomy's original language is Hebrew, Matthew's original language is Greek), but the point is the same, particularly if you consider that this is the point immediately following the one in that famous speech from Moses that starts “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Interestingly, the point after this one is the one about not testing the Lord, that Jesus used to refute Satan during the second temptation. Within this point, though, it is part of a charge from Moses to the Hebrew people that, when they arrive in the land that God has promised them, they are to serve Him alone, and not turn aside to other gods they will find there.
At this point, Satan is 0-3; three temptations have been refuted with three passages of Scripture. Jesus passed this temptation, and angels came and ministered to Him (v. 11). Showing that He still had power over Satan, even on earth and in His weakened state, when Jesus said "Be gone, Satan!", Satan had to scram.
John, in 1 John 2:15-17, puts everything wrong in the world into three categories: the “lust of the flesh,” the “lust of the eyes,” and the “pride of life.” It is not difficult to see that each of Jesus's temptations addressed primarily one of these categories. As the author of Hebrews said, “[He] was tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15b) He withstood these temptations through the power of God's Word. As we've seen with the previous two temptations, we must know Scripture if we are going to able to recall it during times of temptation. We must follow Jesus's example if we are to find success resisting temptation.
This time, we'll continue looking at how we can resist temptation, using Jesus as our example. (If you missed the last one, no worries - you can catch up here.) We'll pick up where we left off, looking at Matthew 4:5-7.
5Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
‘He will command His angels concerning You,’
'On their hands they will bear You up,
lest You strike Your foot against a stone.'"
7Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
For this temptation, Satan takes Jesus up to the top of the temple. At this point, it seems that Satan may have learned from the prior temptation, because he tries to use Scripture as part of this temptation. He uses two verses, Psalm 91:11-12, to support his claim that Jesus can do the spectacular trick he has just dared Him to do.
As with the first temptation, the request itself is not sinful, at least at first glance. At many points within Scripture, God asks people to do things that would normally lead to their deaths, yet He preserves them through the midst of that dangerous situation. This situation isn't quite like those, though.
In each of those situations, the miraculous outcome brought glory to God among many people. Jesus performing this trick would bring glory to Him - not His Father - and likely would have only been visible to Satan.
God did not request this activity; Satan suggested it. This was not within the will of God; instead, it would have been a foolish misapplication of faith. God's promises in one context cannot be presumed upon in completely different contexts.
Jesus is unimpressed with Satan's knowledge of Scripture. Instead, He reaches back to Deuteronomy again to thwart this temptation.
16You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.
Massah was the name given to the place described in Exodus 17:1-7, when the children of Israel were complaining that they had no water as they wandered. God miraculously provided water from a rock, but the place where this occurred was named to remind Israel of the sin that this represented. (“Massah” literally means "testing.") Testing God indicates not only a lack of faith, but also a lack of belief in His goodness and sovereignty.
For the second time, we see Jesus using Scripture to withstand temptation. Here, the temptation was something He could easily handle; He literally could have thrown Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, and had a cadre of angels catch Him at the bottom. It would not have even been a challenge.
This is the exact scenario where we are likely to fail. We have just accomplished something great, and our confidence is high; or, we encounter a situation that we are sure we could handle without having to think about it. In these times, we must continue to rely on God. If we run into situations without thinking, we will not have time to pray, or apply our knowledge of Scripture to the situation. That is a recipe for a fall. We must know Scripture to be able to apply it, and we must be consistent in actually applying it, if we are to successfully resist temptation.
Temptation can be difficult. Oscar Wilde wrote “I can resist anything except temptation.” Lane Olinghouse noted that “those who flee temptation usually leave a forwarding address.” Even when we do resist, we may not be pleased with the result; James Branch Cabell said “There is not any memory with less satisfaction than the memory of some temptation we resisted.”
Of course, these are all written from a human perspective; Christians are called to more than that, and to see how to do that, we can look back to one of the first events in Jesus's earthly ministry. In this and the following two devotionals, we'll look at three different times that Jesus resisted temptation, and see how we can follow His example.
1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But He answered, "It is written,
'Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
The first temptation shows us Jesus resisting when He was weak. He had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, and was physically weak and drained from that experience. The timeframe of 40 days is significant; we see that in several other places in Scripture, and it usually indicated something being done to completion:
During the Great Flood, rain fell for 40 days (Genesis 7:12)
The spies searched out the Promised Land for 40 days (Numbers 13:25)
The city of Ninevah was given 40 days to repent (Jonah 3:4)
Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. There certainly isn't anything wrong with eating, and Jesus was physically famished. However, the temptation here was for Him to use His divine power to satisfy a physical urge. His mission was to come to earth, live as we live (sinlessly - Hebrews 4:15), then give His life as a ransom to pay for our sin. Making bread materialize out of thin air, or starting with some rocky raw materials, would not have been consistent with that mission. If other humans can't do it, He shouldn't do it.
There is a taunt in there with the temptation. Notice Satan's first words to Jesus: “If You are the Son of God…” Jesus was (and is) the Son of God, but He had no need to prove Himself, or respond to that taunt. He knew His identity, and He saw through Satan's attempt to get Him to do something to prove it. As with the stone-to-bread temptation itself, though He was the Son of God, He was living as a human; this was the time for humility and humanity, not miracles and majesty.
Jesus resists Satan by using Scripture (Old Testament, no less!); specifically, what He quotes to Satan comes from Deuteronomy 8:3.
3And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses is encouraging Israel to remember what God has done for them, and how He has protected and provided for them as they have wandered in the wilderness for the past 40 years. It is part of the Torah, what we now call the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), which was the “Bible” for the Jews of that day. Jesus did not call upon His divine nature to resist this temptation, nor did He miraculously remove Himself from the situation; He used God's revealed Word to defend Himself against Satan and resist this temptation.
Like Jesus, we should resist temptation when we are weak. That seems to be Satan's favorite time to come to us, when he can tempt us with something that we think will improve our lives. To be able to resist, however, we must rely on God's power and His Word; and, to be able to rely on His Word, we must know what it is. Pouring ourselves into God's Word (and it into us) is the best way to prepare for whatever temptation may come our way. We must make it so familiar to us that, even when we are weak, we can bring His words to our mind, and use them to resist temptation.
From its inception, this site has been known as Daniel's Weekly Devotions. However, it has been many years since I have posted weekly. Starting with the full title and subtitle, “Daniel's Weekly Devotions: A word from the Word each week”, I removed “Weekly” and “each week”. Once I had done that, I decided that I liked “A Word from the Word” better than “Daniel's Devotions”, so I flipped it around to arrive at the title you see above.
Posting may not be any more frequent, although I do hope to improve on my current blistering pace of 3 in the last 4 years.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.