Joy is one of the most common terms associated with our culture’s current Christmas celebrations. More than a seasonal emotion, though, joy is God’s gift to His people as we live in this fallen world. It goes far deeper than simple, momentary, transient feelings of happiness.
God’s commands to the children of Israel included joy as an act of worship. As they celebrated the various feasts throughout the year, they were to “rejoice before the Lord” (Deuteronomy 16:11). Joy permeated their songs, which we have recorded in the book of Psalms. Even the prophets, who often delivered news of God’s judgment, pointed to a coming time of rejoicing. These commands to rejoice were not given in a vacuum; remembering Who God is and what He had done should motivate them to express this joy in shouts of praise. Isaiah described it as putting on “the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
God doesn’t stop there, though; what He commands and motivates, He also provides. His arrival, two thousand years ago, brought an overflowing joy to the angels and shepherds. In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus told us to rejoice if we were treated poorly for righteousness’ sake, because our reward was yet to come. He also told His disciples that they should rejoice that their names were written in heaven more than for any earthly blessing. Paul continued this eternal perspective, encouraging the Roman church to rejoice in their salvation (Romans 5:11), and telling the church in Philippi – from prison – that they should rejoice in whatever circumstances come their way (Philippians 4:4-7). James took it a step further, telling his readers to consider it joy when they go through various trials (James 1:2-4).
Today, as we light the candle of joy, we rejoice that our Savior provides us with a reason to rejoice; and we look forward to the day when He returns to make our joy complete.
(This reading was originally written for the December 16th, 2018 worship service at Bay Vista Baptist Church.)
Our last two devotionals looked at the first two temptations of Christ, and how He handled them. Through them, we learned how we can resist when we are weak and when we think we have everything under control. This brings us to the final temptation of the three He endured.
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.
— Matthew 4:8-11 (ESV)
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.
— Deuteronomy 6:13 (ESV)
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.