Dismemberment

“And if thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body be cast into hell. And if thy right hand causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

If anyone were not yet stunned and shocked by Jesus’ words they certainly would have been by now.

Jesus makes this startling declaration in Matthew 5:29-30 in the midst of what is popularly called the Sermon on the Mount. Since Matthew 5:21 He has been making a comparison and contrast between what the Israelites “had heard” in the Law of Moses and its bare minimum standard of righteousness and what “I say to you,” expressing God’s higher standard of righteousness, the one beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees (cf. Matthew 5:17-20). He first compared and contrasted the command to not kill with the higher standard of not only not hating but even seeking reconciliation and terms of peace (Matthew 5:20-26). Most recently Jesus began contrasting what the Law said about adultery with the higher standard of not even looking upon a woman with lustful intent (Matthew 5:27-28). Then He starts talking about personal dismemberment: if the right eye or hand causes a person to stumble, they should remove them, for it is better for one part of the body to perish rather than the whole to be cast into the Gehenna of fire (Matthew 5:29-30)!

Jesus’ illustration here in Matthew 5:29-30 has been one of the most abused and distorted of all the things He said and did. Some people have gone to the extreme of actually blinding themselves or chopping off their hands. Others use this passage to mock Christians in their devotion to God, declaring that if they really took Jesus literally and seriously, they should be dismembering themselves! Is Jesus serious here? Should people really dismember themselves in order to avoid hellfire?

Let none be deceived: Jesus is not actually suggesting that His followers should dismember themselves. While there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust, and the unjust will be cast into the lake of fire, actually tearing out the eye or cutting off the hand will not effectively help a believer avoid stumbling and temptation (cf. John 5:28-29, Revelation 20:11-15). Paul puts the challenge well in Colossians 2:20-23: asceticism does not intrinsically help us avoid the indulgences of the flesh. Furthermore, neither our right eye nor our right hand cause us to stumble; they are but servants of the mind, and the stumbling into sin which would occur is on account of the mind and its decisions (James 1:13-15). A blind man or armless man can still stumble into lust.

So if Jesus does not actually intend for anyone to dismember themselves, why does He speak as He does in Matthew 5:29-30? He speaks so as to shock people. He speaks so as to make clear the severity of stumbling and the temptations of sin. Does the right eye, on its own volition, compel us to lust and covet and thus sin? No, but it is easy to give into the temptation to look upon a woman to lust and to do so frequently. Does the right hand, on its own volition, lead us to take what is not ours? No, but once we have seen with our eyes and have lusted in our hearts it is much easier to reach out and grab what is not for us to have.

These are easy sins to have. Lust has become no less of a problem 2,000 years later; modern man has no lack of opportunity to commit adultery in his or her heart. We are becoming too easily sexually desensitized; what once was recognized as sexual deviance is far too often becoming acceptable or even the norm, and many forms of sexual behavior once generally deemed sinful is being accepted and normalized as well. Pornography and romance novels abound as channels of escape. “Hookup culture” provides easier access to opportunities for sexual behavior. To stand firm for sexual purity and holiness requires profound effort from both men and women, husbands and wives; it is always far easier to give into lusts and desires just like everyone else.

Yet sexual sin has always been easy to pursue; such is why Paul must speak of it constantly (e.g. 1 Corinthians 6:9-20, Galatians 5:19, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). And in His own way Jesus is also trying to make this clear in Matthew 5:29-30 by setting forth the severity of the consequences of giving in and following the prevalent sexual currents of society. Lusting might be easy; it might seem fun; yet it condemns the whole body to Gehenna, a vivid illustration of hell based upon the burning trash heap outside the walls of Jerusalem. If it would be better for us to dismember ourselves than to find ourselves cast into Gehenna, then we really need to take these challenges, temptations, and causes of stumbling very seriously!

One thing is for certain: few if any have forgotten Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 5:29-30. It is a very memorable illustration! We should not miss the point: no, Jesus does not want us to dismember ourselves, but Jesus says what He does as He does for very good reasons, and we should not so downplay a literal application that we diminish the force of the illustration. Sin comes with serious consequences, and lust and other sexual sins are certainly no exception. If it is better to pluck out our eye than to give into looking at a woman with lustful intent, then we should recognize how important it is to make the decision to keep our thoughts pure. If it would be better to chop off our hand than to reach out to take what is not ours, then we should certainly understand how important it is to make the decision to be blameless in our interaction with our fellow men and women. Let us strive to serve the Lord Jesus and avoid Gehenna!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Looking Back

And another also said, “I will follow thee, Lord; but first suffer me to bid farewell to them that are at my house.”
But Jesus said unto him, “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:61-62).

Here we have the third vignette in a row instructing us regarding discipleship. Jesus has already indicated how His true disciples never feel completely at home anywhere on earth (Luke 9:57-58), and that latching onto the greater good of the proclamation of the Kingdom must take precedence over all lesser goods (Luke 9:59-60).

The third man is like the first– he volunteers to follow Jesus. But he is also like the second man– he has a “small” request to make first. He wants to bid farewell to those in his household.

The request seems fair enough. At any given moment in life, people have a lot of things going on. The call to discipleship is very important indeed, but there are bills to pay and people to whom we must say goodbye and other matters of business that ideally would be taken care of first.

Jesus makes it evident, however, that discipleship does not work this way. When He called Peter, James, and John, they left their fishing equipment at the boat and followed Him (Luke 5:1-11). Jesus calls Levi (Matthew) to follow Him; Levi leaves the tax collection booth immediately and follows (Luke 6:27-28). And Jesus’ answer to this individual in Luke 9:59-60 is no different: to look back after putting your hand to the plow renders you unfit for the Kingdom!

This seems rather dramatic and overboard at first. The individual seems to just want some closure before entering into a new phase of life. Would it not be good for him to take care of his obligations so as to follow Jesus without hindrance?

This perspective, however, overlooks many pitfalls that may take place. His family may attempt to persuade him out of following Jesus (cf. Luke 12:51-53, 14:26). Once he leaves Jesus’ company, there is no telling how many different factors could weigh down upon him– temptations from Satan, challenges from family and obligations, and simple inertia, falling back into the same patterns as before. He might go home resolute to follow Jesus, and before long, be back at his old habits in his old way of life.

Jesus understands these pitfalls and many others. He calls this man to give up everything already to follow after Him. Jesus does want this man to have closure– the closure must happen right now, as it was for Peter, James, John, and Levi. He must look forward to the advancement of the Kingdom and not be seduced into looking back.

If one has put his hand to the plow, and does not look forward, he will not be able to successfully plow the field. There is great focus necessary in the advancement of the Kingdom, and it requires the discipline and use of all of our faculties (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We do not have enough resources at our disposal to accomplish God’s purposes while looking back at our past lives.

The danger of looking back is very great. Consider Israel in the wilderness– they were delivered out of Egypt with a mighty hand, but they did not forget about Egypt, and they did not set their faces forward sufficiently. Therefore, at every hint of difficulty, they remembered Egypt and the “benefits” they had there, and wanted to return (e.g. Numbers 14:1-4). Lot’s wife is another example of this– she looked back to Sodom and her life and friends that were just destroyed, and became a pillar of salt herself (Genesis 19:17, 26, Luke 17:32).

All of our resources– physical, emotional, spiritual– must be invested in God’s Kingdom. If we look back, and reflect upon our life when we were in the world, we run the very real risk of falling away when danger or difficulty arise. There will be times when it seems easier to be an unbeliever than to take up the cross and to follow Christ (Luke 14:27). The godly life will lead to persecution– that much is guaranteed– while the ungodly life may not be as troubled in the flesh (2 Timothy 3:2). There will always be temptations to resist following Jesus. Our families may be against us. Satan most certainly is against us, and we may suffer from his temptations directly or through family, friends, associates, or culture in general. The “business” of life can become so overwhelming as to demand all of our energy and time. These are all the dangers that accompany looking back when putting the hand to the plow, the desire to tie up worldly loose ends before we follow Jesus.

Ultimately, we must follow Jesus. We must turn away from the lives of sin we have led. Looking back is counterproductive– whatever “benefits” we had were outweighed by our separation from God in Christ and the sentence of condemnation that came with it (Romans 8:1-10, Ephesians 2:1-11, Titus 3:3-8). Even in Christ we might be tempted to look back to all of our challenges, difficulties, miscues, and deficiencies; better to learn from our past mistakes but keep looking and moving forward, as Paul did (Philippians 3:11-14). The task before us is sufficient to expend our energy, our time, and ourselves (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, etc.).

Jesus has made the call: follow Him as His disciple (Matthew 28:18-20). It is time for all of us to put our hands to the plow and work, looking ahead, having made a break with our sinful past. Let us not be tempted to delay or to work halfheartedly; let us expend ourselves for Christ as He gave Himself up for us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Powerful Temptation

Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto him, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
Then saith Jesus unto him, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.'”
Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him (Matthew 4:8-11).

Satan has tried to get Jesus to satisfy His great physical hunger and to test out God’s promises. Each time Jesus has rebuffed him with Scripture. So now, in the third temptation (the second in Luke’s account; Luke 4:5-8), Satan attempts to seduce Jesus with one of his greatest tools– the desire for power.

No generation has ever lacked people who are willing to go to any length to get even a small portion of what Satan promises Jesus. History books are filled with the names of people who have used brute force in an attempt to conquer the world– Ramses the Great. Nebuchadnezzar. Alexander the Great. Julius Caesar. Genghis Khan. Napoleon. Hitler. For every such character there have been a hundred petty rulers who dreamed of something greater, and vast multitudes of the poor and dispossessed who dream of such power.

And here Jesus is– with one action, He could best them all. One could argue as to whether Satan, the Father of lies (John 8:44), would have really given Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world or not. One might even dispute whether it is within Satan’s power to give them. Yet to do so would be to blunt the force of the temptation. After all, if Jesus knows that Satan will not give the promised result or cannot do so, it is not much of a temptation. As the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), he is likely well able to deliver on his promise.

Not a few men would have quickly fallen on their knees, including many of the Jews of Jesus’ own day. Ironically, this is His chance to be the “Messiah” of the Jewish imagination. What will He do?

This is a real test for Jesus. It shows everything that He is about. And, as before, He is about confidence in God. He tells the Evil One to be gone, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13. God is the only One worthy of true worship– prostration and service. God’s call for Jesus is the only important call. God’s purposes cannot be accomplished through Satan’s vehicles (Romans 1:16-17)!

Think for a moment about what Jesus is really doing here. With one quick action, all the pain and suffering could be gone. He would receive honor, glory, and power. Millions would be at His disposal for whatever purpose He desires. Rome, Persia, India, China, and all others would bow down before Him. Fantastic wealth and luxury would be His. But when He dies it would all go away, and humanity would never receive reconciliation with God.

Instead, He chooses to follow God’s call. He will soon go back to Galilee. He will live out His days as a peasant. During His life He will be an object of scorn and reproach. Despite doing good He will receive mockery, abuse, and ultimately a humiliating death as a common criminal (Philippians 2:5-8).

But then God raised Him in power and granted Him authority that Satan could never provide– authority over heaven and earth, the Name that is above every name (Matthew 28:1-18, Philippians 2:9-11). Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is able to provide true life and salvation for all who come to God through Him (John 6:53-58, Romans 5:5-11, Hebrews 12:2). Through His blood an eternal Kingdom is established, one that can never fade (Colossians 1:13, 2 Peter 1:11).

Therefore, Satan offered Jesus the imitation, and He preferred to suffer in order to accomplish the reality.

We do well to heed Jesus’ lesson here. Too often we follow after the imitation– the idols of the world, and many times the specific idol of power– and think that we can accomplish God’s work through that imitation. It never has been and never can be. God’s purposes are accomplished through Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom; it manifests a specific disinterest in the governments of men (Romans 1:16-17; 13:1-7). Too many reach after power and abuse it on national, corporate, familial, and even individual levels. We must instead focus our efforts and stewardship on the eternal Kingdom and God’s purposes in it (Matthew 6:33). We must be willing, as Jesus was, to forsake the temporary pleasures, satisfaction, and honor of this world and to suffer loss and indignity in order to receive eternal glory and honor (Romans 8:17-18).

The Apostle John lists the three means of temptation that Satan uses: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions (1 John 2:16). Thus Satan successively tempted Eve into sinning: the appearance of the fruit, its perceived health benefit, and its ability to make wise (Genesis 3:6). We all know what resulted (Romans 5:12-18). Satan attempts to do the same with Jesus: the desires of the flesh (bread), the desires of the eyes (power), and the pride of life (testing God). But this time Satan fails. Jesus stands firm and gains the victory over him, empowered by the revealed Word of God in Scripture.

Jesus, the embodiment of Israel, has endured His “Elijah moment.” He set out in His exodus into the wilderness and experienced the temptations of the wandering and yet proved faithful to God. It is right for the angels to minister to Him, for it is time for Jesus, having overcome the Evil One, to minister to others. The Gospel of the Kingdom can now be proclaimed by the One who overcame the temptation to compromise and to give up what is eternal for what is fleeting. Let us praise God for the victory and the Kingdom we can share in the Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Testing Temptation

Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, “If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, ‘He shall give his angels charge concerning thee:’ and, ‘On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.'”
Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, “Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:5-7).

Satan was not able to get Jesus to “bite” at the temptation of turning stones into bread and to satisfy His great hunger (Matthew 4:1-4, Luke 4:1-4). Next, according to Matthew’s Gospel (the last temptation in Luke’s, Luke 4:9-12), Satan transports Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple for the next temptation.

The temptation this time is for Jesus to again “prove” that He is who He says He is. Satan challenges Him to throw Himself down, for, if He is the Son of God, then the promise of Psalm 91:11-12 would be true regarding Him. After all, it is thus written in the Scriptures!

We have no reason to doubt that the Scripture is true. If Jesus had decided to take up Satan’s challenge and would have cast Himself down, the angels would have protected Him.

Yet Jesus does not take up Satan’s challenge but reminds him of another Scripture that is written– you shall not put the LORD your God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16). Jesus has already demonstrated His confidence in the Father and Source of His sustenance (cf. Matthew 4:1-4); He now makes it evident that testing that Source is unseemly. He does not have to perform the action to know or to make demonstration that He is the Son of God. He can be confident in His trust in God without such a trial.

Furthermore, the location also plays a role in this. The Temple was not just a large building; it was also the center of Jewish life. There would have been, no doubt, thousands of Jews present who would have likely seen these events played out. While God’s power would have been displayed, it would all be for show, without any substantive benefit or teaching moment. People would have spoken about Jesus in terms of a freak or some kind of stuntman. Worse would be if some were to get it into their heads that He was the Messiah according to their understanding of the Messiah when He had not yet taught about the true nature of the Kingdom!

It is important to note the role of Scripture in this temptation. Satan quotes Scripture against Jesus, and this goes to show that Scripture can be used for malicious purposes and to distract from the greatest good. Jesus’ response demonstrates powerfully that the Bible is not designed merely to be a proof-text for our desires. Just because God has promised to protect the Messiah does not mean that the Messiah needs to test out that promise!

Thus, while we all can agree that quoting Scripture is good, a bad point is not somehow made good because some Scripture has been forced to fit into it. One statement of Scripture may, at times, need to be understood in terms of another Scripture so that the text remains consistent and God’s true will is properly discerned. And let no one be deceived into thinking that the Evil One does not know Scripture or how to use and abuse it!

There is much to gain from the substance of the temptation. Humans have an innate impulse to believe all things by experimentation or observation. It is much more challenging for humans to trust without testing, as evidenced by Thomas (John 20:24-25). This remains true to this day. Humans are always pushing at the edges of knowledge, endurance, and capability. There tends to be an ethic of “if we can, we should,” without necessarily thinking about the implications of what we are doing.

Therefore, there would be the natural, human impulse in Jesus to cast Himself off, just to see what would happen. Many thrillseekers would love to have the opportunity to jump off of large buildings, experience the rush, and know that they would be caught before they fell!

But Jesus reminds the Devil– and ourselves– that we should not put the Lord to the test. Who are we to test God? We are the clay, after all, and He is the Potter (Romans 9:20-21). He has already provided us with life– this creation and the promise of eternity (Genesis 1:1-2:3, Romans 6:23). He has given of His Son and stands willing to give us all things– if we ask in faith (cf. Romans 8:32, James 1:5-8).

And yet we make a bargain. We will say that we will believe in God if He does x or y. If we are believers, we decide that we will re-commit to God if He answers our prayers in the way we expect Him to answer them. We are willing to step out in faith but only after we have a “sign” or some guaranty of what we are about to accomplish.

This is putting God to the test. Perhaps God will answer us in our folly and ignorance; perhaps He will not. A non-answer does not make Him any less God, or, for that matter, any less good.

Instead, we must have confidence in God like Jesus did. We should trust that the Lord will protect us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves if we are His. Even if we die, our souls are in His hands. Thus, we should be willing to believe no matter what. We should commit to God no matter what. We ought to step out in faith no matter what. God has proven His faithfulness and we have no reason to doubt His promises.

The only reason we have to doubt His promises is that impulse to test and examine, and we must understand that we do not need to test God. Instead, let us trust in His goodness and seek His will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Folly of Alcohol

Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath complaining? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; They that go to seek out mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, When it sparkleth in the cup, When it goeth down smoothly: At the last it biteth like a serpent, And stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange things, And thy heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, Or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast.
“They have stricken me,” shalt thou say, “and I was not hurt; They have beaten me, and I felt it not: When shall I awake? I will seek it yet again” (Proverbs 23:29-35).

The Scriptures are filled with the wisdom of God. It is not as if His creation can “pull one over” on Him. He understands the actions of men and their consequences all too well. This understanding is fully on display as Solomon addresses the matter of men and their conduct with alcohol.

I have never understood the appeal of the night of drunkenness. One goes and drinks beverages that do not really taste good in order to receive a buzz that leads to regrettable actions and words, some of which may even be remembered, and then terrible feelings of nausea and pain the next day. And many then look forward to the next time that they can go and get drunk!

It does not make a lot of sense– but it is irrational behavior; we should not expect it to make sense. Many, no doubt, do so because of peer pressure. Others have become addicted. For too many, however, it is simply a way to have fun, to escape the cares of this world for a while, and/or to numb the pain of life.

Yet, as Solomon indicates, there are good reasons why drunkenness is sinful and a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Woes, sorrow, contentions, complaints, wounds, and physical difficulties come to those who drink too much. Many a drunken brawl has led to injury. Vision is impaired. Foolish things are said, either entirely in jest or because the one drinking has let down his or her guard. Foolish games and adventures are attempted. Injury, shame, illness, and even death can result from the folly of alcohol!

It is disconcerting how accurately Solomon portrays the hopeless drinker in Proverbs 23:35. He suffered abuse and yet did not feel anything; he has experienced all the things which Solomon mentions; and yet his first impulse it to seek the drink again, as if somehow that will solve everything. Such is folly. Alcohol does not make one better and it does not make life any easier– it is truly and literally an escape, and it is always far better to resolve whatever challenges life may pose than it is to attempt to wash it all away in some alcohol. Alcohol can only make problems worse, not better!

Drinking affects a lot more than just the person drinking. His or her entire family could be terribly impacted. Not a few girls get drunk and are pregnant before they are sober. Many parents, spouses, and even (God forbid!) children must find ways to get a drunken relative out of jail. Those who start down the path of alcohol often find that they lose everything that is really important, and all just to get that next drink! And this says nothing about other families and people impacted by alcohol– all of the families grieving for lost loved ones who died because a drunkard got behind the wheel of a car and got into an accident.

Solomon well compares drinking to “serpents” and “adders.” Yes, wine may go down smoothly, but it comes with a “bite”! We can profitably extend the image a little further. What happens to those who hold snakes and work with snakes? There likely are many who are more proficient at it than others and who are better able to handle them, but everyone at some point who handles them will almost certainly get bitten. So it is with alcohol– even if we think we could “handle it responsibly,” at some point we will almost certainly cross the line and get “bitten” and be drunk and sin.

The folly of alcohol, therefore, is like the folly of handling poisonous snakes. It is simply most profitable to avoid both! Let us avoid getting burned and bitten and abstain from alcohol!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Temptation of Bread

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered.
And the tempter came and said unto him, “If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But he answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God'” (Matthew 4:1-4).

Thus begins what seems to be a rather strange incident in the life of Jesus, recorded both by Matthew and Luke (Luke 4:1-4), and mentioned quickly by Mark (Mark 1:12-13). After His baptism by John, right at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus is compelled to go out into the wilderness and to withstand the temptations of the Devil.

Most of us spend our times attempting to avoid temptation; such seems to be the reasonable thing to do, considering our predilection for falling into temptations and sinning (James 1:13-15). Nevertheless, the ultimate glory is for those who endure despite temptation (James 1:12)– and Jesus, the Son of Man and the Son of God, must prove Himself to be able to withstand temptation (cf. Hebrews 4:15).

Why the temptation had to take place in the way it does is never revealed. Perhaps Jesus must first take on Satan face to face before He can truly minister to the people. Maybe Jesus is fully experiencing the travails of humanity so that He can understand the difficulties of His people. Or perhaps He is fulfilling the example of Elijah, enduring the wilderness and temptation without sin (cf. 1 Kings 19). All we know for certain is that He goes out into the wilderness– a desert landscape– for forty days and nights.

Forty days and nights represent a complete period of time. Such is the duration of the rains during the Flood (Genesis 7:17). In a close parallel, such is also the duration of the time that Elijah spent journeying on in the wilderness toward Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). Spending forty days and nights in the wilderness– a remote and quiet place– would be challenging enough; to do so while fasting is unbelievably challenging for a person. All one can do in such a circumstance is think. The feelings of hunger and thirst would become more and more acute. It would be easy to see hallucinations in such a condition. One can easily imagine food or water to satisfy the earnest desire of the flesh to persevere and continue!

It is only after this time that the tempter– the Devil, Satan– comes to Jesus. His first temptation for Jesus involves that which is most acutely felt by Him in His humanity– hunger. Satan challenges Jesus to make bread from stones. After all, if He is truly the Son of God, He certainly has the power to sate His own hunger, does He not? What kind of Son of God is He if He cannot even provide food?

Could Jesus have made bread from stones? He Who turned water to wine (John 2:1-11) and Who fed over five thousand with only five loaves and two fishes (Matthew 14:15-21) could most certainly and easily make bread from the stones. But that was not the heart of the matter.

It is easy to be a little confused by this “temptation” from Satan. Jesus eats bread on many occasions (cf. Matthew 26:20-26, etc.). There is no sin in taking one’s daily bread and being sated (Matthew 6:11). So what’s the temptation?

We learn why it is a temptation from Jesus’ answer. Jesus responds by quoting what is written in Deuteronomy 8:3: man does not live by bread alone but by every word from the mouth of God. It is right that we emphasize how Jesus uses the Word of God to combat the temptations of the Evil One, but the substance of this Word is extremely important.

How was Jesus sustained over the forty days and nights? For that matter, how is Jesus sustained throughout His work? As He says in John 4:32, 34, He has food that we do not understand. He is sustained by doing the work of God, and this is only possible because God the Father is the One sustaining Him.

An unaided human could not have lived in the wilderness forty days and forty nights without food and water. Even if Jesus brought water with Him, chances of unaided survival would still be low, considering the temperature extremes and the lack of vitamins. Therefore, to survive in such conditions required something beyond food and water– the strength of God. God, after all, provided the Israelites providentially throughout their wanderings in the Wilderness, as Deuteronomy 8:2-3 attests. Elijah is sustained for forty days and nights on his journey because of the food and drink God gave him (1 Kings 19:5-8). Jesus is currently surviving through the sustenance He derives from God His Father.

This is why Satan’s temptation is so strong. Satan is tempting Jesus to rely on the flesh and satisfy its impulses. We can only imagine how strong a pull his words had on the fleshly impulses of Jesus. And yet Jesus remains strong in the face of that temptation, remembering the connection that is truly important. Food is not truly life. The words that come from the mouth of God are truly life.

No disciple is above his teacher (cf. Matthew 10:24), and so it is with us and Jesus. We do not have to go out into the wilderness and fast for forty days and nights in order to experience the same temptations, for Satan tempts us in similar ways all the time. He appeals to and flatters our fleshly impulses, attempting to provoke us into satisfying our lusts despite our inclinations to serve God (cf. Romans 7:15-25). There may be times when the actual impulse satisfied is not sinful, as with eating food, but when we do so by betraying our confidence in God, it has become sin to us!

Choosing the physical over the spiritual– the lusts of the flesh over the direction of the spirit– has been one of Satan’s most pervasive and successful temptations of humans since the Garden. By our own strength we will always ultimately fail; yet in Christ we can succeed, as He succeeded in the wilderness (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18). We can only succeed, however, when we have crucified the flesh with its passions and have determined to always look toward God our true Sustainer and not the temporal pleasures of the world (Galatians 5:17-24). Let us stand firm against temptation; let us be sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Lord’s Prayer (2)

And it came to pass, as [Jesus] was praying in a certain place, that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, “Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples.”
And he said unto them, “When ye pray, say, Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation” (Luke 11:1-4).

The Lord’s Prayer has been a mainstay of much of “Christendom” for a long time; it is repeated constantly around the world at least on a weekly basis. It is known for being succinct and yet deep in meaning. It is a wonderful model prayer– a vehicle designed to get us to think more deeply about our petitions to God and how those petitions impact our lives.

As told in Luke the circumstance begins with Jesus praying. The disciples seek to learn how to pray from Him since they see Him in prayer so much (cf. Luke 5:16, etc.). He is the Model for us– He does not merely exhort us to pray (Luke 18:1-8) but lives a life of prayer. This left a deep impression on the disciples (cf. Acts 6:4).

Jesus was not disappointed in their request for guidance; He did not rebuke them for it. It was good to ask the Lord how to pray. He was more than happy to oblige and teach them how to pray.

And then we have the substance of the prayer. The version in Matthew (Matthew 6:9-13) is a bit more expansive (and was expanded upon more over time), but the sentiments are the same as in the Lukan version.

Jesus’ first statement involves the sanctification of God’s name. While God may be our Father through adoption, and we have been granted access to Him, we must always remember that He is holy and utterly greater than ourselves (cf. Romans 8:15, Hebrews 4:16, 1 Peter 1:16, Isaiah 55:8-9). Whether we communicate our reverence for God in words and attitude or just by attitude, it is important that it be communicated.

Jesus’ second directive involves the Kingdom. At the time Jesus speaks the Kingdom had not yet come; it would exist after Pentecost (cf. Colossians 1:13), but the full salvation and the ability to be with God forever has not yet arrived (1 Peter 1:3-9, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Regardless, it is good to promote the advancement of the Kingdom of God in prayer– the strengthening of the church, the proclamation of the Gospel around the world and for the welfare of those seeking to do so, and so on (Ephesians 4:11-16, Romans 1:16, Colossians 4:3).

Daily needs should be a part of prayer. God knows we need them, but that does not mean that we should not ask for them (cf. Matthew 6:23-34). God is not unapproachable or concerned only about the “big picture” so as to have no desire to hear our petitions regarding the daily issues of life. Instead, He wants us to cast our anxieties upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). Life is lived through daily concerns, and it is good for followers of God to obtain His counsel for them.

Since we have the propensity for sin, we have need of forgiveness (cf. 1 John 1:8-9), yet this statement of Jesus is as much a challenge and a warning as it is a petition in prayer. Jesus encourages us to pray for the forgiveness of our sins on the basis of our own forgiveness of those who sin against us– a matter on which He elaborates further in Matthew 6:14-15 and Matthew 18:21-35. It is not and cannot be enough for us to just pray to God for the forgiveness of our sins. If we want to be forgiven we must be forgiving, and we cannot expect forgiveness if we do not grant forgiveness.

Jesus concludes in Luke with a petition to not be led into temptation. On the surface, this seems strange– is it not true that God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13)? We should not imagine that Jesus expects us to make sure in our prayers that we beg God not to personally direct us toward temptation, for God does not do such things. Instead, the petition is a request to be delivered from trial and to escape the temptations of the Evil One. We must acknowledge the spiritual war in which we are engaged, constantly maintaining contact with the Captain of our souls (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18). It is right and good for us to request God’s assistance in terms of our trials and temptations so that we may endure and overcome. We do not win by our own strength; we overcome through the strength that God supplies through Jesus Christ!

God’s holiness, advancement of His Kingdom, daily needs, forgiveness, endurance in trial and temptation– so much is said in so few words. Let us consider the Lord’s Prayer and remain in continual contact with our Lord and God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Departed For a Season

And when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] for a season (Luke 4:13).

Jesus’ temptations by the devil in the wilderness are a famous part of His work and life. Even though Jesus was physically weak and hungry, He did not give into the temptation to turn stones into bread, to test God by falling, or to bow down to the Evil One. Instead, He refuted the Devil by quoting Scripture (cf. Luke 4:1-12).

The victory, however, was not complete. Luke provides a telling detail not found in the other Evangelists: while the Devil did depart, it was only for a season.

Even though Luke indicates that the departure was only for a season, neither he nor the other Evangelists ever explicitly relate another time in which Satan tempted or tested Jesus. Nevertheless there are many instances in the life of Jesus where we can find a significant temptation in which Satan was most certainly involved.

There is Peter’s rebuke of Jesus on hearing that He will die– “this shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus speaks of Peter as “Satan” in response, indicating that he is focused on the things of man and not on the things of God (Matthew 16:23). It is not necessary to believe that Satan was personally indwelling Peter– Peter is motivated by his passion for Jesus and his mistaken impressions about the nature of His Messiahship and Kingdom and needed no devilish inspiration to come up with such a remark. Nevertheless, Peter was acting as the Opposer, providing a significant temptation for Jesus. Satan could have very easily said the same thing– “far be it that the Son of God should die for sinful men!”

Temptations also came when the time drew near. Satan may have been tempting Jesus while in the garden; without a doubt he was about to tempt the disciples (cf. Luke 22:39-46). While on the cross, the words of the people represented another similar temptation– “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God!” They may have said it in a mocking and derisive manner, but it is a temptation nevertheless.

Again, we do not know every point at which Satan tempted or tested Jesus, but we have great confidence that he did. Jesus was ultimately victorious– He died and was raised again in power– and the power of sin and death was broken (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

As Jesus Himself said, it is enough for the disciple to be like his master, and if the Master of the house was tempted by the Devil, then most certainly the disciples will also (cf. Matthew 10:24-25). We know that we suffer the temptations of the Evil One constantly (1 Peter 5:8)!

Let us learn from the example of our Lord. Lord willing, there will be times in our lives when we successfully overcome temptations to do evil or to avoid the good. When we do the will of God and not the will of Satan, God is glorified, and Satan is compelled to flee (James 4:7). Yet, as long as we live, the victory is not complete. The Devil will return at another season to tempt us again!

We must remember that the Evil One does not play fair. In overcoming one temptation we may fall prey to another temptation. On the other hand, even when we are weak, having fallen for a temptation or in distress and turmoil, the Evil One does not lighten up– temptations are sure to come (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). In good times or bad, in prosperity or poverty, in victory or defeat, the Devil has plenty of temptations available to cause us to stumble and, if we allow it, to lead us away from God.

This is why we must be perpetually on guard against temptation. We must always be clothed with the armor of God in order to resist the Evil One (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18), and if we ever slacken, we will find ourselves in sore distress.

When we are in that distress, it is good for us to reach out to fellow Christians and to be lifted up (Galatians 6:1-3, Hebrews 10:24-25). We must look to help lift up fellow Christians in distress, not with attitudes of superiority or arrogance, but humility and love, knowing full well that we may be the next ones that need lifting up.

Our conflict with evil is not one that any of us chose or would ever want to choose; nevertheless, it is ours to fight. We must stand firm against the Evil One at all times, knowing, as Jesus did, that temptations are sure to come at any moment. Let us stand firm for God no matter what and resist the Devil!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Soils

“Hear then ye the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart. This is he that was sown by the way side. And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth. And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. And he that was sown upon the good ground, this is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; who verily beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

The Parable of the Sower is one of Jesus’ most famous parables. Its meaning resonates for us today.

The sower is the preacher of the Gospel of Christ– the message of His life, death, resurrection, and Kingdom (cf. Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5). The seed is that message. The focus of the parable, however, is on the different types of soils.

The “road soil” is quite hard, and the Word finds no room to take ground within it. Such are the unbelievers who choose to stay that way. They do not understand– or do not want to understand– Jesus’ message of humility, service, and turning from sin. The Evil One keeps them in his grip (cf. John 8:44-47).

So go the unbelievers. The next three types of soil feature believers and their fruit.

The “rocky soil” are those who hear the Word, believe and obey it, and start well. The Word is not deeply founded, however, and whenever difficulty arises– persecution for the Name, economic distress, physical suffering, or some other calamity– they turn away from their faith. It may take days, months, or even years for this difficulty to come, but when it does, the shallowness of that believer’s faith is made evident. Their faith is tested– and it fails.

The “thorny soil” also hear the Word and believe it and obey it. They recognize that Jesus is the Christ and know that they should devote themselves to spiritual things. But they have busy lives. They may be devoting themselves to some idol– money, fame, recreation, or some other pleasure. They may be so devoted to the needs of their physical family, friends, and the like that they do not make the time for spiritual matters. Since the Kingdom is not made a priority, their faith weakens and dies. Misplaced and misguided priorities lead to the end of their faith.

The “good soil” are those who hear the Word, believe it, obey it, and make spiritual things their first priority. Difficulties and temptations come, and their faith is tried, but they persevere and grow (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:3-9). They have plenty of obligations in the world, but they realize that their obedience to Christ is first and foremost and can be accomplished within their other obligations (cf. Ephesians 5:22-6:9). According to their gifts and service, they produce fruit: some thirtyfold, others sixtyfold, some one hundredfold. As humble servants, they praise God for all that He accomplishes, and participate joyfully in their specific role (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Those producing a hundredfold do not look down upon the those with sixtyfold or thirtyfold, and the latter are not jealous of the former.

Let the one who has ears hear. We can see these responses to the Word in action in our own lives and the lives of those around us. We may seem to be “good” soil but turn out to be “rocky” soil. The thorns of the world are always around us. On the other hand, possibly “rocky” soil may turn and become “good” soil. In the end, let us be the good soil, producing for the Lord, with God giving the increase (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Finding Faith

“Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8b).

This question of Jesus has echoed throughout time. It is a matter that has to be re-considered by each generation. Who will stand for Jesus? Who will accept what the Bible has revealed about Him?

This verse can be used in many kinds of preaching to ask pointedly about the future. The optimist finds many reasons why the faith will grow. The pessimist sees apostasy as just a generation away.

Yet, as with everything found in the Bible, we must consider the question in its context. Jesus is attempting to encourage the disciples to persevere in prayer and not to lose heart (Luke 18:1). He tells them the parable of the persistent widow– a woman with no legal rights who obtains justice from an unrighteous judge just because she is such an irritant to him (Luke 18:2-6). Jesus uses this parable as a contrast: in such a circumstance, if the constant nagging of a woman with no rights is finally heard by an evil judge, how much more will the righteous Father avenge those whom He loves who cry out to Him (Luke 18:6-8)? This is when Jesus asks whether the Son of Man will find faith on the earth or not (Luke 18:8)!

Therefore, Jesus’ question really is not about whether there will be people who profess faith in Him when He returns. He knows that there will always be such people (James 1:22-25, Matthew 7:21-23). Instead, the question focuses on the matter of truly trusting God. When the Son of Man returns, will He find people on earth who fully trust in God despite terrible circumstances?

This is a much more challenging question. All kinds of people are always willing to profess knowledge of and belief in Jesus Christ, but who is willing to really trust Him? When we prosper and things go well, is our confidence still in God or is it “converted” to the material prosperity (1 Timothy 6:17-19)? Are we willing to trust in God’s love, goodness, mercy, and justice even when we are oppressed, downtrodden, wronged, and suffering? Are we willing to pray constantly and fervently even after it seems that God is not there or is not answering? In short, when it seems that we have every reason not to trust in God, will we trust in Him regardless?

It is very important for us that we believe in Jesus and accept the truth of the revelation regarding Him in the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and work diligently to commit these truths to the upcoming generations if we have opportunity (2 Timothy 2:2). But let us remember that Jesus’ question is much more personal and a much greater challenge. If He were to return today, would He find people truly trusting in God in all things? Will He find you and me trusting entirely in the Almighty? Let us consider this question, and learn to trust God more!

Ethan R. Longhenry