Summary: The devil's offer of giving to Jesus authority over all the nations might have seemed like an easy shortcut to fulfill his calling, but of course, Jesus saw through the temptation of power. He saw power far above coercion. He saw the power of love and servanthood.
When you hear me say the word, “power,” I’ll bet it can stir up all sorts of feelings inside. On one hand it may bring memories of a time when someone used power over you in a painful and destructive way and you cringe a bit inside. On the other hand it may stir up a hope of having power yourself and being able to bring some degree of control and order to your life by exerting that power. Most of us probably have very ambiguous feelings about power. Is it good? Is it bad? Should I seek it? Should I run away from it? Power is a factor in every human relationship we have. What about power?
Last week we looked at the first of three temptations that Jesus wrestled with as part of his preparation for the ministry his Father had sent him to earth to complete, the challenge of what he would do about himself and his own natural desires for comfort and pleasure. And he decided that he would not use his time on earth for his own comfort and pleasure, but put himself at the call of his Father in heaven, even when it hurt.
Today lets look at the second temptation. As Jesus launched out on his ministry, what role was the use of power to have in his life?
Let’s read it from the Bible together. Again I’ll take the part of the narrator. This time I’ll ask the northern side of the sanctuary to read the lines of Satan and this time you southerners get to be Jesus.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4 Jesus answered him, "It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'"
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 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. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." 8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" 12 Jesus answered him, "It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
Now, just like the devil’s temptation that we looked at last week, this was very reasonable. Why shouldn’t Jesus just accept political power over all the earth. He had created the earth. Nobody was smarter than he was or more knowledgeable or better intended. You know, the strategy that Jesus did decide on really looked pathetic at times. He only covered a very, very small part of the earth. His method of talking to one crowd here and another one there, of working so slowly to train just twelve assistants, and especially the incompetents that he chose seemed hopeless. And why should he mess with mixing with those dirty crowds, putting up with people who opposed him, risking death on a cross. That’s pathetic. Just think how much more efficient it would be to take the devil’s offer, become the dictator of the whole earth. He could send out edicts and soldiers and force anything he wanted on the people and have a very comfortable living for himself while he did it. Doesn’t that make sense?
But Jesus refused to approach power in that way. The century that has just finished demonstrates his wisdom very well. The 20th century was a time of great power movements with the highest ideals. Lenin was going to establish the classless society where there would be no more poverty, no more exploitation, no more war. Hitler was going to build an exalted master race with the very highest in culture and education and human accomplishment. Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot were going to purify China and Cambodia of all the corruption of western decadence. I think we forget that these all started as very idealistic, very humanistic movements. In the end they slaughtered many millions of people who couldn’t move fast enough to keep up with the movements or just plain disagreed with their directions. And the more they used outward power to force outward conformity, the more people forgot what the revolutions had been about in the first place and society crumbled into a cynical rush for what’s in it for me. And Jesus saw right from the beginning that to do God’s work by sheer physical or political power would make him a servant of the devil. And he said no. And how thankful we need to be that he didn’t come at us in the way suggested by the devil.