Life in the Face of Reality

Scripture: Matthew 4, a portion of the temptation of Jesus

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
   and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
7Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” 

Some American Christians are becoming increasingly careless in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. They labor under the mistaken belief that, somehow, they are immune from reality. I saw a sign at an “End the Sequester” rally, “Jesus is my vaccine.” Recently, a prominent pastor in Virginia who presided over a large congregation died of the virus. What distinguishes his death is that he counseled his congregation not to be afraid of the virus because “God is bigger than the virus,” and “God is in the world with you.” Until his governor banned all meetings of more than 10 people, he kept his services going. He had the virus for at least two weeks during that time. Consequently, his wife, daughter and son-in-law now have the virus as well.

The pastor was surely correct in his assertions. God is bigger than the virus, and God is in the world with us. However, neither of these realities served to protect him and his family.

Beliefs, mantras, and affirmations are not magic potions that protect against the realities of life. The world runs on natural laws. One can no more avoid the consequences of a viral attack by asserting God’s power over it than one can jump off a 30-story building and vanish the reality of gravity. When one acts in this way, it is to believe that—for that person—God will set aside the realities of the created world.

Matthew shows how Jesus dealt with a similar situation when Jesus was tempted by the devil following his baptism by John. As our text shows, Satan appealed to Jesus’ emerging understanding of his role as God’s Son. He challenged that if Jesus truly believed he had a special relationship with God, and the Scripture says that he will be protected from anything that may threaten his status, Jesus should not be afraid to jump off the highest point of the Temple. For God will surely save him.

Jesus was not convinced. His response, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” acknowledges that we should not put ourselves in a position to judge God’s faithfulness, when our faithfulness to God is the real issue.

Yes, God is with us in our world, as a companion through our difficulties, not to sweep them out of the way. To believe otherwise is to live in a world unfamiliar to Jesus.

PRAYER: O God, may we have the courage to live in this world with you as our companion, to live in faith that, live or die, we are yours now and forever, come what may. AMEN

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