Tempted and Tried (6): Testing God
Intro – Some of the most popular and dangerous religious fads of the past 20 years were called the Toronto Blessing (where "holy laughter" and other bizarre behavior was declared to be signs of the Holy Spirit), the Kansas City Prophets (whose predictions were usually false and whose morals were even worse) and the Pensacola Outpouring (which featured people being "slain in the spirit" and lying long periods on the ground, a phenomenon that has no biblical precedent). This revival disbanded amid charges of fraud and embezzled funds. Was God at work in any of these supposed outpourings, all of which fell apart on the basis of their own excess and lack of biblical content? That is for God to judge. But I mention them because they demonstrate an almost insatiable human desire for the spectacular. And they illustrate the dangers that attach to getting spiritual priorities mixed up.
That brings us to the 3rd temptation of Christ in Luke 4. Each temptation puts to rest a false premise. In the 1st temptation the false premise was man must live. Must he really? We found that spiritual health and growth is even more important than physical. In the 2nd temptation the false premise was God's blessing can be obtained through shortcuts. We found that in the spiritual realm there are no shortcuts. We found that as followers of Christ, it is the cross that leads to the crown. God's reward can’t be obtained by shortcuts.
Today the false principle we will examine is that faith results from the spectacular. We love the sensational. We think it builds faith. But we will see that sensationalism actually breeds insecurity and God has a better way. God has often worked in miraculous ways. But miracles were never meant to be primary. Faith based in sensationalism always demands more. Let’s look.
I. The Seduction
Vv. 9-11, “And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said 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 guard you,’ 11) and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Now, this is a bit bizarre. No one knows for sure exactly where Satan took Jesus, but the great temple of Herod was surrounded by a high wall. Herod’s royal portico was at the southeast corner of the wall overlooking the Kidron Valley from a height of about 450 feet. There Satan says, “Okay, Jesus – you have been quoting Scripture. You are obviously a man of the Book. So, let me remind you of Psa 91 where God promises – promises, Jesus – to send His angels to guard you against a fall. So claims it! Come on, man, where’s your faith?” Please note, Satan is not above using Scripture for his own ends. Do not be taken in by Bible quotes out of context – as this one is.
Now, Satan may be urging Jesus that when the crowds below see His miraculous escape from danger they will recognize Him as Messiah and kick start His ministry. Or – since no crowds are specifically mentioned, he may be suggesting that Jesus needs to prove for His own benefit that God is with Him. Then He can base His coming ministry on the knowledge that the spectacular is available to Him. In either case, he is urging Jesus to seek the spectacular as a means of encouraging faith. Faith results from the spectacular! That is the seduction. The more miraculous, the better. God won’t fail you. “Let go, and let God!” It’s a dramatic seduction.
II. The Solution
V. 12, “And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” So – how do we put God to the test? Well, let’s look at the passage Jesus quotes from – Deut 6:16, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” Massah. What is that about? Turn to Exod 17. The children of Israel, fresh out of miraculous deliverance from bondage in Egypt and having been miraculously saved at the Red Sea and having been miraculously given manna to eat arrive at Rephidim. But there is not enough water and their reaction is found in v. 3, “But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Now, we have to stop a second and ask, “What’s wrong with asking for water? Don’t they have a legitimate gripe? What is going on?” Well, Moses later describes what God was doing at times like this in Deut 8:2. He was “testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” God was testing them and they failed miserably precisely because at the first sign of difficulty, they began to test Him. Having seen His miraculous provision time and again -- they immediately throw in the towel. Moses defines the precise nature of their failure in v. 7, “And he called the name of the place Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling), because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” What is at the heart of testing God? It is questioning His presence. It is a What have you done for me lately mentality. We test God when we demand that He prove His presence. Ever been there?
Well, that is precisely what Satan was urging Jesus to do – demand the spectacular of God. That would inspire faith. But Jesus refuses. He sees the seduction. He will have nothing to do with demanding God prove Himself.
Question: Is there anything wrong with miracles – anything wrong with the spectacular in and of itself? Of course not. When God acts in spectacular and miraculous ways it is a wonderful thing. But, Beloved, those happen in His time and in His way. They are always supportive of and subordinate to the message. They were never intended to be a lifestyle. Miracles were not His mission. They authenticated Him as Messiah. But they were secondary to the message. The apostles were similarly authenticated prior to the NT being finalized. Paul says in II Cor 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” He is countering false apostles who followed him and negated his message. He affirms his credibility by the miracles attached to his ministry. But it was the message that was primary, not the miracles.
To demand God prove His presence by the spectacular is a fool’s errand. It makes God the puppet on our strings. To pray for miraculous intervention is perfectly legitimate and proper; to insist on it is insubordination. It is not we who are the center of the universe; it is God. It is not we who are all-knowing; it is God. It is not we who are all-wise; it is God. And it is not God who is on trial; it is us. To test God is foolishness. Six reasons.
A. Testing God Promotes insecurity over security
Faith which begins with the spectacular becomes faith which must be sustained by the spectacular. Remember that we saw in Exodus 17:7 that the people wanted a sign to test Is the LORD among us or not? Remember? But that is not quite right. It wasn’t a sign that they wanted; it was another sign. They’d already seen multiple signs from one of the most miraculous periods of history. Did that solidify these people in their faith – eliminate doubt? No. It just led to the expectation of another miracle on demand. It was not about what God had done for them; it was about what God had done for them lately. One miracle led to the need for another and another. Soon the people were big and God was small unless He produced on demand. He had become a magic dispenser machine. Dependence on the spectacular promotes insecurity rather than security; it promotes doubt rather than faith. Faith becomes rooted in the miracle rather than in the God of the miracle.
One five-year-old was fascinated by his grandfather’s false teeth. He watched as Gramps removed them washed them and put them back. He asked to see it done again and again. “Okay,” said Gramps after humoring the boy. “Anything else?” The boy said, “Yeah. Now take off your nose.” Faith grounded in miracles always leads to the need for another miracle. They were never intended to be a lifestyle, rendering God a source of magic. It was not God who was on trial at Massah, it was the people. God’s verdict is in Psa 95:7, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8) do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9) when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 10) For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” 11) Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” Beloved, security is found in the Word of God, not in the miracles of God.
Jesus ran into the same problem. He fed 20,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. But the next day the people were back wanting more. He challenged them to seek the food that endures to eternal life. We pick up on John 6:28, “28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 (So, they believed, right? The spectacular they saw the day before led to faith, right? Well – not quite). So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? Do you see it? Faith based in miracles breeds insecurity! Our faith must be grounded in the Word of God, not in His miracles. It is the Word that lasts forever.
B. Testing God Places presumption over responsibility
We test God by expecting from Him what we can do for ourselves. This was at the heart of the issue that Satan posed to Christ. Did He really need the Father to protect Him against falling on the stones below – or could He provide His own protection by not jumping? The answer is obvious. God’s promise was to protect from unseen danger, not presumption.
The Thessalonian church had this problem. They got really focused on the 2nd coming of Christ. After Paul left they got presumptuous. Some quit work, expecting Jesus to come. Neither Jesus nor Paul had indicated a specific time for His coming, but they presumed on God – put Him to the test. Expected the spectacular to reward their faith. Paul put an end to that in I Thess 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Do you get the point? Presumption is not faith – it is -- presumption. The moment we presume that God is going to do this or that, we have taken a seat on His throne and God states clearly in Isa 48:11, “My glory I will not give to another.” Listen, Beloved, prayer is asking God; it is not telling God.
We presume when we demand what we could do for ourselves. When we demand health while neglecting proper eating and exercise, we presume. When we demand spiritual growth while neglecting Bible study, church attendance and fellowship, we presume. When we demand victory over lust and a good marriage while exposing ourselves to internet porn and the flirtations of what are now termed “workplace marriages” we are presuming on God – putting Him to the test when in fact it is we who are being tested. We do not serve an on-demand God; we are to be His on-demand people. Don’t presume on God to do spectacularly what you can do for yourself.
C. Testing God Prioritizes the Spectacular Over Scripture
We test God when we prize the spectacular over Scripture; the miracle over the message; the wonder over the Word. Beloved, the power has always been in the Word of God. It always will be in the Word of God. Jesus knew this. His ministry was filled with miracles. He is the King of God’s kingdom which is, in the end, all about returning all of creation to its pre-Fall, pre-sin condition. So pre-fall conditions trailed in His wake wherever He went, even in His period of humiliation leading up to the cross.
But that was never the focus. The miracles were never primary. They were secondary. Jesus showed this priority many times, but perhaps no more clearly than in Mark 1. On Jesus’ first Sabbath in his new hometown of Capernaum, he preached in the synagogue in the morning. They he went for lunch to Peter’s home where Peter’s mother-in-law was desperately sick. Jesus healed her, word filtered out and by the time lunch was over, a huge crowd had gathered outside desperate for help. Jesus spent the rest of the day healing people. Next morning, the crowed was back, wanting more. The disciples were almost giddy. Wow, this is really working. We’re pulling them in now. This is great. Only one problem. No Jesus! They finally found him in a desolate place praying and said, “Come on, Jesus. It’s great. Everyone is waiting for you. We’re on a roll now. It’s all going our way. This is big. Come on.” But they are in for a shock. Mark 1:38, “And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Get this! Jesus left the healing service so He could go preach the gospel in other places. He knew the priority. The power is in the Word. Jesus knew the priority.
D. Testing God Prizes the Gift Rather Over the Giver
Beloved, God’s gifts are to be used and appreciated, but only as long as they do not detract from Him. They are to lead to Him. When we stop at the gift, we short circuit the whole intention. We become like grossly misled TV evangelist Benny Hinn who said, "Years ago they used to preach, ’O we are going to walk on streets of gold.’ I would say, ’I don’t need the gold up there. I’ve got to have it down here.’" Got to have it? Down here? That doesn’t sound much like Abraham in Heb 11:10, “ For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” The idea that God owes His followers prosperity here and now is not biblical. Jesus promised his apostles in Luke 21:12, “they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” I wonder if Benny Hinn’s got to have that down here?! Xnty is about the Giver, not the Gift.
Chuck Colson got it right: “It is absurd for Christians to constantly seek new demonstrations of God's power, to expect a miraculous answer to every need, from curing ingrown toenails to finding parking places; this only leads to faith in miracles rather than in the Maker. True faith depends not upon mysterious signs, celestial fireworks, or grandiose dispensations from a God who is seen as a rich, benevolent uncle; true faith, as Job understood, rests on the assurance that God is who he is. Indeed, on that we must be willing to stake our very lives.” Prize the Giver, not the gifts.
E. Proposes My Will over God’s Will
The worst part of testing God is it insists on my will over God’s. Benny Hinn again, "never, ever, ever go to the Lord and say, 'If it be thy will . . .’ Don't allow such faith-destroying words to be spoken from your mouth. When you pray 'if it be your will, Lord,' faith will be destroyed.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sounds right. Don’t destroy faith. Name it and claim it.
But let me ask, how did Jesus teach us to pray in Matt 6:10: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Isn’t that what Jesus taught? And how did He actually pray in Mark 14:36, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. [There is true faith!] Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” So, who you gonna believe? Benny Hinn or Jesus Christ. Case closed, Beloved. We are not smart enough, wise enough, informed enough or spiritual enough to discern God’s perfect will. So we had better pray for it. Prayer that insists on the spectacular puts God to the test. But in the end, it turns out, it is we who are on trial, not God. Tread lightly. We even saw in our Bible study last Tuesday that God sometimes gives us less than His perfect will – like when He gave Aaron to Moses, or a king to Israel. But with that circuitous route comes a lot of extra pain to get us back on track.
Conc – The only possible conclusion to this sermon is in Luke 16 -- the account of the rich man who lacked for nothing in this life, and the beggar, Lazarus, who lived outside on his crumbs. But the roles reversed when both died. The rich man finds himself in hell, while Lazarus is with Abraham in paradise. When the rich man finds that he can get no relief, he makes a final request – that Lazarus be allowed to go back and warn his brothers. But Abraham answers beginning in Luke 16:29, “‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ (Surely a resurrection will get their attention, right? That’s his premise. So you would think Abraham would answer, ‘Maybe so, but it just isn’t possible’ You would think. But Abraham says something profoundly different). 31 [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”
Do you get Abraham’s point? Nothing – not even the spectacular – is as powerful as the Word. If they reject that, they are hopelessly lost. You say, “Well, that’s ridiculous. Of course people would believe if they were to see a resurrection.” Really? May I remind you that in less than a year after giving this lesson, there was a resurrection. Someone did come back from the grave. It was Jesus Himself. And while some came to faith, the vast majority of people turned away, refused to believe. Faith that depends on some contrived test will require another test tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. The Bible says in Rom 10:17, “So faith comes from seeing, and seeing through a spectacular demonstration.” Is that what it says? No, it says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” This is why the Word is so precious. It is the power of God unto salvation, and unto continuing growth in faith. It’s the Word. The Word is what proves God’s presence. Anything else is putting God to the test. Let’s pray.