6 min read
A fascinating narrative in the life of Jesus ensues just when he is about to embark on his three-year ministry tour. (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13, Mark 1:12-13) Three Bible writers, Matthew, Luke and Mark captured this moment. Each of them wrote this narrative from their own vantage point to their audiences. This is typical when writing narratives. You write for and to your intended audience.
So, Jesus is in the wilderness and the devil tests him. Peirazo the Greek word used for test means to scrutinize, assay, examine, go about, to prove. Contrary to traditional teaching on this narrative, the devil wasn’t tempting Jesus to cause him to sin, but he was testing the authenticity of who Jesus was. He was like a lawyer examining a witness in a court of law to ascertain whether their testimony is true. You remember that in the preceding chapter, Jesus had just been baptized at the Jordan River by his predecessor John the Baptist, and his father had affirmed his identity by these words, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) After this, at his most vulnerable point, his foe comes to test him.
First test—Luke 4:3 (NLT)
Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Second test—Luke 4:6-7 (NLT)
“I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”
Third test—Luke 4:9 (NLT)
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off!”
Notice two refrains in all the tests
- IF YOU ARE/WILL.
- JUST DO IT—turn this stone to become a loaf of bread, worship me, jump off!
Jesus, if you are who you say you are, turn this stone to become a loaf of bread, worship me, jump off!
Here comes the famous and popular Nike’s slogan, JUST DO IT. A famous inspirational slogan popularly used to inspire you to fulfil your potential, to dare, to do something, prove who you are. The subliminal message it conveys, however, is this, prove you are who you say you are.
Prove you are who you say you are
The tests that Jesus took had the very obvious and subliminal message. On the surface, two things seem obvious. First, it seems as if the devil wants Jesus to perform some miracles, which he could, to display his power. Second, the average Bible reader reads this narrative and with his pastor’s exposition concludes that this narrative is a case study on how to overcome temptations. At the very least this is what I learnt in my formative years as a Christian.
On a deeper level, though, this narrative posits to us the very nature of identity and of life itself. Prove that you are capable of. Prove that you are not a fake. Prove your authenticity. Prove your credentials. Prove your greatness. This is an inescapable reality of life.
Here are some examples. Fill in the blank space.
If you are a man, (just do it)
If you are a woman, (just do it)
If you are a student, (just do it)
If you are a kid, (just do it)
If you are white, (just do it)
If you are black, (just do it)
If you are coloured, (just do it)
If you are Indian, (just do it)
If you are a mother, (just do it)
If you are a father, (just do it)
If you are a rich, (just do it)
If you are poor, (just do it)
If you are a husband, (just do it)
If you are a wife, (just do it)
If you are a newlywed couple, (just do it)
If you are a CEO, (just do it)
If you are experienced, (just do it)
If you are married, (just do it)
If you are LGBTQI, (just do it)
If you are an Instagram influencer, (just do it)
If you are a celebrity, (just do it)
If you are an American, (just do it)
If you are a South African, (just do it)
If you are a Kenyan, (just do it)
If you love me, (just do it)
If you care about me, (just do it)
If you want me in your life, (just do it)
If you are divorced, (just do it)
If you are old, (just do it)
If you are young, (just do it)
If you are my friend, (just do it)
This list is endless…
Everyone one of us has to deal with this idea that we have to prove who we are by doing some things. The pressure is on to do.
It is very apparent in South Africa that relationships between black and white South Africans is on the decline because we are testing each other. If you are black, prove that you can run the country. If you are white, prove that you want to share the resources and opportunities with us. If you are black, prove that you are not corrupt and lazy. If you are white, prove that you did not benefit from the apartheid system. We play this testing game and stoke the tensions that already exist. Basically, we keep telling each other, if you are who you say you are, prove it.
In this encounter with his foe, Jesus gives us a snapshot of what the gospel is. His responses to the three tests
Luke 4:4 (NKJV)
But Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”
Luke 4:8 (NKJV)
And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.”
Luke 4:12 (NKJV)
And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
His responses are amazing. He points his foe to the ethereal, otherworldly, out of this world. He points him to the true north. He points him to what is true and real. He points him to what is certain, constant and never wavers.
This what the gospel does. The gospel states that Jesus defines who you are. That when you believe in him, his work (just do it) is imputed to you. You no longer have to define yoursellf by your accomplishments or lack thereof. His work for you (just do it) is sufficient. His work for you is true and real, certain, constant and never wavers. If this is true, which it is, the burden to prove who you are falls on Jesus and the pressure is off.
So how do we live this out in this world?
The gospel must find expression in the real world. The gospel, although counterintuitive and nonsensical, must be lived out in real time. Your employer expects you to do your job. Your spouse expects you to do some things for them. Your in-laws especially your mother-in-law will expect some things from you. Your kids expect you to clothe, feed and shelter them. Your friends expect you to buy that house and move to that neighbourhood. Your government expects you to pay your taxes and obey the law. This is real life.
So how do we live this out in this world? If you are a Christian when the opportunity presents itself, when the pressure is on to prove who you are, you need to do this—under your breath say these words, YOU ARE NOT MY IDENTITY, I AM WHAT JESUS HAS DONE FOR ME. Counterintuitive and non-sensical? Yes. This is a truth the Holy Spirit has to burn deep into your heart so it becomes a natural response to tests that require you to prove who you are. You have to believe what Jesus did for you is sufficient.
YOU ARE NOT MY IDENTITY, I AM WHAT JESUS HAS DONE FOR ME.
It’s amazing what happens when you believe what Jesus has done for you is your identity. When you believe the gospel, what you are asked to do by life, peers, and even the devil himself happens effortlessly. You actually outdo others. And when you fail, you will not be devastated, and when you succeed, you will not be proud.
If you are non-Christian, there is a way out of this impasse—this constant under the pump pressure. Believe the gospel. Believe who Jesus is. Believe that what he did for you, by his death on the cross and resurrection are events that took place, and the gospel will free you to become the real you. Absolute nonsense? Oh yes. I agree. But that’s how it works. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)
This is what grace looks like.