Satan shifts the scene. These wilderness surroundings grate on his nerves. The setting of this place, once first class, is now rather worn. He's famous at that. It's a favorite device of His; quick scene-shifting. A man wins a victory over temptation, but a quick change of surroundings finds him unprepared if he isn't ever alert for it, and down he goes before the new, unexpected rush, before he can get his wind. The tempter is not a fool, as regards man. That is, as a rule he is not. In the light of all facts obtainable about his career, that word might
be thought of. Yet no man of us may apply the word to him. Not one of us is a match for him. We're not in the same class. In his keen subtlety and cunning he can outmatch the keenest of us; outwit and befool without doing any extra thinking. I am not using the word wisdom
of him. We are safe only in the wisdom of our big Brother who drew his fangs in the wilderness that day.
He chooses shrewdly the spot for each following temptation. He's a master stage manager. He always works for an atmosphere that will help his purpose. He took Jesus up to one of the wings of the temple in the holy city. The holy city, and especially its temple, would awaken holiest emotions. Here it was that Jesus, as a boy, years before, had probably first caught fire. It is likely that He never forgot that first visit. Here everything spoke to Him of His Father. The tempter is skilfully following the leading of Jesus' reply. Jesus had given a religious answer. So He is given a religious atmosphere, and taken to a religious place. He would trust the Father implicitly. Here is an opportunity to let men see that beautiful spirit of trust. Here is a chance for a master-stroke. A single simple act will preach to the crowds. |You'll come down in the midst of an open-mouthed, admiring crowd.| The devil loves the spectacular, the theatrical. He is always working for striking, stagy effects.
How many a man has yielded to the religious temptation! He is taken up in the air, and seems to float among ethereal clouds. It is better for us to live in the strength of Somebody else's victory, and keep good hard earth close to the soles of our feet, or we may come into contact with it suddenly with feet and head changing places.
The devil |taketh| Jesus. How could he? He could do it only by Jesus' consent. Jesus yields to his taking. He has a strong purpose in it. He was going for the sake of His brothers. The tempter cannot take anybody anywhere except with his full consent. He tries to, and often befools men into thinking he can. It's a lie. He cannot. Every man is an absolute sovereign in his will, both as regards God and Satan. God will not do anything with us without our ready consent. And be it keenly remembered that the tempter cannot. Here Jesus gave consent for His brothers' sake.
The tempter acts his part like an old hand. The proper thing here is some scripture, repeated earnestly in unctuous tones. Was it from this tempter that all of us religious folks and everybody else have gotten into the inveterate habit of quoting verse and sentence entirely out of connection? Any devil's lie can be proven from the Scriptures on that plan. If it was he who set the pace, certainly it has been followed at a lively rate. It was a cunning quotation, cunningly edited.
The angels are ministering spirits. On their hands they do bear us up. It is all true, blessedly true. But it is only true for the man who is living in the first verse of that ninety-first psalm, |in the secret place of the most High.| The tempter threads his way with cautious skill among those unpleasant allusions to the serpent, and the dragon, and getting them under our feet, and then twisting and trampling with our hard heels. He knew his ground well, and avoids such rough, rude sort of talk. It was a cunning temptation, cunningly staged and worded and backed. He was doing his best. One wonders if he really thought Jesus could be tripped up that way. So many others have been, and are, even after Jesus has shown us the way. A dust cloth would help some of us -- for our Bibles -- and a little more exercise at the knee-joint, and a bit of the hard common sense God has given every one of us.
Did Jesus' wondrous, quiet calm nettle the tempter? Was He ever keener and quieter? He would step from the substantial boat-deck to the yielding water, He would cut Himself off from His Nazareth livelihood and step out without any resources, He would calmly walk into Jerusalem when there was a price upon His head, for so He was led by that Spirit to whose sovereignty He had committed Himself. But He would do nothing at the suggestion of this tempter. Jesus never used His power to show He had it, but to help somebody. He could not. It is against the nature of power to attempt to prove that you have it by using it. Power is never concerned about itself, but wrapped up in practical service. There were no theatricals about Jesus. He was too intensely concerned about the needs of men. There are none in God-touched men. Elisha did not smite the waters to prove that Elijah's power rested upon him, but to get back across the Jordan to where his work was needing him and waiting his touch. Jesus would wear Himself out bodily in ministering to men's needs, but He wouldn't turn a hair nor budge a step to show that He could. This is the touch-stone by which to know all Jesus-men.
He rebukes this quotation by a quotation that breathes the whole spirit of the passage where it is found. Thou shalt not test God to see if He will do as He promises. These Israelites had been testing, criticizing, questioning, doubting God. That's the setting of His quotation. Jesus says that love never tests. It trusts. Love does not doubt, for it knows. It needs no test. It could trust no more fully after a test, for it trusts fully now. Aye, it trusts more fully now, for it is trusting God, not a test. Every test of God starts with a question, a doubt, a misgiving of God. Jesus' answer to the second temptation is: love never tests. It trusts. Jesus keeps true in His relation to His Father.