The Weird Thing about Temptation

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Right near the beginning of the bible in Genesis chapters 2 and 3 there’s a story that you’re probably familiar with.

The setting is a garden filled with trees that we are told are beautiful and that produced delicious fruit.

There is a catch, though, because there were two special trees in the middle of the garden – one was called the tree of life and the other was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

God warned the man that if he ate the fruit of this one particular tree he would surely die.

So the story proceeds, and we find out that God has now made a partner for the man, which the man gives the name ‘woman’.

God has also created animals, and one of these animals – a serpent – has a conversation with the newly created woman.

The serpent asks the woman ‘did God really say that you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?’.

The woman replies “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden – it’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said ‘you must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die’.

‘You won’t die! the serpent replies, ‘God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’.

We are told in verse 6 of Genesis 3 that the woman was convinced.

She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her.

In Matthew chapter 4 we find another familiar story – with Jesus in the wilderness, fasting, praying and being tempted by the devil.

There are three separate temptations that we learn about.

In the first temptation, the devil tries to use Jesus’ hunger to his advantage, and tells him to prove that he is the Son of God by turning stones into bread.

In the second temptation, the devil takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple and tempts him to prove that he’s the Son of God by jumping off.

For the third and final temptation, the devil takes Jesus to a mountain peak, shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and offers them all to Jesus if he will only kneel down and worship him.

There is SO much that I could talk about from this story, but right now I want you to notice this one thing.

In all three aspects of the temptation, the devil quotes scripture in an attempt to coerce Jesus.

It’s actual scripture so it’s true, and that’s what’s different about deception when it comes from the devil.

It’s truth, but it’s being deliberately used to deceive, it’s being twisted – or used in a way that was never intended – on purpose.

Was the devil interested in whether or not Jesus really was the son of God?

Of course not!

You’ll notice that he stopped even asking that question after the first two temptations.

Jesus clearly was secure enough in his knowledge of who he really was, that he didn’t feel the need to prove his identity to anyone else – even the devil.

The third question shows us what the devil was really after – and that was for Jesus to kneel down and worship him instead of God.

As an aside, Jesus wasn’t interested in being given all the kingdoms of the world, because he knew that he was already part of a far greater kingdom – the kingdom of God.

What both of these stories highlight, is that the way the enemy tempts us doesn’t appear deceptive on the surface.

In both cases he used accurate information – but in a way that was designed to bring about the downfall of his target.

In both cases the objects of desire looked good. In the garden of Eden, the woman found herself pondering a piece of fruit that looked really good.

We are told that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious.

It wasn’t some moldy rotten bad-looking thing that made her wonder whether she was risking her life by taking a bite.

It looked good, and she wanted the wisdom that eating it promised her.

She also had the serpent alongside her, encouraging her.

I find it fascinating that the woman hadn’t yet been created when God warned the man about eating the fruit from this particular tree.

Go and check it out – the conversation with the man happens in Genesis chapter 2 verses 16 and 17 and the woman isn’t made until verse 22.

So her knowledge of what to eat and what not to eat probably came from the man – and it appears that the man had added an extra precaution to make sure she stayed clear of that particular tree – by telling her that touching the fruit was also out of bounds.

This explains why the woman thought that even touching the fruit would lead to death – but this addition to the word of God also helped the serpent in its deception, because when the woman touched the fruit and there wasn’t any consequence, it reinforced the truth of the words that the serpent was speaking to her.

To Jesus, who had been fasting for 40 days, bread would have felt like a very good thing.

Ownership of all of the kingdoms of the world would have had some real perks. Unlike Eve, Jesus didn’t lose his perspective – and he didn’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

But this pattern of being tempted with things that seem right, with things that look good is actually quite dangerous for us.

We tell ourselves that we’re reasonably switched on, that we have street smarts.

That we’ve done our homework in checking out whatever is being offered to us and it looks good – at least, it doesn’t look like it’ll be BAD for us.

So we go ahead, we agree – without necessarily thinking about the big picture from God’s perspective.

And that’s the catch – because we think that temptation involves getting us to knowingly do something that takes us to the dark side, something that we know is wrong.

We feel like it’s about knowing the difference between right and wrong – and choosing what is right.

But temptation in real life, as we saw in both of the stories, is less about spotting right and wrong, and more about choosing what is right over what is almost right.

Until next time, blue skies!

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