Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Matthew 4:8-9 (NIV)
This past fall I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. In the message, I shared a handful of stories from my early adult years which were harsh life lessons. I was harassed and threatened on a job because I chose not to join the union. In another job, I repeatedly witnessed government employees breaking the law and others simply choosing not to do their job. They could do so without consequence because they worked for the political machine that had been in control for generations. In yet another experience, I learned the hard way that even a local church can be secretly controlled and manipulated by a powerful and wealthy member.
Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that people easily forget that the Great Story told from Genesis to Revelation is a story of good versus evil. The enemy messes up things for humanity in the Garden of Eden in the opening chapters of the story. The final chapters of the story speak of a final conflict in which evil is vanquished once-and-for-all. In between the two, the conflict is perpetually present.
In today’s chapter, Jesus withdraws to the wilderness for 40 days where He is tempted by the evil one. The Hebrew audience to whom Matthew is focusing his account would have been reminded of the 40 years of wilderness wanderings of their own people (recorded in the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) in which they failed the test. The three temptations Jesus faced are, likewise, the same basic temptations that Adam and Eve faced: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.
In the second temptation, the evil one shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” and offers to give them to Jesus. This means that they were his to give.
The harsh life lessons of my young adult years taught me that there is a certain truth about how the world works. No matter how good we like to think we are, there is no escaping the fact that both individuals and institutions in this world are driven by lust and pride. The Great Story makes it very clear that this world is the dominion of the evil one, whom Jesus called “The Prince of this World.” The Prince of this World, and his disciples, set themselves up as anti-God and can always be found lurking to promote darkness, hatred, corruption, chaos, and death. This is why Jesus came in the first place to make a way of light, love, goodness, peace, and eternal life for any who, by faith, believes.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that the kingdoms of this world are still, at this point in time, under the dominion of the Prince of this World. Commerce, politics, and even the institutions of religion will be given to corruption and evil until things are ultimately set right in the climax of this Great Story.
I am equally reminded that Jesus came to exemplify a different way of being and to teach me to live differently in this world as a citizen of a kingdom that is “not of this world.”
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.