The Second Temptation
By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you,' and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' " 7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " (Matthew 4:5-7 NRSV)

* * *

Last week we heard about the First Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
Satan came to Jesus, in the midst of his 40-day fast, and said:

“See those rocks? In the dark, they kind of look like loaves of bread, don’t they?
Why don’t you just transform them into bread and eat!
Don’t go hungry!
If you really are the Son of God, transform them and EAT!”

This was a real temptation to Sin.
Jesus could have done it!
He could have transformed those rocks into loaves of bread
He COULD have done it!
But, in so doing, he would have been falling to the First Temptation.

The First Temptation that any of us face,
my friends,
is the temptation to depend ONLY upon ourselves,
and upon our own abilities to see ourselves through this life.
The First Temptation is to pretend as though we don’t need God,
to pretend as though we can be fully self-sufficient,
without need for the Holy Presence of Jesus in our lives.
The First Temptation is to ignore the Word of God,
and try to make it in this life on our own,
as if there were NO Almighty Creator.

This is the First Temptation,
and it was the Temptation that Satan threw into Jesus’ path
in the midst of his fasting and praying.

“Don’t turn to God, Jesus ... if you really ARE the Son of God,
just turn the loaves into bread and eat!
Take care of yourself!!!!!!”

Jesus’ response to the First Temptation should be our response, too:
Jesus quoted from the Scriptures:

“Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

One of the things that makes this temptation so very EVIL is that
IF one abides by our Lord’s response to it,
IF one depends upon “every word that comes from the mouth of God”
Then one can expect Satan to attack precisely there ...
with a perversion of Scripture and
The Second Temptation.

Would you pray with me?

Almighty God, move among us this day so that we, your people, might always feel and sense your Divine power and presence, for we need to know that we are never alone. And speak to us today in such a way that we may always hear, understand, and remember, give us your Word by which you mold and shape our living. For we need your word to live eternally. In Jesus' Name we Pray.

Hear these words again!

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”

The Second Temptation follows directly upon the heels of the First Temptation.
It picks up precisely where the First Temptation left off,
and, indeed, with our Lord’s very response and defeat of the
First Temptation.
That should, in and of itself, tell us that the Devil is tenacious ...
He doesn’t give up easily.

“Okay, Jesus” says the devil,
“If you REALLY want to depend upon the Word of God,
If you REALLY ARE the Son of God,
If you REALLY have Faith,
Then prove it!
Throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the Temple
and, if your faith is true,
Angels will catch you!
Come on, test God! God says that He will protect you with angels,
so go ahead, prove it and throw yourself off the pinnacle!”

It’s a temptation we face every day, my friends.
The Second Temptation is very evil, indeed, for it, at first,
doesn’t appear to be a true temptation!
After all, Satan is quoting the Bible to us!
The Bible gives us a promise!
Shouldn’t we prove it!?

My friends ... The Second Temptation is so subtle that most people miss it ...
And, yet, it is so obviously evil!
Put simply, the Second Temptation is to take the Holy Word of God and
twist it,
misuse it
manipulate it to make it mean something that it manifestly does NOT mean!
The Second Temptation is to misquote scripture to get your OWN way,
and not God’s way!

Oh, it’s a VERY tempting temptation, isn’t it?
How many times have I picked up God’s word and thumbed through it,
looking for a justification for something that *I* want to do???
How many times have you searched the Bible for a text to support
what YOU want to believe or do,
and not what God wants us to believe or do?

The desire to misuse the Bible to get our own way is a powerful temptation,
my friends,
and we deny that such is the case at our own peril!
For falling to the Second Temptation can lead us to the falling
to the Third Temptation!

We Deny the power of the Second Temptation at our own peril,
my friends,
for at it’s fundamental root is a deep-seated desire
to manipulate not only the Bible,
Indeed, it’s a fundamental desire to manipulate God!

We fall to the Second Temptation,
when we take the Bible and try to make God abide by OUR
understanding of it!
We try to manipulate God into doing what WE want Him to do,
rather than depending upon God’s Will for US!
By twisting the Scriptures to make them say what WE want
we flirt with disaster!

Look at how Satan did it!
he took a wonderful Psalm of the Lord,
one of my favorite Psalms!
The 91st Psalm,
and he interpreted it as saying “The angels will catch you
if you throw yourself off the temple!
Now prove it!”
But the 91st Psalm doesn’t say that, does it???
No, it doesn’t!
The 91st Psalm DOES promise us that,
when we are dwelling in the Shelter of the Most High,
when we are walking the path God has laid out for us,
we have nothing to fear from the stumbling blocks
for there are Angels to catch us when we stumble,
and keep us from falling!
We are promised that, if we abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
we will never fall from the Love of God!

The 91st Psalm doesn’t say ANYTHING about throwing ourselves
into foolhardiness,
into temptation
into Sin
into a circumstance beyond the dwelling place of Most High.
When we toss ourselves into such circumstances,
when we try to misinterpret the Scriptures to get our own way,
we mustn’t expect God to abide by our own wishes and desires!
We mustn’t put God to such a test!

Indeed,
That was Jesus’ response!

“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test!”

My friends, the Second Temptation is defeated the SAME WAY the
First Temptation is defeated ...
by turning to the Word of God and allowing IT to test itself.
Jesus defeated the Second Temptation in the wilderness
by confounding Satan’s twisting of the Word
with Scripture itself.
And, in so doing. we truly can see that
not everyone who quotes the Bible to us is our friend!

Satan will come to you this Lenten season,
and tempt you,
he will even quote the Bible to you ...
But just because what He suggests looks like it might have Bible behind it,
don’t fall to the Second Temptation.
Indeed, don’t be tempted to twist the Scriptures,
yourself,
in order to get your own way.
Don’t stumble on the Second Temptation,
for if you do, the Third Temptation WILL catch you!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
--Amen

© 1996, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved