We’ve had a tradition in our home over the past several years when we pack up the Christmas decorations to leave a few twinkle lights up with the greenery on top of the cabinets in our kitchen. We leave them up through the month of January and this seems to help dispense some of the darkness of winter and brighten the mood.
This past December when I put up those lights I decided to upgrade to LED technology, believing these “light emitting diodes” would use less energy, thereby cost less to burn and last longer. However, when my wife came home from work and saw the upgrade she said she didn’t like the LED lights. They were “too bright” and not “warm” enough.
To be honest I practiced some selective hearing with this comment, thinking she would get used to them, and all would be well. But I noticed, over time, that she did not often turn the lights on and remained set in her thinking. So, I decided to change them out for more traditional twinkle lights one day while she was away, and then sit back to see how long it might take for her to notice the change. How long did it take? The first thing she said upon coming home was “thanks for changing the lights, those are much warmer.”
Can you tell the difference between LED and incandescent light? Do you easily distinguish “warm” light from light that is too bright or less welcoming? How about this: Can you easily distinguish between the One who is the Light of the World and the Evil One who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14)?
While the gospel of John most fully develops the theme of light and darkness in its presentation of the Good News, Matthew’s gospel also draws our attention to this contrast. Quoting from Isaiah 9 in Mt. 4:16, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light”, and then carrying that thought forward in Mt. 5:14 where Jesus says, “you are the light of the world”; this gospel writer prepares us for Jesus shining his “kingdom light” into the darkness of a world broken by sin.
The confrontation comes on the heels of Jesus’ baptism, a Trinitarian moment when God is present at the Jordan River – Son being baptized, Spirit descending as a dove, and Father speaking words of blessing: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17). Post baptism Jesus is “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt 4:1). Have you ever wondered why? Why does Jesus go to the wilderness for this time of testing?
Matthew would have us understand this is Jesus’ further identification with Israel and with us. Just as Israel had its own wilderness experience of testing during it’s 40 years of Exodus wandering, Jesus has another fulfillment experience of God’s covenant with Israel by enduring a 40 day test. But his identification is not just with the nation, it is also with the individual. Most of us have experienced a “wilderness time” in our life. We have a Savior who, in his humanity, has faced similar testing.
Let me come back to the theme of “light” and difference in kinds of light. When Satan test Jesus’ with his three temptations in the wilderness, he is acting as the “angel of light” Paul writes about in 2 Cor. 11:14. Each of these temptations is presented in the best light possible.
- To a hungry Jesus, coming off a 40 day fast, Satan says: You can turn those stones to bread. In other words, God wouldn’t want you to suffer hunger.
- He follows that up with a test that’s about power and authority. Throw yourself down from the height of the temple and see how the angels respond to protect you.
- Then, the test of allegiance, seasoned with the promise of all the world’s splendor: You can have all of this, just bow down and worship me.
We do a disservice to the devil’s cunning and craftiness if we think tests only come in dark and dirty forms. Most of the tests of our character and our faith identity will be compromises “disguised” in the best light, designed to open cracks and crevices in the armor of our faith, ever so slowly moving us away from kingdom ways. Satan is even acquainted with Scripture and manipulates verses from Psalm 91 in his testing of Jesus with the promise of angelic protection.
So, what’s the application of this passage to our own faith and, at times, wilderness journey? What can we learn from Jesus’ withstanding of the tests and apply to our lives? Let me suggest the following three points:
- Being God’s Beloved Does Not Equal an Easy Life
- This is true for us (the beloved of God) as well. Meaning and growth often arise from times of struggle. Wilderness seasons can yield strength and deepen faith. Jesus didn’t resist the Spirit’s leading to the wilderness, but learned and grew from it. In a broken and sinful world we will face testing.
- Jesus withstands the tests with the Truth of Scripture (so can we)
- Each time Satan tests Jesus, Jesus responds with Scripture. All of these quotes come from the Deuteronomy 6-8, a section of the Old Testament that recounts Israel’s wilderness tests. Jesus knows this story. We would be better served to know and recite the promises of God found in Scripture than the half-truths and empty cliches we so often use and hear when life gets hard.
- Jesus proclaims and lives within the Kingdom of Light
- In Matthew 4:12-17 we see Jesus moving out of the wilderness to Galilee. He will spend the majority of his ministry in this region. Matthew wants us to know this as another fulfillment of scripture. Galilee was a fairly densely populated region with over 200 villages, surrounded on three sides by Gentile communities. It may be surprising to find the “King of the Jews” there, but he isn’t just the King of the Jews, is he? His kingdom light is for all people, including you.
Jesus, the Messiah of all people, is the king who brings the true light into the world. He shines that light on a people who sat/sit in darkness. It’s the light of the kingdom of God, the light of King Jesus, confronting, driving out darkness, and showing us what true light (kingdom light) is all about. We are invited to live in this light.
What kind of light will we choose to live in? Pay attention to? Surround ourselves with? May your week be filled with the light of Christ!