Our study now transitions from John the baptist to Jesus. Today we start at the beginning of Jesus ministry.
After John baptized Jesus, we’re told that the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1). Mention the devil and half of the modern world checks out. Before you do, please keep in mind that this story is describing, not prescribing (indicative not imperative).
To argue the existence of the devil is to miss the teaching of the story, which is that we will all face a wilderness experience where our true character and faith is tried. It’s a test to see if we are awake. Waking up to new life (higher consciousness/ enlightenment) means we trade in the wide road for a constricted path (Matthew 7:13). The hard way is always a trial compared to the easy way of the masses. The subversive kingdom Jesus is inaugurating comes by not being lulled to sleep via mass transit of the herd .
The Spirit leads Jesus to remote testing grounds where he faces what I will call the three forms of anesthesia. These are:
- The desires (lust) of the flesh. (Turning stone to bread- Luke 4:3)
- The desires of the eyes. (The kingdoms of the world-Luke 4:5)
- The pride of life. (Invincibility/-Luke 4:9)
1 John 2:16 calls these “all that is in the world.” Translated, this means that the governing systems and institutions of the world are based in the desire for these things (They were Satan’s to give). Think about it. How much of our world is pulling on the strings of pleasure, status, possessions, fame, luxury or power? From where are the greatest sources of corruption emanating?
Many well meaning pastors and teachers have told us that such desires are bad and to be avoided. I respectfully disagree. Before you join the Amish or begin labeling and hating everything as “worldly”, please consider that the Greek word epithumia (translated as “Lust” or “evil desire”) is actually rendered as “over-desire” or extreme longing.
I teach in my book “Getting Better When You Can’t” that people don’t do bad things, rather we go after good things in bad ways. Desires are not bad, it’s how we fulfill them that shows our true colors.
This means that pleasure, status or possessions are not wrong in and of themselves. They are what they are. However, the over desire of such things means we have been lulled to sleep by their anesthesia. For example, if I want fame so bad that I’ll do anything for it, then I’ve lost my true self (sold my soul) because I’m under the spell (anesthesia) of fame. See? We lose a core part of our humanity when lulled to sleep by over-desiring.
Another way of saying this is that we are deriving our identity (ontology-being) from the desires of the flesh, the eyes, or the pride of life. This can only be a false-self. A self that Thomas Merton says God knows nothing about. The true self is the self given and known by God, the identity offered in the gospel as I showed last week. By finding our identity there, we’re free to fully enjoy all of these things because they don’t define us-God does.
This is precisely the point of this story. Jesus counters the gravitational pull of each form of anesthesia with an adrenalin shot of Truth. His source is the voice or word (rhema) of God. In like manner, we too are awakened by this voice or sound (phoné) that calls us (like Lazarus) to wake up (John 11:43). You want a nice job, car or house? Fine, just don’t ever define yourself by such things. If you think you are what you drive, or you are what you do, or you are where you live, then you are asleep (deceived).
Too often I see Christians vilifying the world. Viewing it as though it’s all evil and under the control of Satan. This is in fact God’s world, and we are called like Lazarus to wake up and come fourth and redeem it, transform it, and ultimately bring heaven and earth together. Unfortunately, the church has made Jesus an evacuation strategy, not the redeemer of the world. Only a kingdom that isn’t engulfed by the the three anesthesias has the power to effect change. It’s not supposed to be a counter culture, but through the renewing of culture. Do not call unclean what God has called good (Acts 10:15).
Hope comes not beyond this world, but through God in the world.
Without this lens, we cannot see this kingdom Jesus is always talking about. We have to actually be awake to see it depicted in scripture as well as to see it playing out in life. I can point it out and you’ll see it, but the lullaby is always playing in the background.
In the coming weeks, I’ll show how Jesus goes after the religious for their ethical violence on people. I’ll show the various institutions from which Jesus is able to separate because he is awake and not lulled into their seductive pattern or power plays. Like his dessert experience we too will follow his pattern in our own lives. We’ll deal with the institutions of our parents, friends, employers, groups, colleges, religions, and our government each in turn. Each institution offering anesthesia that traps and stalls us.
The Gospel is the voice that wakes us up. The starting place of Jesus ministry was tested at his loneliest, hungriest, and most isolated time. It’s the same for us. His clarity and far sightedness set on truth kept him from the short cuts of immediacy. Like him we are all facing the same options and all of life follows this same pattern. Sadly, many of us will just join the rank and file on the superhighway to the lost, sleeping self, but some of us will follow in his footsteps along the path to true life. Will that be you?
We must arouse the sleeping world. May we awake from our anesthesia to this subversive, paradoxical kingdom and may we wake as many as possible.