Temptation, Maturity and the Goodness of God

By Bob Bradley

Texts: 2 Chronicles 6:12-40, Psalm 107, Psalm 145

—That's a lot of scripture, I know! But this is a very important topic. In fact, it is the failure to have this truth deeply anchored in our hearts that gives Satan much of his leverage in temptations and trials. You'll recall that when the Adversary tempted Eve, the critical issue was not the fact that God had placed this lovely tree with delicious but forbidden fruit right in the middle of the garden—but rather, what was God's intention in so doing? Satan was quick to insinuate to Eve that God was in fact holding out on Adam and Eve.

"And the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' "

In other words, "There is something you deserve—something you need to bring you to your destiny, and God doesn't want you to have it, because He does not have your best interests in mind." And in one form or another, this is always Satan's tactic when he tries to get us to sin or to withdraw from God.

When Jesus was fasting in the desert, Satan came to Him and said, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." There is more here than meets the eye. First, God had spoken clearly just 40 days earlier, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." So, Satan's first subtle allegation is to call into question the truthfulness of God's declaration at Jesus' baptism. And then, there was en even more subtle inference. If Jesus had just fully obeyed His Father in carrying out the 40-day fast, wouldn't you think that the Father would take care of His Son by providing for His hunger after the fast was accomplished? So Satan is saying in effect, "The Father is neglecting you—and it's apparent He expects you to take things in your own hands—that is, if you really are the Son of God."

Jesus" response was, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" Jesus was saying, "The Word of my Father is more important by far than my weakness and hunger. I shall wait until I hear from Him, or until He supplies for me. He does have my best interests in mind. "

The root issue in the temptation of Jesus was Satan's question about the good intentions of His Father. Jesus did not allow Himself to be moved from His conviction of His Father's goodness. And these convictions were not based on anything that Jesus could see. The desert was hot, rugged and barren, and there was nothing to eat within eyesight. Jesus' response to the tempter was based on His deep, unshakeable conviction that His Father could be trusted to meet His need, even if His Father seemed slow in acting.

Jesus' immediate response to Satan in all three temptations was to quote a brief, specific command of scripture that countered the suggestion of the Evil One. But I want to suggest that it was Jesus' deep conviction about His Father's constant good intention toward Him that was the foundation of His submission to the commands of scripture. Jesus could submit Himself to the commands of His Father because He trusted the intentions of His Father's heart—even when his commands seemed very difficult.

The story of our Lord's victory over temptation is not spelled out in scripture to overwhelm or discourage us. We sometimes note how Jesus did not waver, and then we look at our own response to temptation: So often, we waver, bobble, and sometimes just plain crash. And we tend to get discouraged.

But I want to point out two things:

1. His victory over temptation is credited to us (Remember, all His righteousness is credited to us!) when we come to Him in honest confession of our failure, and lift eyes to see Him as our substitute.

2. But there is another, equally important reason that Scripture recounts His temptations and His method of victory: Each of us called to spiritual maturity, and a large part of maturity is learning how to deal with temptations.

Remember John's statement in I John 2:14: "I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one." And also remember what the writer of Hebrews says about temptation: "But solid food belongs to those who are of full age (mature), that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. "

In other words, the mature believer has learned, through many temptations and struggles, to resist the subtleties of Satan and to embrace the will of God. Of course there are stumblings along the way ("Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us" (Hebrews 12:1), but there is an upward progression toward maturity.

As I noted earlier, in order to trust God in the process of temptation, we need to have a growing understanding of the goodness of His heart toward us. Let's now take a look at the three Old Testament scriptures I listed above. The first, found in 2 Chronicles 6:12-40, is Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple. As Solomon begins to pray, the Holy Spirit clearly comes upon him with great power, because in these 28 verses God's goodness and His commitment to hear the prayer of anyone who will seek Him is spelled out with great clarity. And when Solomon concluded his prayer, "Fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of God filled the temple." That supernatural fire and glory was not just to impress the people—it was God's unqualified endorsement of Solomon's prayer! Let's look at what God reveals of His heart toward us.

First, God has no rival in keeping His promises (covenant) and showing mercy to His people (v. 14).

Second, God will accomplish all His purposes through His promises to David. The coming of the Davidic Messianic King, Jesus, is strongly hinted here (vs. 15-16).

Third, God is so great He cannot be contained by the universe itself, and yet He will manifest Himself to men and He will hear the prayer of His servant(s).

God will put His name (the unveiling of His heart and character) in the temple, and will forgive and hear His people when they pray toward the temple (that is, pray with the hope that He answers prayer because of His goodness).

With this introduction, Solomon gets down to the "brass tacks" of God's mercy and goodness. If God's people sin against Him, and He gives them over to their enemies, and they pray and seek His face, He will bring them back to their land and their homes. Again, if they sin against Him, and God withholds the rain, and the people turn from their sin and pray, God will send rain again (vs. 24-27). Now the river of God's mercy gets even wider and deeper. No matter what corrective instrument God uses—famine, pestilence, blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, enemies, plague or sickness, He will answer whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all God's people (vs. 28-30). God's purpose in being so gracious is simply that men might fear (reverentially love) Him, and walk in His ways. Isn't it interesting that we do not really love and fear Him until we have received great forgiveness and mercy from Him?

Note above that God's people first sinned and rebelled, and after that came God's corrective dealings. Then, in the midst of their guilt and trouble, they pray with open hearts, and God forgives them and restores them.

But I can almost hear someone say, "That's great—God is very good and patient with His people. But what about the non-Israelite, the gentile foreigner? Is there any goodness and mercy for him?" At this point Solomon shifts into overdrive. "Moreover, concerning a foreigner who is not of your people Israel, but comes from a far country for the sake of your great name. . . " Solomon calls upon God to do "according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, that all people of the earth may know your name and fear you. . ." To put it simply, God will do for a foreigner, a gentile, everything He will do for one of His own people, and He does it all so that His goodness and readiness to forgive sin may be known throughout the world.

Now, just in case one of His hearers has doubts that God could be so gracious, Solomon repeats the request again: "When they sin against you (for there is no one who does not sin). . ." and Solomon repeats God's promise that He will hear the sincere prayer of repentance and bring the people to their land again (vs. 36-39).

Let's note two things:

1. These promises apply to everyone, because every one of us has sinned, and

2. We are not talking about some "little" sin that requires a wrist-slap.

We are talking about a sin serious enough that the people are removed from their land and taken into captivity. God never imposed this kind of corrective judgment without multiple warnings from His prophets. So it is understood here that the people God forgives and restores to their land are people who thumbed their noses at His prophets many times. Do you feel that your rebellious sin and multiple failures have disqualified you from receiving any further mercy from God? The message of Solomon's prayer is that God is fully willing—even yearning—to give you full restoration.

There is a Biblical principle that when God wants to make a point, He often says it twice. Isn't it interesting that this whole passage is repeated almost verbatim in I Kings 8:22-60? And just to make sure that we understand His heart, a number of psalms spell out God's passion to show Himself gracious.

Psalm 107 is a classic. It starts out by declaring God's mercy to a people who were lost in the wilderness. It goes without saying that when people get lost it is usually because someone has made a stupid mistake, or ignored sound advice, or failed to read a map. But God is gracious to those who make stupid mistakes! The next case raises the ante. We are now dealing with a group of people who are shackled in irons and about to die, because they rebelled against the words of God, and despised the counsel of the Most High. God permits them to get into big trouble, and then He removes any visible source of help.

Finally, the rebellious cry out to the Lord for His help, and rather than saying,"Gotcha baby! You're gonna really squirm now!"—He reaches down and breaks their chains in pieces, and leads them out from under the shadow of death. He "breaks the gates of bronze, and cuts the bars of iron in two." Again, just to make sure we get the point that He forgives blatant rebellion, we are told that "Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted." Now, a fool is someone who has rejected wisdom. When the Bible uses the word "fool" it is talking about someone who rejects the counsel of God. These fools got very sick "and drew near to the gates of death." But when they cried out to the Lord, "He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. "

Next we read about God delivering people from natural calamities. Often, problems with the forces of nature occur because we take unwise risks. Let me briefly tell you a true story of how good God can be to those who do not serve Him. Sir Ernest Shackleton, the great Antarctic explorer, ignored the warnings of veteran whalers and tried to break through the ice pack to the coast of Antarctica in 1914. His ship got trapped in the ice, and later was crushed and sank. Shackleton and his 27 men struggled against impossible odds for nearly two years to return to civilization. Most of Shackleton's men were seasoned explorers, but they were ready to give up numerous times as the ice and the sea seemed to be relentlessly against them.

In a desperate attempt to reach help, Shackleton took five men with him in a 23-foot lifeboat and sailed 800 miles across the wildest seas in the world to a remote island where there was a whaling station. After their incredible sea journey through gigantic waves, they reached the south side of the island. But, because of the contrary currents they could not sail to the other side for help. So Shackleton and two of his men climbed an 11,000-foot mountain range covered with glaciers and crevasses to reach the whaling base. One of the men who climbed with him had the distinct impression several times that there were four men climbing, not three! Ultimately Shackleton and all 27 of his men were saved. Although we have no proof that any of the men were committed believers, it is certain that they prayed for help, and that the Lord sent an angel to guide them over the last perilous part of their trip.

In this case (vs. 23-30), the scripture portrays a terrible storm at sea, and seasoned sailors are in despair, "at their wit's end." Then they cry out to the Lord, and He not only calms the sea, but "He guides them to their desired haven." (Psalm 107;23-32) Be sure to read the rest of the psalm. It is wonderful!

Finally, God's lavish goodness is summarized in Psalm 145, among others. I particularly love verses 14 and 18: "The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down." "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth."

Saturate your heart with these scriptures, and others like them. Dare to confess that God's intention to you is always good, even when temptations and trials multiply.

"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:19)."

" Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12)."

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