Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jesus Path of Holiness

We cannot understand the holiness and ingrained virtue in Jesus without carefully examining those forty days of temptation in the wilderness. In that single event we see a lifetime of practiced virtue coming to the fore. Throughout those forty days Jesus fasted from food so that he could all the more fully enter the divine feast. Then, when his spiritual forces were at their maximum, God allowed the Evil One to come to him with three great temptations-- temptations that Jesus undoubtedly had dealt with more than once in the carpentry shop and that he would face again throughout his ministry as a rabbi. Yet these were not just personal temptations: they were temptation for Jesus to access for his own use the three most prominent social institutions of the day-- economic, religious, political.

Economic Holiness
The economic temptation was for Jesus to turn stones into bread (Matt. 4:1-4). This was more than a taunt to ease private hunger pangs; it was a temptation to become a glorious miracle baker and provide "wonder bread" for the masses. But Jesus knew how short-lived all such solutions are and rejected the live-by-bread-alone option: "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matt. 4:4)

Religious Holiness
The religious temptation was for Jesus to leap from the pinnacle of the temple and, by having angels catch him in mid-flight, receive God's stamp of approval on his ministry. Divine certification inside the sacred boundaries of temple territory would surely have guaranteed the fervent support of the priestly hierarchy. But Jesus saw the temptation for what it was, and he directly confronted institutionalized religion-- not only here in the wilderness but throughout his ministry, wherever and whenever it became idolatrous or oppressed the faithful. He knew that in his person "something greater than the temple is here." (Matt. 12:6)

Political Holiness
The political temptation was the promise of "all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor" in exchange for Jesus' own soul (Matt. 4:8-10). This mountain temptation represented the possibility of worldwide political power-- not only coercive force, but also the glory and acclaim of sitting on the world's highest pinnacle of influence and status. It was a temptation that fit perfectly the messianic hopes of the day for a Savior who would cast off the oppressive Roman occupation. But Jesus knew that domination and force were not God's ways. He rejected coercive structures because he intended to demonstrate a new kind of power, a new way of ruling. Serving, suffering, dying-- these were Jesus' messianic forms of power.

In those forty days in the wilderness Jesus rejected the popular Jewish hope for a Messiah who would feed the poor, bask in miraculous heavenly approval, and shuck off oppressive nations. And he undercut the leverage of the three great social institutions of his day (and of ours)-- exploitative economics, manipulative religion, and coercive politics. What we see in those forty crucial days is someone who understood with clarity the way of God and who had the internal resources to live in that way, instinctively and without reservation.

-Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water
Summarizing a chapter of Donald Kraybill's The Upside Down Kingdom

Economic, religious or political solutions without God's will directed by love will never meet human need.

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