40 DAYS: Of Testing (Part 2)
We have spent the last 40 days looking at Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, as a model of where our own journey, be it through Lyme or Lent, should focus. Through Jesus, Moses, and the prophets, we have seen 40 days of preparation for serving their people, 40 days of humility, and now 40 days of testing. Part one examined the faith that we are being tested for – in what do we put our hope and trust? Today we are going to dive into what testing looks like and why it is necessary.
The Testing of the Apostles: It is a Blessing.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4
James said the testing of our faith works to make us “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” Is it not, then, the answer to our prayers for a stronger relationship with God? Don’t we long for more faith and trust so that we can have peace? Isn’t it an awesome gift of God to want to make us perfect? If you are praying to grow in faith, do not be angry or ashamed when things start to go wrong. It is a sign God is answering your prayer.
James said to “count it all joy” when we meet trials. Paul told the persecuted Thessalonians to “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances.” Peter said to rejoice when we share Christ’s suffering. This isn’t just some exercise in positive thinking or denial of our suffering. It is recognition of the truth: “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). This will keep us in God’s care through hard times, instead of spiraling into a depressive pity-party.
What do we do when we have a bad day, when we fall ill, when our plans crumble? We complain. We grieve. And worst, we give Satan all the credit for picking on us: “The Devil is attacking me.” Rather than assuming the role of the victim, take the armor of God first as a victor. "Count it all joy" that God is choosing you as His student of faith, patience, and perfection. "Give thanks" that Jesus protects all who follow him, resting assured that no one will snatch you out of his hand. "Rejoice" in sharing Christ’s suffering and temptations, knowing that you will also share in his mercy, grace, forgiveness, and resurrection.
Start with joy when you are tested. Then instead of having pushed God away in anger, you will have Him there to lean on and help you when you inevitably become weary with the battle.
The Testing of Moses: It is NOT Punishment, but it IS Discipline.
"And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not… Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him."
We just love to look back on the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and judge them for complaining, disobeying, rebelling, and think, “If they’d just listened from the start, they could have saved 40 years in the desert and got to the Promised Land earlier!” We talk of God punishing Moses and his people for disobedience, through various plagues, and an extra 40 years in the desert until they all died off.
There’s a very important distinction, though, that has to be made between punishment and discipline. I like how Chip Ingram puts it: “Whereas the origin of punishment is the frustration of the parent, the origin of discipline is a high motivation for the welfare of the child. And whereas the result of punishment is fear and shame, the result of discipline is security.”
Discipline is a teaching method, for the good of the student. It trains a person in the correct way to operate, while allowing them to suffer the natural consequences that proceed from doing things the wrong way. This allows them to learn, grow, and pass the test.
Punishment is retribution, payback for an offense against an authority that demands respect. It puts the fault and shame squarely on the conscience of the guilty party. And indeed, God demands our fear and respect. Indeed, sin is a shameful thing that God cannot tolerate and thus punishes.
But there is also an extremely important distinction between God’s wrath in the old Mosaic law, and His forgiveness through the new law of Jesus Christ. When Moses and his Israelites disobeyed God, they were punished, as God demanded their respect for His Holiness. The full weight of their sin fell on their shoulders, and on the lives of the sacrificial animals that had to be slaughtered regularly on the altar of the tabernacle.
But here is the greatest news you’ll ever hear: Jesus took our punishment. Jesus took our beating, humiliation, shame, guilt, and death as God’s just wrath against our sins. So never ever do we have to think that when trials and suffering come upon us, that God is punishing us for our sins. My heart breaks thinking of all the hurting people in the world who think they deserve the worst life can throw at them because they have sinned. It is just the opposite. Because Jesus, if you accept him, took your punishment, you can now rest assured that all the trials and tribulations of this life are discipline, the good and loving teaching method, though it may come with sin’s natural consequences. And Paul quoted Proverbs, reminding us that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves.” Your suffering is proof of God’s love! He wants to make you “perfect and complete, lacking nothing”!
Even so, Moses, being part of the generation punished for their disobedience, showed us that God was still loving them the whole time. He did not say that God left them in the wilderness, that God abandoned them to their sin, but he said, “the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness.” God was still in control and still guiding with a loving hand. In Deuteronomy 2:7 God told the people, “For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These 40 years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.” (Emphasis mine.) Even in their punishment, God had the great mercy to bless, know, and fellowship with His people; in their 40 years of wandering, God was still preparing, humbling, disciplining, and empowering His chosen leaders. Moreover, Moses reminded them in Chapter 8, verses 3 and 4: “he… fed you with manna… Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.” Which leads us to our third promise of testing.
The Testing of Jesus: It proves God alone is our Provider.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:1-4
First, notice how it was God, not the devil, who controlled this situation, just as we saw with the apostles and Moses (and you can read it in Job, too.) “Jesus was led up by the Spirit.” Satan is just a tool for temptation, not the driver of your destiny. Don’t give him any credit for the trials in your life; praise God for equipping you with the full armor of God, leading you into battle, and promising victory!
Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness provide an amazing illustration of his humanity, showing that his faith in God also had to be tested. Because humans do not have divine omnipotence, we must learn to completely rely on God for all our provision, 100%. How then could Jesus, being God, know what it is like to fall short with human strength? He laid aside his Divinity in the wilderness. While Satan tempted him to prove that he was God, Jesus responded instead by showing that he was human! Not just a mere human, but one who knew how to obediently use the lessons of scripture, and fully rely on God, not self. He succeeded against temptation where Adam failed, and not by being God, but by being an obedient man.
Jesus could have turned rocks into bread when he was hungry. But he did not. He trusted God as a separate authority, not himself, to provide sustenance, and he quoted the same passage from Moses that we just examined, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna... that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, emphasis mine.) Jesus was saying, “Today, I’m just a man.”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said 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,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:5-7
Jesus could have rescued himself from a plunge off the temple, even had a thrilling magic carpet ride if he wanted to. But he did not. Again, Jesus quoted Moses, who summarized God’s law in Deuteronomy 6:16: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” What happened at Massah? The people complained that they had no water, and God provided it from the rock. Jesus drew from an example of God’s provision where man was tempted to prove God unfaithful.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. Matthew 4:8-11
Jesus could have turned the command around and ordered Satan and all of creation to bow down and worship “the LORD your God,” i.e. himself! But he didn’t. Jesus quoted - you guessed it! - the law of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:13, “It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” He presented himself as a man under the law of Moses, whose duty it was to worship the one true God, rather than claiming to be God himself! What is really striking is the context of the verse in Deuteronomy. Look right before it, at 6:10-12.
“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers... to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.”
God, through Moses, made it very clear that the people had done nothing to acquire the bounty they were about to receive – they did not build, fill, dig, plant, or provide anything that they were getting. God prepared it all for them, if they would just follow. Jesus followed the Mosaic example, humbling himself to a lowly man, taking nothing by his own power, but showing us the blessing and fulfillment that come from obeying God, even when you’re merely human.
The testing of Jesus’s faith also reiterates the point that discipline is not punishment. He had not yet taken on our sins, and was not punished for them until the cross. His testing, therefore, was not punishment, but discipline – training and guidance on how to be obedient, how to be a leader of humanity, and how to prepare for the ultimate test of humiliation and sacrifice.
The Testing of Lyme: God’s Faithfulness Never Changes
My time with Lyme, and perhaps your experience with COVID-19 quarantine, is indeed a time of harsh discipline and testing. Over and over I have hit rock bottom, physically and mentally. And over and over God proves His faithfulness to me, just as He has for thousands of years to the prophets and Jesus. When I cry out, “I can’t do this anymore! I don’t want to do this anymore! I won’t do this anymore!” God whispers back, “You don’t have to. I will do it.”
My lack of faith has been exposed again and again. When scheduling conflicts or pandemics have shuttered my doctor’s office, I find that I am trusting her work for my healing, not God. When my medications and supplements are out of stock, I have to admit I was relying on them to alleviate my symptoms, not God. When the CDC and FDA shift positions and their guidelines contradict all my, my peers’, and my doctors’ experiences, I’m convicted of my trust in government over God. When the ancient wisdom of Creation proves true, and the “scientific” authorities bury the studies and deny essential elements of nutrition, health, and immunity, I’m forced to choose between man’s science and God’s good and perfect gifts.
When I face the fact that this disease has changed my life, and I will never fulfill my old hopes and dreams, I am forced to answer the question: Do I trust God, and God alone, with my life? Did I really put my destiny in His hands to work His will, or was it always about my desires Will I really find joy in doing His work, not mine?
When each new trial comes – the secondary infections, the PTSD, the anger and hurt, the life decisions, the conflicts – I am trying as quickly as I can to stop the grief in its tracks and say, “Thank you, God.” Thank You that You have not healed me yet, but have chosen me to keep in Your school of faith. Thank You that You are showing me modern-day miracles in Your provision when the numbers don’t add up, when my energy fails, when my medicines don’t arrive. Thank You for showing me always that when I am weakest, You are strongest.
Whatever your trial, be it Lyme, coronavirus, cancer, unemployment, trauma, or betrayal, 40 days or 40 years, let it test you: do you know God? Do you trust Him to provide? Do you rest in the knowledge that no matter what happens on this Earth, you have a secure and eternal life waiting in Heaven? Is His grace sufficient for you?