And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:5-7)You recognize this as Satan’s temptation of the Lord Jesus. Isn’t it interesting that Satan says that all the power and glory of the kingdoms of the world,“has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will”?
Is this simply a lie? It surely seems like it. In almost the same language, we read that “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32). This accords with many other Scriptures.
Or is some bestowal of earthly power delegated to Satan, “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), in whose power the world lies (1 John 5:19)?
Or is it a half-truth: Satan gives it, but it isn’t to whomever he pleases?
I actually think these questions are beside the point of the passage. What is interesting to me is that the Lord does not contradict Satan’s claim.
Now, I don’t take that in itself to constitute an affirmation or a denial. I take it to mean that it doesn’t matter to Jesus. It doesn’t matter whether or not Satan can deliver on his promise.
Jesus simply refuses, flat-out. No Sale.
And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:8)Do you see what a devastating rejection this is? Had Jesus said, “It isn't yours to give,” His refusal might have seemed ambiguous. That is, some (— Satan, for instance) might have imagined that His refusal hinged on Satan’s inability to “deliver.” But (some might foolishly have imagined) if Satan could have delivered on his promise, then he might have been able to close the deal with Jesus.
But Jesus’ rejection is more sweeping and categorical. He does not even take up the question or whether or not this power and glory was Satan’s to give. It simply does not matter to Him. Whether or not he is offering what only God can offer, Satan is in fact demanding what only God can demand: worship.
To Jesus, doesn’t matter whether it “works,” in the short run. What matters is that it is not of God. It puts God out of place. God is the all-glorious center, acme, pillar, ground, summum bonum and sine qua non of the universe. Nothing is worth more than He.
Is there any lesson for us in this?
Of the many applications of our Lord’s example, I take this: we need to give up the all-consuming idolatry of pragmatism, of what Works. We’ve become addicted to what makes us feel better now, feel happier now, feel more powerful now; to what gives us our best life now; to what makes us look cooler, seem "edgier," be more popular, have a larger church. Whether in youth ministry, general pastoral ministry, marriage, business, politics — when we get bitten by the pragmatic bug, we’re bitten.
Then gradually, we care less about what tends to God’s glory, and more about what tends to ours.
And we find ourselves open to the world’s oldest sales-pitch…
…if we think it might Work.