“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Power. It undoes us. And like a drug, once hooked we crave for more. Whether it is the power of knowledge, of social status, of influence or of wealth, once we have it, we feel naked without it. So our fist grips tighter around it, and our reach extends wider for more, more, more, more. And we tell ourselves that we’ll use our power for good. That if we have more wealth, more influence we’ll use it to build a better world. To force the world to conform to our view of ‘better’.
What a brilliant idea! Now why didn’t God think of that Himself?
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.” Matthew 4:8-9
The Accuser, in knowing he has failed in his first two attempts to throw Jesus off course, is about to use Jesus’ vocation as the saviour and rightful ruler of the world as his last ditch attempt to topple Christ’s resolve. The account in Luke adds an extra layer to this story…
“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Luke 4:5-7
‘It has been given to me’ he says. By whom? Not by God. But by humankind, humankind’s ‘free will’ enslaving itself to the dark. Satan, the Accuser, the father of lies taunts and says that he has dominion, has power, has authority on earth. And he offers it to Jesus the way he took it in the first place, through partial truth and deception.
There have always been, and always will be strings attached to the Accuser’s generous offers, fine-print defining the terms of enslavement. He never gives the full picture and only deals in twisted truths. Behind every promise he makes lie the clinking of chains and the shackles of bondage.
The Satan is offering Jesus yet another short cut, this time a short cut to fulfil His calling, His calling as the rightful King of Israel, and ruler over all the earth (Luke 1: 31-33) (Daniel 7:13-14).
But Jesus knows the battle will not be won this way.
God had called humankind in the beginning to steward the world in partnership with Him, and then He had called Israel to bless the world in partnership with Him. But this Accuser is offering no such thing. He is asking for Jesus’ allegiance to him rather than partnership with God. And he is offering not stewardship or partnership but domination and power. The opposite.
God had never planned to give His son the inheritance of a Kingdom of slaves, but rather a Kingdom of whole free human hearts living in joyous connection with Him, walking with Him, calling on His name, loving Him, freely, wholly, unreservedly. God on the throne of human hearts means human hearts are freed to be fully human, the Imago Dei within. Ruling this world with Him and for Him (Daniel 7:27).
There are things, things embedded in the Imago Dei within us that God respects, trusts, hopes in and holds in hallowed reverence. Not because of who we are but because of who He is, and who He knows we can become in Him. He does not coerce us or manipulate us to choose Him. He only ever invites us, only ever respects us, respects the sacred presence of His own nature in us; our own human volition, our human vocation, our capability for great self sacrificial love, like His. We are ‘chips of the old block’ and God knows this.
Satan knows this too, and he hates it. Dismantling the image of God within humankind is the chief end of Satan’s game. Satan’s proposal to Jesus dashes all respects for human volition and vocation out the window and takes power over all nations and peoples by force. Succumbing to this suggestion would dismantle the Imago Dei humanity of not only Jesus, but every human being under His dominion in this way.
But it would be an easier path, a quicker path, a convenient path. It would be a path with the end result of Jesus ruling over all the world, the end result that in essence is actually already His birthright, His rightful inheritance, His prophesied destiny (Daniel 7:13-14).
It would also be a path without a cross.
But Jesus doesn’t flinch, doesn’t falter, doesn’t fall into the snare.
He chooses the cross.
He chooses you and I.
He chooses God. The one choice underneath all other choices.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Matthew 4:10
Jesus doesn’t argue, doesn’t react. Again He quotes Scripture from Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. His answer comes from Deuteronomy chapter six, verse thirteen.
Preceding this verse is Israel’s ‘Shema’ prayer. A prayer repeated daily by most devout Jews.
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.” Deuteronomy 6:4-6
The one choice underneath all other choices. The love of God.
Underneath all our decisions is just one simple choice: God, or not. God on the throne of the human heart and a life lived in partnership and presence with Him, or something else usurping His place on that throne. The choice between God and everything else is ultimately the only choice we ever make in small ways or big that matters, because it sets the course for the rest of our lives, the trajectory of our path. This is the only choice that makes us; makes us whole or broken, living or dead, alive or slowly dying from the inside out.
God knows this.
Jesus knows this.
“Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Luke 4:8
Immediately preceding this passage from Deuteronomy chapter six Jesus quotes, is a passage where God promises to give Israel a land and a home. A home with Him at the centre.
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you – a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.” Deuteronomy 6:10-13
While God gives gifts of blessing, like a home, a means for a flourishing existence and the gift of life partnering with YHWH in His Kingdom, the Satan offers Jesus this ‘on steroids’ the gift of empire, opulence and domination at the expense of the Imago Dei of humankind. Satan’s offered ‘gift’ is bigger, brighter and more laced with power and prestige than God’s promised gift of His Kingdom to His people, he offers “all the kingdoms of the world” and ‘all their authority and splendour”. God never offered Israel an empire. He offers them a Kingdom of which He ultimately is King. A Kingdom with God at the centre, from which the whole world could be blessed. Not dominated.
‘Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.’ Isaiah 9:7
Jesus’ true vocation ultimately is to rule the world, not the Satan’s way, through domination and control, but God’s way, through blessing; the blessing of justice, righteousness, love and mercy.
And the cost of Satan’s offer? Satan’s gifts will never come at a cost to our convenience, time, comfort, power or wealth. They will always cost us our human souls, our human hearts. The same price as Eve’s rebellion: the dethroning of God in the human heart, the bowing down to another force, another desire, another being. The Accuser Himself. This is the only thing Satan ever really wants because he knows that this is the one thing that breaks everything. That broke everything in that garden long ago.
Without God as the beating heart centre of human existence, human existence breaks down. Like a solar system without a sun we are empty and broken without Him in our core. Our true human hearts were first created in the image of God, created to beat in time with His heart, created to live life with Him in the rhythm. When we discard Him from our beating core, we discard ourselves, the foundation of our humanity.
God has all the power Satan tempted Jesus with and more. He could dominate, He could take the world by force as Satan offered it. But He doesn’t. Instead of coming with an army to control us, He came as a vulnerable human being to woo us, to walk with us, to win us. With love.
In the week before His crucifixion Jesus said,
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” John 12:31-33
Jesus does it God’s way, all the way.
Like God, He respects the Imago Dei within human beings and He will take the promised land not by empire building and power broking, but gently, slowly, quietly, one healed human heart at a time. Through a cross.
All of Jesus’ responses to the Accuser in the wilderness are quotations from Moses as he stood with Israel in their wilderness, just before they entered the promised land.
Jesus stands in the desert sands of time, the desert of Israels’ failure, the desert of all humankind’s desertion of God, and resists. He keeps God at the beating heart centre of who He is. He resists the temptation to reach for anything other than God and His Word. And in dong so this day in this desert, the true promised land was being reclaimed, Satan’s authority was being taken back by Jesus, the Prince of Darkness was about to be driven out, not by might, but by meekness, not by force, but by love. Love for God and allegiance to Him alone. Love for us and commitment to our redemption.
The authority the Satan had offered Jesus, was finally won by Him through the cross…
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:18-19
He won the authority God’s way, through the cross, through the grave, through the restoration of every human soul. Instead of winning us through the power of the world, He won us through the power of love; Love bearing the wounds of the beloved. This is the God who belongs on the throne of our hearts. This God who longs for us to choose Him. Freely. Fully.
Underneath all our decisions is just one simple choice; God, or not. God on the throne of the human heart and a life lived in partnership and presence with Him, or something else usurping His place on that throne. The choice between God and everything else is the only choice we ever make in small ways or big. The only choice that makes us. Makes us whole or broken, living or dead, alive or slowly dying from the inside out.
When God is on the throne of our heart, our heart is ruled by love, Love bearing the scars of our existence on His palms. And that love is all we need to be wholly human and to resist, like Christ, every darkness that breaks and binds us. God on the throne of our human heart means love is on that throne. The kind of love that could turn this darkening world of pain around. A Love that calls our names, whispering, ‘You are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:21-22).
The greatest weapon used against us is ourselves, and the greatest weapon we have in our defence is the intimate knowledge of the love of God, knowing we are loved, dwelling in that love, living from that love. Loving Him in return. Whole heartedly.
The “It is written” Word of God is our defensive weapon against the Accusers darts, but the love of God gives us the confidence to wield it. Love is the iron all our armour is forged in, every shield, every sword, every helmet, every breast plate. Deep personal knowledge of the love of God is the only impregnable defence against the Accuser’s arrows. No theological argument, no religious rite, no human effort or intellect will stand. Only love. His love. His love bearing the wounds of our past, His love holding the hope of our future.
What does it mean for you to have God alone on the throne of your heart?
What stops you from living more fully in His love?
References, Notes and Credits
All Biblical quotations are from the NIV Bible UK version (NIVUK) unless otherwise stated. Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.