Tempting God

Lent 1 Wednesday

Matthew 4:5-7

“Then the devil took him with 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 over you and they will bear you on their hands lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Then Jesus said to him: “Again, it is also written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’””

The second temptation is contrary to the first and is its opposite. The second takes place when the devil teaches us to tempt God, as he here tells Christ to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, although this was not necessary since there certainly were solid stairs on which he could have come down from there…This temptation well follows the first one. For where the devil senses a heart that trusts God in deprivation and need, he soon ceases to tempt it by the belly and greed, thinking: “Wait, if you want to be completely spiritual and pure, I will help you toward this goal.” The devil then goes ahead and makes his attempt on the other side, urging them to believe where God has not commanded us to believe and where he does not want us to believe. E.g., after God has given you bread in the house, as he does every year all over the world, you do not want to eat it, but create deprivation and need for yourself and say: “Indeed, we should believe God. I do not want to eat the bread but wait until God sends me bread from heaven.” See, this would be tempting God, because he does not command us to believe where that which is necessary and one should acquire is at hand. How can you believe where you already have it? Accordingly, you see here that the devil creates deprivation and need for Christ although there is no real deprivation or need, but there is a good way to get down from the temple without the newly made-up and unnecessary throwing oneself down. This is also why he leads Christ on top of the temple, to the Holy City, as the evangelist says, and places him on a holy place. For the devil produces such precious thoughts in man that make him believe he is full of faith and on the right, holy path, while he does not stand in the temple, but only on top of the temple, outside. This means that he is not in the proper holy meaning of faith, but outside of it, in the appearance of true faith. At the same time, he is in the Holy City, that is, such people are found only in Christendom and among the true Christians who hear many sermons about faith. Additionally, the devil adduces verses from Scripture. For such people learn Scripture also by hearing it daily, but they do not get beyond their error and false belief. For here the devil adduces Psalm 91:11, about how God commanded the angels to protect the children of
God and to bear them on their hands. But what the knave does not mention is what is also written there, namely, that the angels should protect God’s children on their ways. For this is how the verse reads: “He has commanded his angels over you that they should protect you on your ways,”etc. This means that the protection of the angels does not go further than the way God has commanded us to walk. When we walk in such ways of God, the angels are to keep an eye on us. But the devil omits God’s way and interprets and applies the protection of the angels to all kinds of things, including that which God has not commanded. This fails and means tempting God.

St. Louis ed., 11:539-541.

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