The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. ’” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test. ’” (Luke 4:9-12)
Many of us are fascinated by the supernatural. It is exciting, mysterious, wonderful. But many others in the Western world seem to think that humankind has moved beyond such silliness, evolved to a higher level of reasoning and logic that no longer needs magic or supernatural explanations of things. But does such a worldview really make us happier, better adjusted, better people? I suspect not. There is a sadness in the loss of mystery, the loss of wonder, that has come with scientific rationalism. It is no wonder that films and TV programs about magic and the supernatural are so popular.
It is fascinating that the devil tempted Jesus to perform a supernatural act. He must have known that a magic trick by Jesus would win him fans. He must surely also have known that God was capable of doing just what he suggested to Jesus. Why did the devil tempt Jesus to something that would win him followers? Hasn’t the devil’s aim aways been to divert people away from Jesus? Why did he try to get Jesus to demonstrate the Father’s power and love this way? Wouldn’t that defeat his purpose?
I believe that his strategy was partly exploiting the fascination of people with the supernatural. He knew that the supernatural is the thing that fascinates, as much as the person who makes it happen. Perhaps he hoped that a supernatural display such as he was suggesting would distract people from Jesus the person and put the focus on Jesus the magician. Perhaps he could get people to see Jesus as someone who could perform tricks, give Jesus as reputation as a miracle man, which would hook Jesus into performing even more spectacular things, to keep people’s attention.
Jesus was not taken in by the devil’s scheming, whatever the devil had in mind. Was that because Jesus wasn’t sure if his Father could or would do it, rescue him, that is? Was it because Jesus didn’t believe in the miracles? Hardly! You don’t need to read much of the New Testament to see that Jesus was no stranger to the supernatural. But he tended to play it down rather than play it up. He performed miracles not because they were spectacular, to draw attention to himself (he often encouraged people to not mention that he had miraculously healed them), but usually with some other end in mind. Often it was about simply meeting people’s needs, or relieving their suffering. Sometimes it was to show something about himself or his father.
How are we to respond to the supernatural aspect of our lives as believers? There seem to be two traps that we can fall into and the devil would happily pull us into either of these. One is to become preoccupied with the supernatural, to the extent that it displaces Jesus in our hearts and minds. The other is to dismiss the supernatural in much the same way as the scientific rationalist world around us. This is perhaps the easier trap for doctors to fall into. But it is just as wrong as the other extreme. I see both extremes in the contemporary church. There are those who refuse to even acknowledge the supernatural aspects of our lives as believers. And there are those who seem unwilling sometimes to “come down to earth.”
We need to have the same approach to the supernatural as Jesus. To acknowledge its reality at the same time as avoiding the temptation to become obsessed with it. We need to keep Jesus at the centre of our lives and the practice of our faith. Of course Jesus’ life was supernatural from beginning to end, so to dismiss the supernatural as unreal does not make sense for believers. For Jesus the supernatural was normal, not spectacular, and we perhaps need to think of it in the same way, and not become obsessed with it for its own sake. The devil tempts us to focus on the spectacular, or to dismiss it as fantasy. But we need to keep our focus not on the deeds, but the person of Jesus. The deeds support his claims to his identity, but it is his identity that is most important. We need to keep him at the centre always.
Jesus at the centre of it all.
Jesus at the centre of it all.
From beginning to the end,
It will always be, its always been you,