Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
“Live without fear; walk in faith.” These are good watch words for all Christians, but we need to understand them correctly. As we are facing the COVID-19 pandemic, we hear some Christians saying that living without fear and walking in faith means acting as if nothing is wrong. According to this mindset, practicing self-quarantine and social distancing are signs of fear and lack of faith. After all, shouldn’t Christians face times like this with boldness, trusting in God’s protection? Isn’t it a sign of strong faith to show up for worship on Sunday?
In a word: “No!”
The gospels tell us that Jesus was tempted in the desert in the weeks before his ministry began. One of those temptations was that Jesus should jump off the temple because scripture said that God wouldn’t allow him to come to harm. Imagine how this kind of stunt could have jump-started Jesus’ ministry! To jump off the temple and be caught by angels would be a spectacle that would earn him an instant following. More than this, wouldn’t it seem like a good thing for Jesus to prove his faith in such an extreme way before beginning his ministry? The tempter certainly seems to have thought so.
Jesus didn’t take the bait. Yes, he knew that Psalm 91 said that God would protect him. But he also knew that Deuteronomy 6:16 instructed that we should not put the Lord our God to the test. Rather than testing his faith by putting himself in harm’s way, Jesus practiced wisdom and stepped away from the edge. It’s important to note here that Jesus was not a coward in taking this course of action. The rest of his ministry shows Jesus to be strong, courageous, and full of faith. He wasn’t afraid to face adversity when his ministry called for it. But that wasn’t the case when the tempter took him to the top of the temple. The true test of Jesus’ faith here wasn’t to jump, but instead to be confident enough in his relationship with God to walk away.
Yes, we Christians are called to live without fear. Yet, we are also called to walk in wisdom. To put ourselves at risk to prove our faith is to put the Lord our God to the test. In a moment like this, the call is to walk in wisdom and be good neighbors. To be faithful in this moment means that we heed the instructions we are receiving about keeping ourselves safe and slowing the spread of the virus in our community.
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