We are sort of used to shortcuts. There are “in app” or “in game” purchases that give you quick access to items and helps that speed up the game and get you where you want to go much faster. At theme parks, you can purchase extra special tickets that allow you to get to the head of the line for attractions. Signing up for VIP memberships can give you early opportunitities and advance notice to events and sales. People travel to the United States to pay to get medical treatment or tests done rather than wait in line in Canada. Shortcuts are almost everywhere these days.
Jesus is just at the starting line when the devil offers him three shortcuts.
When I looked at Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness this year for my sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, I saw the three temptations detailed in Matthew 4:1-11, as depicting the devil offering Jesus three shortcuts. At this point in the story, Jesus has just been baptised. He has done nothing else, no disciples have been called, no teachings taught, no hearings or miracles performed. He is just at the starting line when the devil offers him three shortcuts. The first, a shortcut to end his personal suffering, using his divine power, by turning the stones into bread. The second, a shortcut to the resurrection to show everyone at the temple he can defeat death. The third, a shortcut to going to all “trouble” of winning over the hearts of all the people and be made “Lord of All” by the devils appointment instead. All shortcuts and all with a cost. All shortcuts, which in the end if taken, would rob the end goal of Jesus’ message of its true power and importance.
The truth of the matter is that all of us are tempted way from the path that Christ has invited us to walk on. A path that ultimately brings us closer to God, and to a place in that “Kingdom of heaven” that he tells us is near. But there are no shortcuts. That is the important lesson that I took from the reading. If Jesus is to truly lead anyone to their place in the kingdom of heaven, into right relationship with God and each other, then he would have to do it by convincing them through his teaching and example. Not by simply exerting his divine power over us. It is a slow, disciple by disciple, person by person, caring and compassionate approach.
When I read the second temptation or shortcut offered, I was reminded of that made for TV stunt in 2012 when that guy jumped from the stratosphere and broke the record for the highest free fall, before opening his parachute and landing safely.
It was watched live all over the world, and made the news around the world. (I also found it creepy that the jump was done over a desert and the sponsor was a red bull that has a slogan that promises to “give you wings.”)
I can almost imagine what would have been the scene at the temple that day.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” – Matthew 4:5-6
There at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus would jump from the highest part and people would yell, point and scream, and then Angels would appear and save him, no parachute required!
Everyone would, of course, want to interview him, and all he would have to say is, “I am the messiah” and they would all say, “Great, you must be the Messiah!” They would all be very impressed. For about a week. Then they would say, “So Jesus, what are you gonna jump from next?”
Jesus message was always meant to be a message that comes to us one person, one heart, at a time. That was always going to be Jesus’ approach and that’s why he so confidently declines each shortcut as it is presented to him. There is no shortcut to inviting people into a life that puts God at the center. And that is the learning I take from this passage from the Bible. There are no shortcuts to faith, to God, or to our place in the kingdom of heaven. There is will be hard times. There will be some suffering along the way. But God’s promise, made to us through Christ, is always there for us and it is unwavering and true.