The Devil's in the Details: The End Doesn't Justify the Means
Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, two names that dominated baseball in the 1990s. One among the best pitchers of his generation, the other the all-time home run leader in baseball. For the fifth consecutive year they have both failed to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Their use of performance-enhancing drugs have made them poster-boys for the principle that the ends don’t justify the means. In my previous two posts we considered the temptation of Jesus, and how the devil is in the details. We explored the purpose of our privilege, and reflected on the fact that we are here to serve, not to be served. In this final post dealing with Jesus’s temptation by Satan, I would like for us to think about a lie that the devil has been hawking since the beginning of time: the ends justify the means.
Deception #3: The ends justify the means
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matt 4:8-10 ESV)
The devil offered Jesus a way to win the kingdoms of the world without the suffering of the cross, and it was within his power to make this offer. The Apostle John writes, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). No doubt we have all been tempted to cheat—at cards, in a ball game, or on our taxes. If a winning hand, a victory in a game, or a lower IRS bill are the goal, then who cares how we get there? But Jesus was after more than the devil could offer, which is why he met Satan’s deception with a final reality.
Reality #3: The ends don’t justify the means
Later in the gospels Jesus asked the question, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:26). It is possible to forfeit so much in achieving victory, that our victory is transformed into defeat. Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus learned this lesson when fighting the Romans in the third century BC. Two of his victories cost him so many men that he lost the war. His experience gave birth to the saying Pyrrhic victory, meaning a victory so costly that it in effect becomes a defeat. Jesus was unwilling to surrender his relationship with the Father to achieve his goal, and for good reason. By embracing the Father’s will, despite the suffering and death involved, he received more than the devil was offering.
At the end of Matthew, the disciples go to a mountain to meet Jesus. The difference between this mountain and the one on which the devil tempted Jesus is that from this mountain Jesus ascends back into heaven. As he departs, Jesus says to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:16-18). Did you catch that? All authority in heaven and on earth. The devil could offer Jesus the world, but Jesus was interested in more than the world as it exists—he was interested in reuniting heaven and earth. The road Satan offers us is often easier, but it never leads to the place God wants us to go.
While there was much in Jesus’s situation that was unique to his person and role as the Son of God, that doesn’t mean that the devil’s strategy will be different when he tries to derail our following of Jesus. Paul understood that, in many ways, our struggle is like that of Jesus, and he suggested that we must look to Jesus for strength in our own time of testing.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:10-12)
If we are going to resist the schemes of the devil, it will only be through strength found in the Lord and his might. The author of Hebrews assures us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). And so when we find ourselves weakened by temptation, we must seek the sympathy and strength of the Savior. As ministers, we must constantly remind those we serve that the devil will use the world to deceive us. We must remind them that we need help.
We need help from the one who refused to feed himself, but fed thousands of others. We need him to remind us that our focus shouldn’t be on ourselves, but on others
We need help from the one who refused to jump from the temple to prove a point, but did plunge himself headlong into the suffering of the cross. We need him to remind us that God does not exist to serve us, but we exist to serve him.
We need help from the one who refused to take the easy road of bowing to Satan, but instead was glorified through his suffering. We need him to remind us that the method we use is just as important as the result we obtain.
May God gives us the wisdom to always choose the reality of the gospel, and a cruciform life, over the deceptions of the devil.