Thursday, February 9, 2023

Playing Super Mario Brothers With the Devil

Suggested Reading: Matthew 4:1-11

When the original Nintendo Entertainment System came out, like millions of other people, our family bought one and I became really good at playing Super Mario Bros. At the end of level 1-2, the player faced a choice: go to the next level, or warp directly to levels 2, 3, or 4. When I first started playing I would always warp to level 4 because I could get to the end of the game faster. Eventually, though, I discovered that if I went to level 3 instead, there was a particular spot where I could rack up hundreds of lives and had a better chance of actually winning the game once I got to the end. If I took the biggest shortcut, I could get to the end faster. But if I took the slightly longer route I was more likely to win the game. Once I decided my goal was to win the game and not simply to get to the end, I started going the slightly longer route every time.

At the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he also faced the choice of taking a shortcut or going the longer route. When he was tempted by the devil, the devil's second and third temptations both contained shortcuts to what the devil thought was Jesus'goal. Notice how these temptations played out:  first, the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone. ’”  and second,  the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me" (Matthew 4:5-6, 8-9, NLT).  Both of these were shortcuts to fame and power. If Jesus had jumped off the highest point of the temple and was caught by angels, people would have seen Jesus and likely proclaimed him the Messiah because he had come from the sky, carried by angels. If Jesus had worshipped the devil in order to gain control of all the kingdom's of the world (I'm not certain the devil could legitimately offer that), Jesus could have imposed his will on the population of the world.

But the devil missed one crucial detail: Jesus's goal was not to take over the world but rather to win over the world through his death on the cross. Yes, eventually the world will bow before him while every tongue proclaims he is Lord. But the process by which that happens was just as important as the end result. In fact, without the process of suffering and dying on the cross, Jesus could "take over" the world but we could never be with him the way he wants.

The next time you are tempted to take a shortcut through life, take a look at your goals. Shortcuts are great for getting you to the end faster, but if the shortcut undermines your ultimate goal, if it causes you to miss something vital for the future, beware. Such shortcuts often see our goals cut short.

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