From the Word
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
Matthew 4:5–7, RSV
Here Satan held before Christ want and need where there was neither, but where there were already good means by which to descend from the temple without such a newly devised and unnecessary way of descending. Satan here quotes from the Psalter that God commanded the angels to protect the children of God and to carry them on their hands. But Satan like a rogue and cheat fails to quote what follows. The Psalm reads: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” The protection of the angels does not reach farther, according to the command of God, than the ways in which God has commanded us to walk. When we walk in these ways of God, his angels take care of us. But the devil omits to quote “the ways of God” and interprets and applies the protection of the angels to all things, also to that which God has not commanded; then we tempt God. That this temptation was for the purpose of tempting and trying God, the answer of Christ clearly proves, when he says, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
We find many foolhardy people, who risk and endanger the body and life, their property and honor, without any need of doing so, as those who wilfully enter into battle or jump into the water, or gamble for money, or in other ways venture into danger. Good swimmers are likely to drown and good climbers likely to fall. In spiritual matters this temptation is powerful when one has to do with the nourishment, not of the body, but of the soul. Here God holds before us the person and the way, by which the soul can be forever nourished in the richest manner possible, namely, by Christ, the Saviour. But everybody seeks another way to help his soul. The real guilty ones are those who would be saved through their own work; these the devil sets conspicuously on the top of the temple. He persuades them through the Scriptures to believe that the angels will protect them in their way and that their works and faith are pleasing to God. They do not care how falsely they explain the Scriptures.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 70–71.
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