The Beatitude of the Steadfast

Thomas Jefferson said, “The goal of life is the avoidance of pain.” I suppose that if Jefferson were to issue a beatitude of his own it would be something akin to, “Blessed is the man who escapes every difficulty and hardship in life.” Jeffersonian Christianity is a far cry from the Christianity James presents in this epistle. James has already shown the paradox of pain: a Christian should rejoice in the midst of trials (vs.2-4). This is contrary to everything within man who would rather escape the trials of life.

James shifts gears in verse 12 to move from trials in which Christians are to rejoice to temptations Christians are to reject. Just as trials (pain) is unavoidable, so too is temptation. So what do we do and who is to blame for temptation? James makes it abundantly clear what Christians are to do when faced with temptation as well as the origin of temptations.

James 1.12-15 (ESV)

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

The Beatitude of the Steadfast (v.12). “Trials” (Gk. peirasmon) has a broad meaning. On the one hand, it carries the meaning of temptation or solicitation to sin (i.e. temptations). On the other hand, it carries the meaning of afflictions from persecution (i.e. trials). These Greek speaking Jewish Christians would have known and identified this. This is important to note since it has bearing upon the present passage. God does allow and cause “trials of various kinds” to come upon His children to test the genuineness of their faith. However, God, who is free from any and every evil thing, does not and cannot tempt His children to sin.

We’ve already seen the exhortation to remain steadfast in trials. The other meaning seems to be in view here: remain steadfast in the midst of temptations. This is a different kind of test which comes upon the child of God not from God but from within (desires) and without (Satan). There is a blessing attached to being steadfast under temptation, namely, a crown of life.

This verse is strikingly similar to the words of Jesus in Revelation 2.10. The point for these Christians and even reaching to Christians today is that faithfulness to God will result in life – eternal life! Note this progression: pressure (or temptation) comes, steadfastness works its full effect, life is bestowed by God. Life is bestowed on the lover of God by the life-giving God. Love for God is the best motivator to steadfastness in temptations. 

Some will fail the testing of their faith; they will give into temptation and sin. There is no blessing attached to failure. Rather, blessing or congratulations is given by God to the one who remains steadfast in temptation. How many give in to the temptation and do not allow steadfastness to finish its work? James, knowing that there would be those who fail the test from the trials, goes on to explain that those who fail have only one person to blame: self.

Theory 1: God made me do it (v.13). This is the excuse, even the heresy, that is as old as time. From the beginning, man has been trying to blame God for temptation and (ultimately) sin. Man is prone to ascribe authorship of temptation to God. Adam tried it in the Garden of Eden: “The woman You gave me…” Do we not even hear this today? “I can’t help it; God made me this way!” James dismisses this theory outright with a firm, “No, He didn’t!” Do not say that “I am being tempted by God.” The participle used here is passive, meaning the temptation is from without, in this case from (Gk. apo) God.

The reason you do not say that is because 1) God cannot be tempted, and 2) God tempts no one. First, God is “untemptable” ( Gk. apeirastos).  We frail children of dust have a difficult time wrapping our minds around this concept since we are constantly bombarded with temptations to sin. Balaam, in his second oracle, best explains this when he says “God is not man” (Num 23.19). God is of an altogether different nature and therefore stands outside of temptation. God’s whole nature is for good (v.16) not evil and thus evil has no appeal to Him.

Second, James says God tempts no man. How can James say that God “tempts” (or tests) no one? Doesn’t he remember Abraham and how God “tempted” (same word as here in Greek) him (Gen 22.1)? Surely he does since he references that well known story in Jewish theology (see 2.21). And if that isn’t enough, the writer of Hebrews says that Abraham was “tested” (same word used here) when he offered up Isaac. What’s the key?

James offers us the explanation in the description of the nature of temptation: when God “tested” Abraham, Abraham was not “lured” or “enticed” with a desire within himself. For it to be a temptation it must stem from the heart of man. Since this test had its origin in God it was a test of obedience for Abraham to God even when faced with the unthinkable. The other thing to consider is who is being informed about obedience in the Abrahamic episode. Does the all-knowing God who declares the end from the beginning need to be informed about obedience or does Abraham need to learn about obedience? And in turn, are we also not informed about obedience when we read this Abrahamic episode? So while God may test men concerning obedience, James can say that God tempts no man because temptation lies in the desires of man.

Theory 2: The Devil made me do it. It was Flip Wilson who popularized this motto in modern times. But in his explanation of the true nature and genesis of sin, James also by implication deals with this theory. While the devil may tempt people, manipulating and distorting our desires through lies, he does not and cannot force someone to sin. This seem to be in back of the words “lured” and “enticed” – Satan can bait the hook and use it, but it is man who bites! Really, though, the lies of the devil are not appealing until man begins to believe them. That’s the point of James – temptation begins with man.

Theory 3: I made me do it (v.14-15). James explains that temptation begins in the heart of man with his own “desires” (Gk. epithumias). Desires can be either good (Phil 1.23) or evil (here, Rom 7.7). The two words used by James to describe this process in temptation carry two different metaphors: “lured” we would recognize as a fishing term, as when a fish is taken from the water with the hook sunk deep in his gullet; “enticed” is a word which is connected with a seductress who would try to seduce a man to illicit sexual conduct. Both of these verbs are passive voice meaning that something is being to us is the luring and enticing. As mentioned above, we’ve bought into the lie presented to us. It’s as old as Eden – “You will not surely die.” The lie is then made our own when the bad thing begins to look good. Then we bite.

As there was a progression toward life (pressure to steadfastness to life) so there is a progression toward death here: desire breeds in the heart of man, he is lured to sin, and death results (desire to sin to death). The language used by James to describe this is quite bold and graphic: the desire which this person has conceives when the will yields to lust rather than yielding to God. This impregnated desire “gives birth” to sin when will and action are coupled and the desire is gratified. The sin grows and matures by repeated indulgence of the desire and then it “brings forth” its own spawn: death. Sin kills, mortifies; if not met with prayerful resistance and the power of God, spiritual death will result.

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The Ascension

You may or may not be familar with the illusionist Criss Angel. He has a television program on A&E (Mindfreak) on which he is regular putting his illusionist skills on display for millions to see. Should you watch his show, you will see him perform illusions using cards, coins, and cans. He is famous, though, for his illusions where he walks on water, vanishes in plain day light, and levitations. While interesting and intriguing (one is left asking, “How’d he do that?”), with all due respect, Criss Angel “ain’t got nothing” on Jesus. The ascension of Jesus is not slight of hand or an illusion – He didn’t levitate and then float back down to earth. When He “was carried up to heaven” there were no special tricks; it was the final demonstration of the power of God in the life of Jesus. Luke records the ascension not only at the of his gospel account (24.50-53), but also in his second volume, Acts. He is the New Testament writer who gives the most attention and detail to this final event in the life of Jesus. In fact, Mark and John give only brief mention of it and Matthew does not devote any of his gospel narrative to the ascension. Conversely, Luke is also the writer who gives none of the meetings between Jesus and His disciples “in Galilee” which Matthew, Mark, and John give. Nevertheless,  here, at the close Luke’s gospel, is a very precious offering of sacred history concerning our Lord’s ascension back to the Father.

The Eulogy

It has been forty days since the resurrection (Acts 1.3). This is not Easter Sunday! This is forty days after that first Sunday when the tomb was found empty. First, Jesus takes His disciples to Bethany. “Bethany was on the eastern declivity of the Mount of Olives” (Barnes) and therefore, once the Lord was taken up, the disciples would return to Jerusalem “from the mount called Olivet” (Acts 1.12). Bethany means “house of sorrow” or “affliction.” This is a key villiage in the life of Jesus; He often frequented there since this was the hometown of his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. One writer says it was probably from “the remoter uplands which lie above the city” from which Jesus, in full view of His disciples, made His depature.

Before the actual ascension, though, Jesus has one final thing He desires to do with and for His disciples: bless them. Like Jacob (and the other patriarchs) of old (Gen 48.8-20; 49), Jesus lifted up his hands to bless them. Like Aaron the high priest (Lev 9.22), Jesus, the High Priest of the new covenant, lifts His hands and blesses His people. Some commentators think that also inherent in the act of lifting the hands was the intent to lay them on their heads. Perhaps, but the text is silent concerning this. This blessing is the assurance of favor, even the favor of God. When Jesus blesses His disciples, that is what He is communicating to them.

The Embarkment

As He expressing the divine favor upon them, “he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” That is, He intentionally separated Himself from them and stood apart from them. Then he was taken up, lifted. The language is very passive, as if this were something being done to Him rather than by Him. In Acts, Luke further records that a cloud comes and acts as a chariot escorting the King into the throne room of God and out of the sight of men’s eyes.

One wonders what it was like once Jesus was gone. “And just like that he was gone.” That’s it? Now what? In Acts, Luke records the angelic testimony that one day, just He left, Jesus is coming back. And so the disciples will wait do what Jesus said to do (Luke 24.49; Acts 1.8) and wait in the city for the promise to be fulfilled.

The Exultation

In the meantime, life must go on. The first thing the disciples do is worship Jesus. Do not overlook this too quickly for its theological significance is huge. The only Being worthy of worship is God – this is the testimony of Scripture (Ex 20.3-4; Deut 5.8-10; 6.13-15), Jesus (Matt 4.10; Luke 4.8), and angels (Rev 19.10; 22.9). Only God is to be worshipped and yet Jesus is worshipped and it is acceptable. Why? Jesus Christ is God. Those who rob of Him of this do not serve the same Jesus the apostles knew. Everything they had experienced with the crucifixion, resurrection, and, now, the ascension testified to them that Jesus is God. And so they worship Him as God.

Once worship is over, they go back into Jerusalem to wait for the promised Holy Spirit to come. But the attitude and atmosphere is different. They are now joyous, full of joy because of what had just happened. This has been a common theme in Luke (1.4; 2.10; 8.13; 10.17; 15.7, 10; 24.41). There is no grief, though it might have been present inasmuch as Jesus, their friend and Teacher is gone. But whatever grief could have been is swallowed up in joy.

While in Jerusalem, they frequent the temple to engage in “blessing God.” Regularly, perhaps even daily, these disciples made trips to the temple to praise God. Fittingly, Luke concludes his narrative where it all began: in the temple. From Zechariah’s fearful encounter with an angel to the disciples faithful exulations to the Almighty, Luke brings us full circle concerning the “narrative” compiled from “eyewitnesses and ministers” of “the things [we] have been taught” concerning the man named Jesus.