One of the enduring methods of advertising is to show pictures and watch testimonials, the before and after, of people whose lives have been dramatically improved using their remarkable products or services. Most are temptations for a makeover—to lure you into some cosmetic alteration so you will be more attractive, influential or commanding. Whether by suction on the one hand, or enhancement on the other, you are guaranteed to improve your beauty or success. Take this supplement or attend our training and you can be transfigured into a marvel of irresistible good looks and stature. Before and after.

Now, I hesitate to admit being lured into one such scheme. The trainers at my health center were espousing the merits and nutrition and weight loss with a daily regimen, of all things, milkshakes! Buy their specially formulated powder, drink a shake or two everyday as a meal replacement and voila: a new you, more energy and a more wedge-like figure. I can’t believe I fell for it!

I bought the powder supplement (two month’s supply for only $49.99), got a mixer (look at this bad boy grinder). At first, the results were noticeable. Having a milkshake: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, was a real treat. But when winter hit as hard as it did, the thought of having an ice cold shake day after day after day soured as a routine faster than you can say banana split.

The Bible has its share of before and after moments. The gospel presents one today. Matthew begins by recalling Jesus’ astonishing baptism…how John baptized Jesus in the Jordan river and when he stepped from the waters of his rebirth, the heavens shouted with as much exaltation as they did at his birth in Bethlehem: “This is God’s son with whom God is well pleased!” It was one in a series of crowning moments for Jesus. The exhilaration and affirmation of his Kingship must have been immense and the needed confirmation to send him confident and fortified for the kingdom God anointed him to lead. But, like a new president, who, fresh after the triumph of inauguration, has to face the perils of a recalcitrant Congress …Jesus, at the height of his glorification, is then driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

The before and after contrast is sharp and illustrates a biblical pattern. No sooner had angels sung on high at his miraculous birth… “King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” then he is forced to take flight like a refugee into Egypt to fend for his life. At mid-life, after three years of teaching and healing with his disciples, Jesus sets his face boldly toward Jerusalem for a showdown with the authorities. But he hits a snag: his disciples get cold feet and start fighting among themselves. At the end, another crowning moment, only this time with thorns, Jesus is sentenced, crucified, and yet bursting his three day prison…in the garden and on the road where those who knew and loved him most …after his glorious resurrection, they could not even recognize him.

Have you ever had the experience of an ultimate high…a period of wild success and confidence…and then everything goes up in flames. It is a pattern as predictable as these, before and after, scenarios in scripture. A period of good times and smooth sailing is followed by changing fortunes and grueling testing. And, guess what? This boundary is precisely where the devil likes to show up in your life. Jesus, immersed in the baptism of his high calling is immediately thrown into the wildness for the trial of his life. If you look at this wilderness episode we learn what a brilliant strategist the devil can be. Notice, his patience. We are well into Matthew’s gospel and the devil strikes like a cobra at the most vulnerable opportunity. The devil is shrewd. He strikes when we least expect it. He begins to entrap us when we are confident, praised and esteemed. The devil does not merely tempt between good and bad. He is more calculating in his cunning to win our loyalty. He offers alternatives. For instance, “Command these stones to become bread,” he proposes. In other words, live out a life that turns raw materials into goods and services and work so hard, at any cost… so it is clear that you…you amazing spectacle of accomplishment…you earned it and deserve to bask, you and your family, in its financial rewards. Jesus counters this reasonable proposal with, “one does not live by bread alone,” that is, what we make for ourselves in life does not belong entirely to us. In fact, we do not truly own anything until we give it away and it becomes a blessing for others. And let me tell you—that was a showstopper for the devil.

Thwarted, but not deterred, the devil takes Jesus high atop the pinnacle of the temple saying, “If you are the son of God, jump ten thousand feet…surely God’s angels will rescue you.” Jesus, relying on his relationship of trust with God’s promises counters the devil’s provocation with “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” So the devil, being sly, recommends Jesus get proof of God’s love instead of simple-minded trust. How do you do that? Devil says: “Stop walking by blind faith in God’s terms. Make God show his saving power on your terms. Throw yourself down from the Temple and force God’s hand!” Needless to say the Devil was in fits when Jesus countered: You do not put God to that duplicitous test!

The devil, totally frustrated with Jesus, yet determined, takes him to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and offers them—if Jesus would merely genuflect and pay homage to him. Realizing this is the temptation to become only what you want for yourself in life, he refutes the devil and declares his devotion to serving the needs of the hungry, diseased, abused and neglected.

Know this, the devil is always lurking when you are at your most brilliant, successful, notorious self… to offer reasonable opportunities to play into his hand. He will be certain to tempt you when you are most vulnerable and make it sound reasonable. Every day the devil shows up at these boundaries. So ingenious is he…that he can even rule your conscience… “Could I? Should I? Will I? Can I get away with this?” The devil is crafty. He tempts you not only with what you want but also never dreamed you could have. And God, should you listen, will be there to protect and guard you. God counters this wilderness of choices with only what you need so your life will become worthy and complete and, your crowning glory, always a blessing to others.