Shortly before Christmas, I was conversing with a friend about a personal dilemma confronting him. He had been offered a “dream job,” but he and his wife concluded after praying about the offer that it was actually Satan’s answer to their prayers.
After realizing that this wonderful job offer was a temptation to his own weakness, my friend shared the struggle with me by e-mail. I quickly concluded that, yes, Satan often does answer our prayers.
As I considered my friend’s dilemma, my thoughts went to Matthew 4:1-11 where Satan attempted to beguile Jesus with alluring enticements. Since Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness was a time of fasting, it was undoubtedly also a time of prayer. And it was likely that the matters which Jesus prayed about in the wilderness became the basis of the temptations that Satan posed to Jesus.
Jesus’ temptation came on the heels of his baptism, a spiritual mountaintop experience where his Father openly declared his great pride in his Son: “This is my beloved Son in whom I have taken delight” (Matthew 3:17).
Visualize “the absurd insolence” (as Christopher Wright puts it) of Satan coming on the heels of that wonderful experience with three specific challenges to the very Sonship the Father had endorsed. Says Wright:
Matthew 2 ends with an enigmatic statement about Jesus’ obscurity, perhaps even “insignificance.” That may be why Matthew 3 follows with John’s baptism of Jesus, including the statement, “This is my Son, whom I love, the one in whom I delight” (3:17). This was important to Satan, since the three synoptic Gospels all record that immediately after this event, Satan threw all his effort into getting Jesus to cash in on his identity as the Son of God in ways that would divert him from his real mission (a mission in which Satan saw his own defeat and destruction): “If you are the Son of God…” (4:3, 6).
Imagine Jesus praying, “Father, I’m very hungry and I have the power to make bread to satisfy my cravings. But I want you to be the source of my provision.” Then Satan comes to him and says, “Let’s assume for the moment that you are the Son of God. If so, it would be so easy for you to make some bread out of these stones” (Matthew 4:1-4).
Or contemplate Jesus praying, “Father, I am so comforted at the promises you have made to me of your protection over me. But I do not want to misuse your promises nor take advantage of them purely for my own selfish purposes.” Then Satan comes and says, “You can have status and power right now by simply throwing yourself off of the pinnacle of the temple. After all, your Father has guaranteed that angels will have to come and rescue you. Won’t the crowds be impressed? Think of the power and the status you’ll have” (Matthew 4:5-7).
Or picture Jesus praying, “Father, You have offered me the throne of a kingdom on earth. But I only want to reign over that wonderful kingdom for your purposes, in your timing, and in your way.” Then Satan tempts, ” OK, we both know that your Father has promised you that you will rule over a kingdom. And I’m here to tell you that since I control all of the earth’s kingdoms, I can give you your kingdom right here and now and without the messiness of the Cross, stupid disciples, and hypocritical Pharisees. Just bow down and worship me and I will give it all to you” (Matthew 4:8-10).
Satan does come with answers to prayers! To be offered something that you intensely desire is a euphoric blessing when it comes from God. But it can be a vexing trial when it comes from Satan. And the process of distinguishing between the two can be emotionally wrenching!
Offers and opportunities will come our way in 2017. Some will loom large and impressive while others will appear to be small and unimportant. Some will be God’s answer to our prayers and in fulfillment of a need we have. But others might very well prove to be Satan’s doing to distract us from the mission that God has for us.
Thankfully Jesus has shown us how to recognize and resist pseudo answers to prayer. In each tempting instance, he boldly asserts, “It is written.”
— Dave Shive