Would Jesus Have Bungee-Jumped?
Matthew 4:5-7 suggests that on at least one occasion in his life Jesus contemplated but rejected the idea of bungee jumping:
The devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him ‘if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written’: HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU and ON THEIR HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE. Jesus said to him, ‘again it is written’: YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.
It is important that we grasp why Jesus did not hurl himself off the pinnacle of the temple—or for that matter a bridge or a crane. Bungee jumping is about flirting with death—about being miraculously rescued at the last second by a stretch of elasticated rope that whisks you skyward before you dash yourself to pieces at the foot of a gorge or a shallow riverbed—or in this instance, at the foot of the temple precincts. To bungee jump is to stick two fingers up at the laws of gravity—it is therefore the ultimate expression of freedom—freedom from one of the most basic physical restraints and constrictions of life on planet earth. Jumpers speak of feeling ‘alive’ when they plunge head first over a precipice and also of having a deeper appreciation of life after their ordeal—as if they have entered the jaws of death and escaped to tell the tale. While for some bungee jumping might intensify their sense of mortality, in the case of others it is their superman status that comes to the fore when they leap off a height. Standing before a cheering crowd after the jump is an exhilarating, self-gratifying moment. Many revel in the applause or acclaim that it brings. Key for all is the adrenalin rush—the stomach churning, visceral sensations that accompany the plunge. Bungee jumping is thus both a sensuous yet also an ‘out of the body’ or ‘near death experience’ wrapped into one.
Satan invited Jesus to experience these same gut feelings. But also to ponder whether flinging himself off the temple might not also enhance his messianic status, particularly if angels were to soften his fall. For various reasons Jesus resisted Satan’s temptation. According to Matthew Jesus rejected the idea that he could deliberately endanger his own life and then expect God’s protection. Satan however sought to seduce Jesus with a novel interpretation of Psalm 91:11-12. According to the devil God’s angels were ready to supernaturally assist believers whenever they found themselves in a spot of bother. But the passage actually teaches something quite different, namely: that the angels will only protect those who stick close to God and obey his will (Psalm 91:1-10; 14-16). Jesus knew, as every good GCSE Physics student knows, that to hurl oneself over a sheer drop is to court death. To expect God to intervene willy-nilly whenever we defy his laws (gravity in this instance) is to misunderstand the nature of faith. Thus Jesus rebuts the devil by citing Deuteronomy 6:16 where we are warned that God must not be provoked—or put to test.
Throughout the Book of Numbers God’s anger and wrath flash out continually whenever Israel try his patience with stupid or faithless behaviour (see chapters 11-14; 16; 20 and 25). To jump from the pinnacle of the temple without God’s command or permission would have spelled the end of Jesus’ life and career. Which is why Satan was so keen that he should take up this ‘extreme sport.’ God however does not reward jackass behaviour, as Jesus well knew. Leaping from a summit in front of thousands and being guided safely to the ground by supernatural means would have been an impressive sight—but for the laws of physics. Jesus knew, as many of his contemporary followers do not, that such gravity-defying miracles (were they to happen) would not necessarily advance the cause of the kingdom. On more than one occasion Jesus was compelled to say that ‘an evil and adulterous generation seek a sign’ (Matt 16:4; 12:39).
But we may be certain that Jesus would have had other reasons for not wanting to fling himself off a roof. He didn’t, for instance, need to flirt with death in order to feel alive. Nor did he ever hanker for an adrenalin fix. He was not a hedonist so did not seek fulfillment in the gratification of the senses. Nor had he a craving to prove himself to others by being outrageous. Jesus’ orientation was directed upwards and outwards towards God and others. His pleasure was to do his Father’s Will by meeting the needs of the sick, the demon possessed, the poor and the outcasts of society (Mark 1:32-34; Luke 7:21-22). Our most fulfilling experiences in life, Jesus tells us, flow from our love of God and neighbour (Mark 12:28-31). In this connection the New Testament informs us that eternal life is about dying to self not the pursuit of pleasure. Joy and peace are likewise associated with being last rather than first, with being a servant rather than being served (Mark 10:45; Phil 2:1-11). The idea that Jesus would have sought fulfillment in cheap stunts or gimmicks is to be ignorant of what drove him as a person. Jesus would not have bungee jumped for the same reasons that he would not have been an Arsenal season ticket holder or a fan of Top Gear. Jesus had an acute awareness of the contingency of life—its gift and vulnerability, its brevity, and above all the finite opportunity that it gave to find God and salvation before the darkness closed in. He would thus have found activities like ‘extreme sports’ a deceit. Jesus didn’t bungee jump because he knew there was nothing more expansive or mind-blowing than obeying God. Base-jumping or white water rafting would not have been extreme or radical enough compared to loving your enemies or dying for the world. Similarly to stand at the edge of space and parachute 135,000 feet to earth, as Alan Eustace, Senior Vice President of Knowledge at Google did in 2014, would be to completely miss the point of life as Jesus understood it.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul reminds us that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that we are not our own. This means that we are not free to do what we like with our bodies because God has bought us with a price and so we belong to him. We are called rather to glorify God in our bodies—that is to witness to God’s greatness in our behaviour. When we glorify God we make it difficult for people to deny his reality. When we do stupid or crazy things we only attract attention to ourselves. Satan invited Jesus to attract attention to himself by doing something completely insane. But Jesus saw through his scheme. The devil sought to fixate Jesus on becoming a celebrity. But Jesus knew that daft, dangerous or ill-advised pursuits have spiritual consequences. In the gospels Jesus warns about taking unnecessary risks such as establishing the foundations of a house on sand (Matt 7:24-27), or of attempting a construction project with insufficient funds (Luke 14:28-30) or, again, of taking on an enemy without adequate military resources (Luke 14:31-32). God cannot undo our folly or stupidity.
As Christians we need to count the potential cost of our actions. Had Jesus leapt from the temple and made a safe landing this miracle would have launched his career. But Jesus refused to perform this sign. He wasn’t interested in whether thousands might get saved or his messianic claims be strengthened on account of his miraculous bungee jump. Leaping off a building and asking for God’s protection was madness—as it would be to pray for safety before a charity swim in shark infested waters.
God created physical laws to protect and keep us safe—Jesus respected this. One of those laws is the law of gravity. For Jesus to have bungee jumped from the temple would have been rebellion against God. Even Jesus the Christ had no right to put God to the test! Neither have we.
So what laws will you break in the coming week? What unnecessary or stupid physical risks will you take with your life or worse still with the lives of others? What actions or activities will you engage in that might make it difficult for God to protect you? Are your plans God’s plans? And how can you be sure? Did God in fact ask you to do some of the things you have written in your diary for tomorrow or the next? If not, have you counted what the cost might be for yourself, your family, and your church?