Living By What Is Written
In today's text we read the account of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. I recognize that, in our day, most people do not want to believe in the devil. It is likely that even some who sit in church pews on Sunday do not believe in the existence of the devil.
At this point, it is important to ask ourselves, 'What is the basis of our beliefs?'. You may remember, from my boxing day sermon, the 3 obstacles to sound doctrine: cultural standards , personal experience , and personal preference . Anyone who might doubt the existence of the devil would do well to examine why they do not believe in him.
Certainly, culture standards have influenced us. Most regard the devil as the invention of a mythical generation. Be it through cartoons, through Halloween costumes, or through the names of professional sport teams, our culture has made light of a personality that the Bible warns against taking lightly.
Personal experience has likely influenced us as well. I have yet to meet a person who has actually seen the devil. The trouble with basing our belief on personal experience is, as the apostle Paul describes, "Satan disguises himself as an angel of light "(2Cor. 11:14).
Of the 3 obstacles to sound doctrine, perhaps the biggest obstacle is personal preference. We do not want to believe in the devil. I, quite frankly, do not want to believe in the devil--the idea scares me. Since the idea of a powerful, evil, being is so frightening to us, many choose not to believe. But this kind of logic, of course, is plain silly.
I do not want to believe that there are people, this very hour, who are dying of hunger. I do not want to believe that, in some hostile region of the world, innocent people are being tortured and murdered. Reality, however, is unaffected by my personal preference. Reality is unaffected by your personal preference. The Bible speaks frequently of the devil, and Jesus, more than anyone else in Scripture, speaks of the devil. I maintain then, that if Jesus believes in the devil, we would be foolish to doubt his existence.
When Jesus encounters the devil in the wilderness, there are no witnesses. The ministry of Jesus has yet to begin. The disciples have yet to be called. So for this encounter with the devil to appear in Scripture, Jesus must have made a point of sharing His experience with the disciples. And, presumably, Jesus shared this account with His disciples because He deemed it profitable for them. I implore you this morning then, to see what profit this text has for you.
The text begins by saying, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led in the Spirit in the wilderness "(v.1). If we are to model our own approach to overcoming temptation after Jesus' approach, we must not miss the fact that Jesus was "full of the Holy Spirit ".
Jesus, being both fully man and fully God, did not rely on His humanity to help Him overcome temptation. Rather, Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit to strengthen Him and to guide Him.
Our problem is that we have become accustomed to solving our problems by natural means. We can solve problems at work, we can balance our budget, we can care for our children, by natural means.
However, when we find ourselves needing to overcome the temptation to sin, no natural means will suffice. A spiritual dilemma requires a spiritual solution. If we are to have any success in overcoming temptation, we must endeavour to "be filled with the Spirit "(Eph. 5:18).
Luke explains that Jesus was in the wilderness for "forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days; and when they had ended, He became hungry "(v.2). I am grateful for Luke's inclusion of the statement, "He became hungry ". Jesus was not in some super-human body, rather, He was subject to the same physical weaknesses that we are subject to. Here we read that Jesus "became hungry "; in other places we read that he became "tired "(Jn. 4:6); and still in other places, that He "wept "(Jn. 11:35). As the author of Hebrews puts it, Jesus was "tempted in all things as we are, yet was without sin "(Heb. 4:15).
Notice when the temptations, recorded in Luke, begin. The recorded temptations begin after Jesus had become hungry. The recorded temptations begin after Jesus had become physically weakened. We all would agree that temptation is strongest when we are weak, and so it should not surprise us that the devil saves his most lethal assaults for when we are weak. As George Whitefield once said, "an hour of poverty is an hour of temptation". When we are emotionally bankrupt, when we are limited by a physical ailment, when we are weary from overworking, when we are frustrated by a financial setback--it is in these times that temptation becomes increasingly difficult to overcome.
What makes temptation even more difficult is that the devil does not simply tempt us when we are weak, but he also tempts us according to our weakness . Jesus "became hungry ", and so the devil's temptation was that if Jesus was the Son of God, He should "tell this stone to become bread "(v.3). The devil did not simply wait until Jesus was weak, but he specifically targeted His weakness.
Jesus, however, though He was weak in body, was "full of the Holy Spirit ". One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to "guide (us) into all truth "(Jn. 16:13)--that is, the Spirit helps us to apply Scripture to everyday decisions, activities, and temptations. Jesus clearly demonstrates this in His response to the devil, "It is written , 'Man shall not live on bread alone.' "(v.4).
Jesus was hungry and He genuinely needed food. The temptation for Jesus here was to use His power for self-centred purposes. This was not what Jesus' power was intended to be used for. In verses 18 and 19, Jesus demonstrates that He clearly understands how He is to utilize His divine power: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord ".
Where are those two verses from? Jesus, explaining the nature of His mission, quotes Isaiah 61, verse 1 and 2. Jesus learned His mission from the Scriptures . Jesus understood that His job description was clearly outlined in the Old Testament. Doing miracles for His own benefit did not fit His job description.
The devil's temptation, although seemingly harmless and quite reasonable, did not fit Jesus' mission plan. And so Jesus responds to the devil--and Matthew includes the more detailed reply: "It is written , 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.' "(Mt. 4:4). It didn't matter how logical the devil's suggestion was--Jesus was committed to living by what was written. Jesus was committed to living by God's Word alone .
Looking to Luke 4, verse 5, we see that the devil does not give up very easily--he persists in tempting Jesus. So we should expect that if the devil persisted in tempting Jesus, when he knew it was like a row boat attacking a battleship, how much more will he persist in tempting us. Luke explains that "(the devil) led (Jesus) up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, "I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship me, it shall all be Yours.' "(v.5-7).
In this temptation, the devil promises Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world ". While we may fail to see the appeal that this temptation would hold for Jesus, since it involved worshiping the devil, we must keep in mind the state of physical weakness Jesus was in. Giving in to this temptation would mean escaping death.
Even still, Jesus immediately rebukes the devil. Jesus, quite clearly, understood that His mission meant giving Himself up to death rather than escaping it. He, quite clearly, understood that His mission involved doing His Father's will and not the devil's.
And so Jesus, once again relying on the ammunition of the Old Testament Scriptures, declares, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.' "(v.8). Jesus was sticking with the game plan and He would not waver from following what was written in the Scriptures.
The devil, however, was not ready to give up just yet. Recognizing that Jesus would not waver from what the Scriptures said, the devil employed Scripture in this last temptation, "And (the devil) led (Jesus) to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, 'If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written , 'He will give His angels charge concerning You to guard You, and, on their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.' "(v.9-11).
In this temptation is a very important reminder: The devil knows his Bible, and he knows it well. We must therefore be on guard against ideas and notions that sound biblical, but are, in reality, notions that twist the intended meaning and application of the biblical text.
A steadfast principle to follow is that Scripture will never contradict Scripture . The Holy Spirit is not double-tongued. And so before we embrace an interpretation of any biblical text we must examine that text alongside other pertinent texts.
This is precisely what Jesus did. Jesus battled the devil by rightly applying the Scriptures: "It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.' "(v.12).
Finally, the devil became weary from defeat and "departed from (Jesus) until an opportune time "(v.13). Jesus had waged war with Satan and won--not with swords or with special powers--but with God's Word.
Surely, the profit we gain from this encounter is clear: In the pages of Scripture the Christian has everything we need to overcome temptation . In the pages of Scripture the Christian has everything we need to live righteously(2Tim. 3:16). We don't need self-help books, we don't need horoscope readings, and we don't need to watch Oprah.
Whether you are searching for eternal life, whether you are searching for happiness, or whether you are searching for freedom from sin; the source book is the same: The Bible .
Let us commit ourselves then, to become people who are characterized by living according to God's Word. Amen.