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The Gospel of Luke, chapter 4 - The Temptation of Jesus & Trials in Our Own Walk of Faith

The Temptations of Christ, 12th century mosaic at St Mark's Basilica,Venice

Luke 4:1-13

Introduction:  Trials and Temptations:  Attempts to Lure Us Away from our God-given Identity

Last week, we talked about the love our Heavenly Father had for Jesus, and - through Jesus - the love that God has for us.  1 Peter 1:3-5 paints a wonderful portrait of everything God is willing to do for us through Jesus Christ:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

By God's great mercy in Jesus Christ, God looks upon each of us and declares that we are God's beloved.  God looks upon us with favor and desires to bless us with good things.

However, Peter goes on to say:

"In this [salvation] you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith - being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:6-7).

The assurance of God's love is always there for us, but there is also the challenge.  The challenge is that we can be tempted to forget or deny our baptismal identity as a precious child of God.  Instead, we can go in pursuit of another identity, what we will call our "false self."

And in today's text (Jesus' temptation in the desert), we will see three particular ways in which we are tempted to forego our beloved state as God's child. 

Echoes of Earlier Trials & Temptations - The Story of Exodus

"Jesus succeeds where Israel failed.  What is more, the genealogy immediately preceding this account has named Jesus as Son of Adam and Son of God.  The echo of Genesis 3 cannot be missed.  What Adam failed to do as representative of all humanity, Jesus succeeds in doing." - Darrell L. Bock, Luke, pg. 82.

Before we jump into the three temptations the Devil sets before Jesus, it's important we recall this isn't the first instance of God's chosen facing a time of testing and trial.  So much in this description of Jesus' temptation should remind us of Israel's (God's other beloved child) struggles and temptations as they moved from salvation into a life of obedience.  Just like God does for us in and through Jesus Christ, God acted mightily to to save and rescue the Israelites out of the clutches of sinful/prideful Pharaoh.  Having secured their life and bestowed blessings upon them, God then began to test and try them - essentially bringing them through a school of faith for their adolescent spiritual years.  The Lord was hoping to bring them into maturity so that they could settle and live in the Promised Land as a covenant people who have grown up with the knowledge and the responsibility of being God's chosen ones.

Unfortunately, they frequently forsake their identity as God's beloved and chosen, falling into fear and into idolatry.  One critical scene occurs in Exodus 17:1-7.  God has promised security and provisions for his people (just as we are promised in Jesus Christ), but the people grow anxious over the visible signs of drinkable water.  In their fear and possessiveness, they demand water from Moses.  To make things even worse, they will later turn completely away from God and construct a golden calf (Exod. 32). 

Israel is unable to maintain trust and fellowship with God.  In their wilderness time, Israel is not able to resist the wiles and temptations of the evil one.

This all sets the stage and heightens the drama for Jesus' own time of temptation.  We can envision God's heavenly hosts watching with baited breath to see if he will be able to remain secure in his trust and confidence in the Father's plans and protections for his life.

The Temptation of Jesus

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,

Refined, Tried and Tested - Driven by the Spirit

Immediately, our attention is captured.  This time of testing in the wilderness occurs in direct response to a time of great spiritual consolation and by the Spirit's leading.  God's desire is for us to grow up and mature in our faith, but such maturity requires testing.  We've spoken of how Luke's Gospel is akin to us going to school.  Where schools are trying to help our children grow up mentally and emotionally so that they can have the skills and abilities to earn a living in our modern world, the school of Jesus is all about us growing up into the full maturity of our divine calling and identity as God's children. 

In this life, we must be aware that the Spirit's presence in our life will not only lead to moments of joy, peace, and affirmation.  The Spirit will also guide us into situations that will challenge us and force us to rely upon God's help and love.

We will see later in Luke's second book, that as disciples, we too will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  But, the Spirit is never given just for our own empowerment.  Stephen, like Jesus, will be filled with the Spirit, but the Spirit's guidance in Stephen's life will not lead to a "prosperity gospel"; it will lead to Stephen having the courage to live his life for the glory of Jesus Christ and the sake of others.

where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

Who Is The Devil? 

Matthew's Gospel also records this temptation of Jesus in the desert, but Matthew refers to Jesus' adversary as "the tempter."  Here, Luke refers to the adversary as "the devil" (o diabolos).  We don't know many of the precise details about the devil, but we know enough that the devil began as an angel who spurned the Lord, and - subsequently - was the first to fall from grace.  The Greek word diabolos refers to someone who engages in slander, and this seems to be the devil's unfortunate, tragic fate:  to speak and act against God's good and loving will.  Other early Christians like Peter and Paul speak a lot about how active and manipulative the devil is trying to draw us into traps and snares (2 Tim. 2:26).  And like a "roaring lion," the devil is on the prowl looking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8).

However, before we get too carried away, we need to remember that the devil is never seen as anywhere near as powerful or sovereign as the Lord God.  In his helpful book titled The Devil You Don't Know:  Recognizing and Resisting Evil in EverydayLife, Louis J. Cameli says this when people ask him if he believes in the devil:  

"Absolutely not.  I believe in Jesus Christ, who is the victor over the devil ... The baptismal liturgy offers additional support for the claim that we do not believe directly in the devil as such, but rather we believe in Jesus Christ and, in that belief, know of the devil's existence, work, and aims.  The baptismal liturgy asks the candidates for baptism:  'Do you believe in God, the Father, ... in Jesus Christ, ... in the Holy Spirit?'  The question concerning the devil is not about belief but rather about rejection and renunciation:  'Do you reject Satan,' father of sin and prince of darkness ... and all his works, and all his empty promises?'

Louis speaks from his own experience both in researching the great horrors of Nazi Germany, but also as a pastor who has walked with many Christians over time.  Both his reading of history and his personal work with individuals has proven to him that there is some force(s) at work in this world that seek to undermine what is good, holy, just and right.  He's seen it time and time again, and all of us have felt it in our own life or in our family.  There often seems to be something at work in the background of things seeking to cause what Louis calls the four "D's" of the devil's active work:  deception, division, diversion, and discouragement.

It has helped me to always bring the focus on the devil back into the context of my life as one of Jesus' beloved disciples, as Louis does by talking about our baptism.  There's a lot of fascination in our culture with dark and demonic forces, the kind of stuff ripe for horror movies and spooking children, but I think that the devil's really dangerous work isn't really aimed at scaring us.  I believe the devil's number one goal is to wrestle us out of the assurance that our Heavenly Father loves us and will be there for us.  Incidentally, that is precisely what we see the devil trying to do to Jesus in these three temptations.

The Temptations - Do You See the Pattern?

We will see that the temptations have a common pattern and share common themes.  Each of them is aimed at getting Jesus' to deny his identity as "Son of God" and to forego his holy calling and mission.  They begin with the specific temptation, to which Jesus replies each time by directly quoting Scripture.  More specifically, each time Jesus quotes the Book of Deuteronomy.  Here we see that link to the temptation/trial of God's child, Israel, in the desert.  But, where they fell short, Jesus maintains his focus and faith.

Finally, each temptation allows us to see three particular places of vulnerability, places where we often succumb to settling for something less than being God's beloved child.

 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Temptation #1 - Turn Stones into Bread

After fasting for forty days, the devil strikes Jesus in his truly weak spot, challenging him to turn the stones around him into bread to satisfy his hunger. 

Jesus replies by quoting Deut. 8:3 and stands upon the assurance that his Heavenly Father knows and sees his need.  Of course, this is about much more than mere physical hunger.  This first temptation attacks something we all feel from time to time:  Is God really going to be there for me?  Does God see my need? 

The first temptation meets us in our places of human vulnerability.  We are born into this world in  vulnerability.  We are in desperate need of care.  We require human touch, love, care and concern, and without these things we can suffer not just physical danger, but emotional and psychological difficulties.  The devil prods these vulnerabilities and tempts us to believe that we can't really trust God.  Perhaps God will abandon us.  Perhaps God won't really provide for our needs.

All of this can lead to our first path of destruction:  the path of self-sufficiency.  Jesus no doubt felt acutely his vulnerability.  How great was his temptation to want to work his way out of this dire situation!  How great was his desire to take over and look after his own welfare.  If we are not able to properly face our vulnerabilities (and find ways to experience God's baptismal love for us through concrete and specific forms of care), we often will find a strong desire to become self-sufficient.  Jesus resists this urge, though.  God is good.  God can be trusted.  Our Heavenly Parent will meet our needs.

Then the devil[a] led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil[b] said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

Temptation #2 - The Whole World ... All Yours!

According to Luke, the devil's second temptation strikes at the other side of Jesus' heart.  Whereas the first attacked his weaker/vulnerable side, this temptation plays upon Jesus' thirst for power and authority.  The whole world will bow to Jesus if he but denies his baptismal identity as God's Son.  In other words, the devil is inviting Jesus to fall into the same trap the devil fell into himself:  from created by God to trying to be God.

Jesus firmly replies again by quoting Deut. 6:13, and draws a clear line regarding worship.  This life is one long test about whether or not we are engaging in true worship (which focuses on glorifying God and loving others) or getting caught up in false worship (which focuses on making ourselves great or idolizing projects/plans that indirectly do so). 

The Bible makes it clear that we have incredible worth in God's eyes.  We are created just a little lower than angels (Ps. 8), and God clearly favors us as his creation.  But, if our first temptation is to worry about our worth before God, our second great temptation is the exact opposite:  our pride.  Essentially, it comes down to us thinking we're too big for our britches.

This can lead to our second path of self-destruction:  the path of self-glory.  Life is a choice about whether or not we are going to live for ourselves or live for others.  Jesus perfectly and in a place of great trust chooses to always love and worship God by loving and serving others.  Not just here in this story, but in every instance, Jesus refuses to practice false worship that puts himself at the center of the universe.

Then the devil[c] took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to protect you,’
11 and
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Temptation #3 - Be Spectacular & Safe!

Having failed with the first two temptations, the devil finally takes Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem.  The setting here is packed full of meaning.  Jerusalem will be the place we see Jesus moving towards as the ultimate test of his willingness to follow the Father's plan for his life.  Jerusalem will be where Jesus' undergoes his completed baptism and lays down his life fully in love.

But, the devil suggests Jesus can take a short-cut (all of the devil's ploys are shortcuts that end in destruction!).  He tells Jesus that Jesus can do something spectacular and seek his own protection.  We can almost hear the devil whispering in Jesus' ear, "Surely, your Heavenly Father doesn't want you to die.  Surely, God would never have you go through such agony and suffering.  Go ahead and through yourself down and call upon the angels to come rescue you.  It will make for a great show, and you won't suffer a scratch."

The devil, in other words, is inviting Jesus to bypass his life's calling:  to lay down his life for us.

Jesus once again quotes Deuteronomy.  This time it is Deut. 6:16, the trump card of responses:  Don't put God to the test.  But, deeper than just rejecting the devil, Jesus is saying a strong and loving yes to something so hard and challenging we can hardly imagine it.  He is saying "yes" to a life that will not bypass suffering.  Already here at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is saying "yes" to the cup of sacrificial love - the love that pours itself out for the sake of others.

Can we say we are willing to drink this cup?  Can we look beyond a Christianity that is only about making me feel better or a religion that is just about getting "lifting me up" on Sunday mornings? 

In refusing the devil's shortcut in the third temptation, Jesus reminds us of the third potential path to self-destruction:  the path of self-protection.  So much in our culture encourages us to think about and act upon our self-preservation.  From endless commercials about setting up our strong financial future to our cultural obsession with staying healthy, fit, and looking fabulous, we are tempted in our culture to reject suffering as evil.  Our culture obsesses with us being able to be "free" and "happy."  True discipleship means moving beyond our freedom into a place of radical, committed love that is ardently in pursuit of propping up those around us - especially the weak.  True discipleship means refusing to take shortcuts that make us "healthy, happy, and wise" but that leads to an economy and world where billions suffer for lack of love and resources.  True discipleship means refusing to bow to the industries of "what makes me happy" so that we can think honestly and work diligently to do what will make the marginalized and forgotten feel loved and safe.

13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Mission Accomplished ... for Now

The angels applaud.  We should breathe a sigh of relief and rejoice as well.  Jesus has passed the tests.  He has remained true to his baptismal identity, and he has refused the shortcuts we so often fall into.  "The Devil has tried every kind of temptation, but he will be back.  Jesus' whole ministry is marked by temptations (trials, Luke 22:28), but particularly the passion period will be a time of special onslaught by Satan (22:3, 31, 53, 39-46) as Jesus' ultimate act of obedience (22:42) draws near" (Nolland, John.  Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 35a:  Luke 1:1-9:20.  Dallas, TX:  Word Books, Publisher, 1989).

-Bock, Darrell L.  Luke.  (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1994).
-Cameli, Louis J.  The Devil You Don't Know:  Recognizing and Resisting Evil in EverydayLife.  (Notre Dame, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 2011).  
Nolland, John. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 35a:  Luke 1:1-9:20.  Dallas, TX:  Word Books, Publisher, 1989


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