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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Temptation and the Word (Luke 4.1-15)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - January 5, 2014
Text: Luke 4:1-15

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Variations on 'O Lord, Throughout These Forty Days'" (John Carter)
Hymn of Praise: "Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days" (ST. FLAVIAN)
Hymn of Preparation: "Break Thou the Bread of Life/Come Feed My Soul" (BREAD OF LIFE; refrain C. Youngblood)
Hymn of Sending: "Before the Throne/Have Mercy" (Bancroft, Cook,; refrain S Barnard)
Postlude: "Thy Strong Word Did Cleave the Darkness" (Manz)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. 3 And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE.’” 5 And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 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. 7 “Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 9 And he led Him 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; 10 for it is written, ‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU TO GUARD YOU,’ 11 and, ‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’” 12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’” 13 When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. 14 And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. 15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.   ~Luke 4:1-15
Today we are beginning a series called “It is Written.” It was inspired by a discussion I heard about “red-letter Christians.” You’ve heard of or seen Bibles where the words of Christ are printed in red? There have been people for some time who have prioritized Jesus’ words over the other words in the Bible. And particularly in the last ten years or so, there has been a movement to more formally do that, sometimes setting Jesus off against Paul’s epistles or the Hebrew (Old Testament) Scriptures. Yet, anyone who does take Jesus’ teaching seriously should see how connected his words are to the rest of scripture – both what came before him and what came after.

There is a reason for that! If there were a theme verse for this series, it would be from Matthew 5:17-18 and Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” There he says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” What we see in Jesus teaching, and even more in his life, is that he upholds and explains and completes the Hebrew Scriptures. What we read in the New Testament Gospels are the narration of his fulfillment; and what we read in the New Testament Epistles is the explanation of that fulfillment.

And this doesn’t take a whole bunch of interpretation on our part. Jesus is very direct and clear about making the connection. His teaching is full of phrases like, “it is written,” “it is said,” and “you have heard it said.” So, between now and March we will look at a number of the places where Jesus invokes Hebrew Scripture in his teaching. And then in March and April, leading up to Easter, we will look at places where Jesus actually fulfilled scripture in his actions.

Today we begin with the so-called “temptation of Jesus” in which the devil tempts Jesus three different times while he is fasting and praying alone for forty days. In each case, Jesus responds with Hebrew Scripture (from the Torah, aka Law of Moses).

“You don’t need God” [INDEPENDENCE]

Jesus had been praying and fasting for forty days, something beyond imagination for most of us though it is medically possible (if inadvisable).  I don’t know if you have ever fasted for spiritual reasons, but it’s not easy.  The longest I have ever done it was during a “30 HOUR Famine” like the youth group does here.  There were parts of that fast that were pretty tough!  I shared back in November that after my sophomore year in college, I got Typhoid Fever on a summer-long mission trip, and couldn’t eat for about two weeks (and then another four of only chicken broth).  That wasn’t on purpose but was closer to the 40 days, and I did learn some important spiritual truths during that time. What I think most of you could identify with is trying to do something spiritually beneficial and running up against resistance.  Maybe you decided to start reading your Bible again or praying more regularly.  And it’s like someone slipped you a sleeping pill… you just can’t keep your eyes open.  As Jesus once told his disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Well imagine the intense spiritual discipline necessary to fast and pray for forty days in the desert.  It wasn’t any easier for Jesus than it would be for you or me!  That’s the implication of his full humanity.  He didn’t get to try out being human like God dipping His toe in the pool of humanity; he dove completely in.  I don’t know or understand the mechanics of that, but I believe the witness of Scripture that it is true.  God became human in Jesus Christ.  And so, after forty days fasting and praying in the desert, he would have been incredibly weak and hungry.

And the Devil speaks these insidious words, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”  Not, “Here’s some bread; why don’t you have a bite?”  But, “You have the power and authority to satisfy your human needs; why don’t you use them?”  More subtly, the question underneath the Devil’s words, “Why do you need to fast and pray when you are the Son of God?”  The assertion was, “Use your name; use your power; don’t follow God’s path – take the easy way out; feed your hunger because you can.”

And listen to Jesus’ reply, quoting God’s Word from Deuteronomy: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”  We heard the rest of that verse earlier in the service, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” (Dt. 8:3) Jesus didn’t need to quote it for the Devil’s sake, but was drawing upon it for his own sake. And his point was that he did not come to assert his own will, but to serve the Father’s will. 

Here’s how that temptation can play out for us. If we are hard-pressed or struggling and we have cut God out of the loop, then what we come up with may well look like the best we can get.  Some are falling behind on bills and it becomes so easy to sweep the dirt of immediate bills under the rug of a credit card.  Some are depressed and despondent at home and “make the best of it” by drinking or staying out more and more.  Some feel out of control and turn to self-destructive behavior to try to create a sense of control.  The Devil has whispered that we can take these “rocks” all around us and find satisfaction, but we keep coming back day after day to something that does not answer our need.  Consider what that may be for you.

And consider what was necessary and sufficient for Jesus in his specific physical and emotional human need: every word that comes out of the mouth of God. Are we bold enough to believe it?

“Others can give you what you need” [or, SELF-SATISFACTION; INGRATITUDE?]

Jesus’ forty days in the desert was the beginning of his traveling and teaching ministry and he was beginning it with prayerful attention to God’s Word and will.  Throughout his ministry there was a tension between the Messiah expectation of the people around him and his own understanding of being God’s anointed.  Many looked for him to be a revolutionary and take on the military power of Rome.  Satan’s offer to hand over earthly power to Jesus was not just a “you can have all this” line, but a short step away from the already existing expectations for the Messiah that Jesus would hear over the next few years.

This is also the deal that endless stories have been based on.  It’s the “sell your soul to the devil” story.  If you will only worship me, you can have it all.  It’s the deal at the crossroads, and Jesus resisted by standing on God’s Word.  He quoted Deuteronomy 6 and said, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”  Worship is our chief purpose, and Jesus refused to give away his humanity.  Rather, he leaned on God’s Word and declared his intent to love, obey, and serve God alone.

This temptation is one of those most common to humanity.  Even when God is the one promising or giving the riches and blessing, Satan would rob God of worship.  That’s the bottom line.  The “stuff” is just the carrot, but Satan does not want God to be worshiped or served.  In the passage Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6, God is telling His people not to fall into the worship of a false god.  Listen again to what is going on there:
…when the Lord your God brings you into the land… great and splendid cities… houses full of all good things… cisterns… vineyards… olive trees… and you eat and are satisfied… then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord. (vv. 10-12)
Listen to the next part, in verse 13:
You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.  You shall not follow other gods…
When surrounded by plenty, how easy it is for human eyes to wander! Success is something human beings strive for, measure, and accomplish on their own.  It is defined in worldly terms, in dollars and cents, and as a measure of power and status.  Success means you are educated, or wealthy, or comfortable.  It does not correspond to God, godliness, or faithfulness to God, except perhaps as one is willing to give it away and serve others.  You may sense that two different lines of thought are present.  There is one theme of success and prosperity and there is one of worship and obedience.  The great lie and temptation of Satan is to tie those things together.  The subtle lie is to link faith with prosperity.  Satan will take that deal, for it’s easy to give up on God when He doesn’t come through with the money or the deal.  The more open lie is to erase God from the picture altogether and to serve what is not God in an effort to achieve success or prosperity. 

Milton captured this lie precisely in Paradise Lost when he has Satan giving a speech to the condemned of Hell and telling them that he would rather reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.  That is exactly Satan’s lie – that we are better off on our own with some level of material success than first and foremost loving, obeying, and serving God.

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6, which warns, “watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of slavery.”  That passage leads to the same point Jesus made to Satan: love, obey, and serve God alone. That is the way through the temptation to chase after the false gods of success and discover the riches of being blessed – that is, lined up and following after the will and Word of God.  Jesus demonstrated this way and he is the Way. 

“God must prove Himself to you” [ARROGANCE]

Thirdly, Satan challenged Jesus to throw himself off the top of the Temple in Jerusalem, saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.”  It wasn’t to take his life, but to show His power.  Satan continued, “For it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you to guard you… on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”  Though Satan is quoting scripture (Psalm 91), he mis-applies it.  That Psalm is an affirmation of God’s sheltering and helping hand for those who trust Him and are hard-pressed and in need.  It is not a formula for hurling oneself into danger.  It is no wonder that Jesus responds by saying, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  But there is more to this temptation than the obvious correction to the mis-use of Psalm 91.

For one, this temptation anticipates the crucifixion.  While Satan would not have known the details of Jesus’ obedience and yet-to-come crucifixion, he could imagine how to get Jesus off course.  To take advantage of the position of Son would be to follow the path of Satan’s own sin.  Satan was cast out of heaven for seeking to elevate himself rather than to serve God.  If Jesus would do the same, surely he would thwart God’s plans significantly.  In some ways, this was a re-play of the temptation of Adam and Eve, but with even more at stake, if that is possible.  While Adam’s sin led to the downfall of the human race, now the redemption of humanity is at stake.

Even at the end of this passage, when Satan leaves, it is only until he can return at “an opportune time” to continue his efforts at sabotage.  There is a cosmic battle being played out here, and Jesus proves faithful again and again. While all that is true, I’d like to focus on the human part of this.  What does this temptation have in common with us?  And how can we learn from Jesus and not yield to this temptation?

Jesus’ quotation of God’s Word points us in the direction we need to go.  He quotes again from Deuteronomy 6 (as he did with the second temptation).  The rest of that passage reads as follows:
You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah… you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord… (vv. 16-18)
Jesus is again affirming obedience to God’s will and Word.  This has been his response to all three temptations, and it is our way out as well. The explanation of “putting God to the test” is a story from Exodus 17.  It is the first of two stories of water from the rock.  In this story, the people are in great need, desperate for water, and they complain to Moses, asking whether the Lord was with them or not.  They did not go to Moses and say, “Will you ask God to help us, to give us water?”  They argued with Moses and demanded that he provide water.  They no longer believed that God was with them. 

This was the choice Satan put to Jesus.  Throw yourself off the Temple and make God show His power.  Certainly, God could have proven Himself that way, but Jesus did not take the route of the faithless Israelites: he continued to seek, listen, and obey God’s will and Word rather than make his own way apart from God.

This is a very real temptation that we face.  And the heart of it is not just doubting God or having periods of struggle with faith.  That kind of struggle and doubt can find resolution.  This particular temptation finds expression in the prayer that says, “This is what I need, and if God doesn’t answer this, then I’m giving up on God.”  That’s the kind of temptation that can ruin us and take us down for a long time. One of the reasons I hear often given by people who no longer attend church is something like this: “One time there was this horrible situation; I prayed to God to fix it and He didn’t, so I don’t believe in God anymore.”  That’s where Satan longs to go with that temptation – to have people’s prayers not be about seeking God’s will, but about fulfilling our wishes and grading God on the results.

What Jesus demonstrates during these extended temptations is not just a good knowledge of Scripture, but recognition that they are Words of Life and Truth for the most difficult of our human situations. Satan tried every different angle to get Jesus off-track: self-reliance, idolatry, and forcing God’s hand. But Jesus, who had access to supernatural power, depended on God’s Words in human weakness. How much more should we also! Jesus points us again and again to God’s Word and to listening, looking, and trusting that Word as we wait for, trust in, and serve God of all. Amen.

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