Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Temptation of Jesus: 40 Days of God's Love

Hi, all. Yet another school assignment to share with you. I think stuff like this needs to benefit more than just me as a grade on a college paper. May God meet with you as you read and foster growth in your journey with him as he continues to do in my life.

Luke 4, verses 1-13, reads as follows:

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

3The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."

4Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'"

5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7So if you worship me, it will all be yours."

8Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'"

9The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. 10For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

12Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

What do you think when, as Christians, we hear people making statements such as:

- “I’m a self-made man?”

- “I answer to no one but me?”

- “I made it on my own steam?”

- “I don’t need anyone for anything. I’m totally self-sufficient?”

You get the idea. Today’s society, and even society in generations gone by, has really been buying into a tempting new gospel. Supposedly it is a gospel of freedom, but it is really a gospel of self-centredness, a gospel of introspection and self-reliance, and a gospel that is leading even seemingly solid Christians into rebellion and waywardness. It is for all appearances an idyllic prospect, and I’ll not deny that it sure feels good when we obey our fleshly desires, but at what cost?

What we’re speaking of here is the sinful nature of man, and its natural response to the overwhelming number of temptations we must deal with on a daily basis. How often do we give in? How do we resist? Where is God when the temptations come? Is he watching? Do you think he’ll pay too much attention if I just take one second look? Will he mind if I indulge in one lingering touch? ‘She’s so pretty, and my wife has been so moody lately.’ How about if I let my church offerings slide for a while? ‘My new car is quite expensive, but it’s so shiny.’ Maybe if I grab a couple of bucks out of the till? ‘I`m out of milk, and the case of beer is almost empty.’ What if I only ignore a few needy people? ‘That couple can be really hostile, and I’m in a hurry.’ I mean, how can God know what I feel? He’s out there ruling the world, but he doesn’t know my situation. Surely I can justify a little bit of sin just to get me by comfortably. I’m no worse than the next guy, and better than most, and I deserve it, don’t I? After all, everyone’s doing it, and if God really wanted us all to stop sinning, he’d do something spectacular, like sending a flood, or a plague, or a prophet, right? I wonder if he really even cares. How could he? He’s so big and I’m so small. He’s so good and I’m so bad. I wonder if he`s even there...

You see the result? You see the slippery slope we slide down if we venture too far? We’re human, and we are so weak. We have a God who created everything and who created us, but he is invisible to our unseeing eyes; eyes that are blinded by the very thing that feels so good: sin. Is he watching? Does he care? Why doesn’t he answer? Did he really say that? These are the questions put to us by our enemy. Yes, we have one. We are God’s people, and so we have an adversary. He is the same one whose pride and ambition to seize the very throne of heaven caused him to be cast down by his creator. He is the same one who tempted Eve in the garden. He is the same one who even now lies in wait to ensnare God’s people in a web of sin. He is our oldest enemy: Satan. He is called the Devil, the Tempter, the Prince of Lies, the Evil One, and the Serpent, and he is very effective at what he does, especially when we take our attention away from God. He tells us we are worthless. He tells us God isn’t real. He puts sin in our path that we might indulge in it, and we do. We do because we like it. We do because society today advocates it. We do because some of us think that we are Christians and so we are forgiven and are free to do whatever we want and still get to heaven. We do because Adam sinned and allowed sin to come into the world and it’s in the nature of the scorpion to sting the frog, so the frog should have known better than to give the scorpion a ride across the stream. So it is with man. It’s in our very nature to sin. So what are we to do? To answer that, we need to look to the best example we can find, to the only person who never, ever committed a sin. We need to look to the life of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Let us consider the journey of Jesus into the desert. It begins with an act of obedience. Jesus made his way to Bethany where his cousin John, who was also his forerunner, was preaching and baptizing new believers in the Jordan River. In John 1, verses 29-34, John explains the Baptist's purpose:

29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.”

Jesus was baptized in accordance with his Father’s will and was set to begin his ministry in Galilee, except for one thing. God knew that in order for Jesus to fulfill his mission, he would have to be baptized with fire as well as water. It was part of his training. As an athlete conditions herself for the rigours of competition, or a soldier steels himself for the horrors of war, so Jesus knew he must be sharpened and tested before venturing forth to defeat sin, a seemingly impossible task, certainly for one man. Yes, he is the Son of God, but as John points out in verse 14,

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

Jesus was a man, fully human and totally vulnerable to temptation. Though divine in origin, Jesus was God in the flesh. He was subject, of his own choosing, to the entirety of human experience. Pain, fatigue, hunger, thirst. These were part of Jesus’ life, just as they are a part of ours. There was more, however; another reason for this journey. Jesus set out to set an example. We’ll see why in a short time.

Jesus left Bethany after being baptized and was led by the Holy Spirit out into the desert. It was his time. It was time for Jesus to fulfill all that God had sent him to earth to fulfill. There was no more time for education. No more time for the daily life of regular men. It was time to execute God’s mission: to save the world. Sounds heroic, doesn’t it? And it is. The story of Jesus is epic. Today, when we think of stories where people save the world, it is usually in movies where there is a lot of kung fu and machine guns, fast cars and helicopters crashing, bombs exploding and giant alien robots being hewn to bits by shirtless, sword-wielding warriors whose true motive is to rescue the damsel in distress and if the world is saved in the process, it’s an added bonus. The saving work of Jesus is actually just as exciting as all of that; more exciting, even. In order to accomplish it, however, there had to be a test endured and an example made.

Why the desert? Consider what a desert is: a wasteland. A place of solitude. A place of suffering. A place of extreme temperatures and dangerous creatures and mortal peril and endless emptiness. A place, then, where the enemy, Satan, is right at home, and a where a man is in totally foreign territory. A place not his own. For Jesus, it was to be the crucible where his mettle was to be refined. You see, the desert was not only Jesus’ place of purification. It was a battleground.

Jesus spent forty days there, fasting and praying and walking and suffering. Forty days. You would think a week, or maybe ten days might be enough to break the spirit of any man, when faced with poisonous scorpions and snakes and scorching days and freezing nights and no food or drink or any comforts. Consider how many of us at the slightest bit of discomfort begin to complain. We immediately retreat to our creature comforts, don’t we? Air conditioning on hot days, turning up the furnace on cold days, fast food when we’re a little hungry, a Timmy’s coffee or a Coke when we’re thirsty. Jesus stuck it out for forty days. Six weeks. Wow. That`s not even counting the temptation he suffered. We`ll go there in a moment.

There is a significance to all of this, and God`s plan is so beautiful. Jesus was led into the desert, because the desert is a place of purification. It is a place of testing, and a place of surrender. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, their sin caused God such anger as to keep them wandering in the desert for forty years (Deut. 29:5-6), in order to test them and purify them and show them who he is. Moses ascended Mt. Sinai and remained there with God for forty days (Ex. 24:18), communing with him and learning from him directly. Long before that, when Jacob, who was called Israel, had died, it is written that his embalming took forty days (Gen. 50:2-3), the embalming ritual being a cleansing or purification of the body for burial. And long before that, God in his wrath against sinful man destroyed the world in a torrential rainstorm that lasted forty days (Gen. 7:11-12), essentially purifying the earth so that he could begin again. In order for a surgeon to perform his work to save a person’s life, his instruments must be sharpened and sterilized. So too, when God set out to save the world, his instrument, Jesus Christ, had to be sharpened and cleansed.

In addition to the harsh elements of the desert, Jesus endured direct attacks from the devil. Satan pulled out his most formidable weapons at Jesus’ weakest moments and brought them to bear in the hopes of foiling God’s purposes. He tempted Jesus in a great many ways during the whole forty days of the ordeal (Luke 4:2), but three stand out, and these three pertain to three areas of temptation to which sinful man is prone to succumb: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.

First of all, Satan knew Jesus was so hungry that any man so hungry as this would eat anything. So he challenged Jesus by reminding him he was, in fact, the Son of God, and of the fact that he could, at any time, give in to his flesh and change stones into bread (v. 3). But Jesus was not so easily swayed. What did he do? He relied on Scripture. “Man does not live on bread alone” (Deut. 8:3). Go, Jesus!

Knowing he could not tempt the Saviour’s flesh, Satan moved on to try and tempt Jesus with some eye-candy. Taking Jesus to a “high place” (v.5), he offered Jesus all authority over the magnificent kingdoms of the world, in all their glory and splendour if only Jesus would bow down and worship him. Again, Jesus goes back to Scripture: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Deut. 6:13). Score: Jesus 2, Satan nada.

The Devil had yet another card up his sleeve. It was the one with which he himself was defeated: Pride. Pride is the elevation of self to God’s level. It is displaying one’s greatness so everyone can see. Satan takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem and tells Jesus to show off by jumping, so that angels will come and rescue him as it is written in Scripture. (Ps 91:11-12). The Devil, as you may know, knows his Bible, too. He knows it better than you or I, and it is his game to twist the meaning of God’s Word to fit his schemes. But Jesus knew better. He went to God’s Word once more: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). Game, set, match!

Can you imagine how angry Satan must have been? No one had ever been able to resist him before, and no one in recorded history has been able to resist him completely every time since then. How then was this man, this Jesus, able to do it? Was it because Jesus was not in fact a man, but a divine being with special abilities? I should say no, because so many Scriptures say otherwise. They speak of Jesus thirsting (Jn 4:7). They speak of Jesus weeping (Jn 11:35). They speak of Jesus getting angry and using human means to express that anger (Mk 11:15-17). Jesus was fully human as much as he was fully God. That’s a hard concept to grasp, but I use it here only to demonstrate that Jesus’ resistance to temptation was not due to any supernatural ability he may have possessed. He had something else about him that each and every one of us is offered by God, as a free gift. We cannot conjure it up. We cannot buy it. We cannot assume that we have it if we pray the Sinner’s Prayer.

What Jesus demonstrated in resisting Satan’s temptations was FAITH! If Jesus had not believed totally that God was with him, and that what he was doing was clearly the will of his Father in heaven, do you think he would have put up with 40 days of pure torture that he could have ended simply by walking back to Bethany? I wouldn’t have, and I surmise that you wouldn’t either. If Jesus had not believed unequivocally that God was truly God, and was he who created everything, and was he who spoke through the prophets and gave the Law to Moses, do you think he would have memorized so much Scripture and understood it so well as to be able to apply it to his every situation? I have not done so, and I surmise that neither have you. If you have, your faith is astounding, but you still need Jesus, just like the rest of us who haven’t.

The point, of course, is that it is our faith in God that allows us to resist temptation. Now that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, believers in Jesus are given this free gift, but it must be honed, sharpened by fire. It does not grow in a happy, safe environment, but in the midst of suffering. Faith doesn’t become strong without a healthy dose of pain. This is not to say we must injure ourselves or put ourselves needlessly in danger. Simply that to really see what God can do to transform lives and forgive sins, one must have really seen it, as redundant as it sounds. We need to have had God raise us up out of this darkness, to forgive us, and with his kindness, lead us to repentance, not guilt. Who among us likes to feel guilty? Not me.

Take a look at James 4, verses 4-10:

4You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

What is James saying? Do you think he’s railing away at the people in an effort to make them ashamed? No! He’s trying to tell them that submission to God is the road to repentance, and recovery, if you will, from the disease of sin that permeates us. In this case, submission to God means belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that he suffered and died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day to bring us all into everlasting life. This belief will fill a person with hope, and a hopeful person is a grateful person and a grateful person is a loving person and a loving person does not sin against his brother or sister. When we submit to God, we are actively resisting Satan and he will flee. He flees because the power of God is so great he knows he can’t win against it. He cannot have the souls of those that God has saved, and he knows it, so he goes away defeated! Praise be to Jesus!

I’ll leave you this Scripture in closing:

13No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Cor 10:13)

I urge you; take stock of your lives. Look closely at your own rebellion. Look hard and honestly at where you are and what sins you have not confessed before God, and see just how destructive it is to your relationship with him. He loves you. He wants to revive your dead soul. He wants to revive my dead soul. He sent his son Jesus to save us, but also to live as an example for us to follow when temptations come, and they will. Will you follow him?

See you all next time. May your days until then be blessed.

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