Tempted and Tried (4): Stayin' Alive
Intro – For the past 3 weeks we’ve looked at temptation in general from the experience of Jesus in Luke 4. We found that every temptation – every one – has dual purposes. It is intended by Satan as a temptation to diminish us; it is intended by God as a test to grow us. How we react determines which happens. We’ve also seen that temptation comes in very attractive flavors with clear directions for rationalizing destructive behavior, so we need to be firmly grounded in the Word and in prayer to overcome.
Now let me introduce the first temptation with a story. A young soldier was on guard duty for the first time was ordered not to admit any car without a special identification seal. Naturally, the first unmarked car he stopped was transporting a general who told his driver to go on through. The soldier looked at the general and said politely, “Sir, I’m new at this. My orders are to stop anyone who does not have proper identification which you do not have. So, please clarify for me. Who do I shoot first, you or the driver?”
This illustrates a great truth that most of us have a difficult time with. That is, obedience is important. Obedience is very important – more important, in fact, than life or death. In theory we know this; in practice we don’t believe it. But that is the lesson of the first temptation.
I. The Seduction
The crux of this temptation is to meet legitimate need in a wrong way. The underlying assumption is – A man (or a woman) must live. It makes human life the ultimate good. So let’s see how it plays out.
Vv. 1-2, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led 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 were ended, he was hungry.” Imagine not eating for 40 straight days. And all that time He was being tempted by the devil. In what ways we do not know; we are not told, except for the final three. But it had been a time like no other human had ever faced up until then. Forty days and Satan could not break Him. Remember, Christ is living only by means of His human nature. In the words of Phil 2:6-7, “who, though he was in the form of God (still had deity – you can’t quit being God), did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.” Emptied Himself of what? His deity – His divine nature? No. But emptied himself of the use of His deity – the acting as equal with God. He was living with no more resource than you or I. So picture Him – tired, weary, emotionally drained – and hungry. To the point of collapse. I’ve been hungry, but nothing like this. Forty days is near the physical limit where life can be sustained without food. The pain has become extreme. And, of course, that is exactly the moment Satan comes as an angel of light with a wonderful suggestion.
“If Condition” -- V. 3, “The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” That looks like Satan is challenging the deity of Christ. But not so. Our English language cannot duplicate the richness of the Greek here. We have one way to say “If”. In Greek, there are 4. Shades of meaning attach to “if” all the way from “If such and such is true, and I assume it is,” to “If such and such is true and I assume it is not.” Here is a 1st class “if” condition – assumed to be true. The temptation could legitimately be translated “If you are the Son of God – and I assume that you are.” Satan and the demons know very well who Jesus is. Just scroll down to v. 34 to get an example, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Jas 2:19 reminds us, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Satan is not confused about who Jesus is, and the last thing He wants Him to do is prove it. So what is this?
Overt temptation -- What the devil is doing here is reminding Jesus of what happened at His baptism. That was a singular event in the life of Christ when heaven opened and the voice of God was heard to say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” That one phrase affirmed all Jesus had learned in His earthly life to that point. Yes! He was right! He was indeed the chose One, the Messiah. It was the high of all highs – His heavenly Father identifying, loving and affirming Him. It confirmed He was God in the flesh with all the power that implied. But now, here He is 40 hunger-filled days later. The high is a distant memory until the angel of light reminds Him. “Hey – aren’t you hungry by now? Man, you’ve got a legitimate need here. And, you’ve got the means to meet it. You’re God, for Pete sake! Turn that stone to bread. Stop torturing yourself.” Understand, Beloved, this temptation was real. Just then, living through His human nature, this was compelling. I need food, and that’s not a sin.
Underlying assumption – Now, there is a major underlying assumption in this temptation – you must live. V. 1 emphasized that Jesus is here by the leading of the HS. The same God who declared Him to be His own Son has also put Him in danger of starvation. So the subtle suggestion underlying the temptation is, “Hey, great that the Father came to your baptism. But where is He now?! Clearly, you are on your own. He must not care about your suffering. But you’re God. Solve your own problem. That’s probably what He wants you to do. So, do it!” Underlying assumption – You have to live – and you have the means to save yourself. Come on. Pull the trigger!
Rationalization – But I don’t think Satan was done even then. I think he saved his best argument for last. The great rationalization. “Listen, Jesus. Aren’t you on a mission to save people? Now, pray tell, how are you going to do that lying dead out here in this God-forsaken wilderness. You’re dying, man! Come on. Save yourself so you can save others -- get on with what you came to do.” You don’t think that thought crossed the mind of Jesus here? Then you don’t understand the enemy – the great rationalizer. You gotta live. There can’t be anything wrong with staying alive to do your mission.
Problem – So, what’s the problem? Why would it have been wrong for Jesus to have turned those stones to bread to save His own life? First, it is Satan urging this rather than the HS. So it was not the will of God. But how did Jesus know that? The Bible tells us who is who. We picture the devil standing in front of Jesus complete with red suit, horns, a pitchfork and a tail. Of course, Jesus would not listen to him. But that’s not the way Jesus experienced this. I don’t know whether Satan planted thoughts in Jesus’s mind or actually appeared to him. But if he appeared, he was representing himself as a messenger of God. Jesus had to use the discernment of a hunger-tormented mind. And Jesus already knew the truth written in Heb 2:17 later on: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. He could only be our substitute if he were perfect on our behalf. And to do that he had to meet temptation like us. So, can you turn rocks to bread if your life depended on it? I don’t think so – and neither could I. And neither could Jesus through His human nature. He’d have had to use His divine nature – effectively bypassing the ministry of the HS and the will of the Father. And that He refused to do -- despite the extreme gravity of the situation. He obeyed the will of God rather than rationalizing sinful behavior!
Remember Mark Twain’s book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court? Hank Morgan, a 19th century resident of Hartford, Connecticut, gets hit on the head and awakens in the 6th century court of King Arthur. Using his superior knowledge of history and technology he makes himself invaluable to the king and is given a title – “the Boss.” One day the king decides he wants to find out what life as a subject is like, so he takes off his royal robes, dons the apparel of a commoner and hits the road. But he takes his friend along with his 19th century skills. And every time the king gets into a scrape, Hank gets him out of it. Did the king really experience life as a commoner? Hardly. He had an unfair advantage. And that is exactly what the devil was offering Jesus. But the very thing that would have saved his life would have ruined His mission. Do you see that? It had to be God’s mission done God’s way. So – what was the solution?
II. The Solution
V. 4, “And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” Satan’s appeal has been, “You gotta live. Make some bread.” Jesus responds with an appropriate Word from God. Keep in mind -- this is Jesus speaking. God in the flesh. Yet His authority is God’s Word – not His own nature. Man, that tells us something about the power of the Word, doesn’t it? Now the passage that Jesus quotes tells us two important things we need to know when God seems absent or indifferent to a desire we can meet.
A. Physical Things Matter
Jesus does not say that man shall not live by bread. He says that man shall not live by bread alone. He does not say that physical things don’t matter. That is a pagan philosophy. Greek dualism claimed only spirit is good. Matter is evil. Physical desire is the root of all evil. Virtually all Eastern religion either denies or decries the physical world. Nirvana, paradise is to be found by becoming one with the spiritual universe. Pain is imagined. Our goal, usually thru incarnation, is to escape the physical. The Bible has no such view. Christianity is alone in treasuring both body and soul. As a result of the Fall many physical desires lead us into temptation, but the answer is not the destruction of the body but the redemption of both body and soul.
This is why the resurrection is so important. It was not just the spirit of Jesus that somehow escaped death after his crucifixion. It was His body as well. It was not the shell of His body that was empty; it was the whole of the tomb that was empty. That distinction is crucial. Jesus does not want to help you escape your body; He wants to redeem your body so that one day He can, as described in Phil 3:21, “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Physical things matter to God. Our desire for food, fun, adventure, relaxation, sex is all invented by God and to be enjoyed to the full -- within His guidelines. There was nothing wrong with the desire for bread!
B. Spiritual Things Matter Most
But -- spiritual things take priority. That is what Jesus is saying, and the implications are huge. Matthew gives us a fuller account of Jesus’ quotation in Matt 4:4,”But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” The context for Jesus’ quote is Deut 8:3. Turn there. Moses is giving his farewell address. Let’s pick up with v. 2, “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not (Note: What Satan intended as a temptation, God intended as a test. He purposely put them where food was scarce to see if they would trust Him or not) 3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Don’t miss his point. He’s saying, “God tested you to see if you would trust Him. Then He provided for your needs in a way you would never have conceived.” No one had heard of manna before, but God fed it to them for 40 years. Left unsaid is that the parents of his audience had all died during that 40 years because they did not believe. All they ever did was complain, and so God finally killed them off in the wilderness. God was making a point. It is more important to obey than it is to live. Satan’s lie is, “You have to live.” God’s counterpoint is, “Better to obey even if you die. Meantime, I have ways to care for you that you can’t even dream of.” He reminds them that their clothing did not wear out nor did they have medical issues. And He’s about to bring them into their inheritance – the promised land. But they must obey. The principle is clear. It’s better to obey than to live. Wow! Have we learned that principle?
Jesus had. He is now the ultimate fulfillment of all that Israel represented in the OT. You can’t miss the symbolism. Forty years in the wilderness for Israel. Forty days in the wilderness without food for the greater Israel. And now He is faced with the same test. Will he complain about the lack of food? Will He question God’s love and turn stones to bread? Will He provide for Himself outside the will of God in violation of His promise to be in every way like His brothers? Will He feed Himself at the cost of destroying the last hope of salvation that you and I have?
No – He will not fail. He trusts in a seemingly absent God and reminds the tempter: “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus is saying, “I am prepared to starve to death if that is the will of the Father.” My mission is in His hands. I will not violate my instructions for my own benefit. And, of course, He is saved. Food comes shortly. But this all prepares Him for a later test. Will he call 12 legions of angels to save himself from the cross that awaits, or will He trust himself to the Father? Once again, He does not fail! But this time there is no rescue. This time the hammer falls and He is crushed. But that’s what makes Him the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29). We are saved today because he learned it’s better to obey than to live. God’s love never fails.
Jesus was prepared to obey even if it killed Him. He said, “I must obey God.” The tempter said, “But what if you die.” Jesus said, “I’m ready to go.” Are we ready to go? Remember Esther. Her people, the Jews, were threatened with extinction. Esther was asked to go to the king and plead for mercy. But even as queen she was forbidden to go to the king unless she was summoned. Death threatened. But she says in Esther 4:16, “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” So there is something more important than life! Yes – obedience to the Father. Jesus said later in Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Food is temporary; the Word of God is permanent. So, Satan’s lie is – man must live. God’s truth is, obedience is paramount.
III. “So What?”
Satan cannot tempt us to turn stones to bread literally. But he can tell us God doesn’t care, and tempt us to put material things over spiritual reality in thousands of other ways. For example, 1) we don’t mind in the least when hobbies and pursuit of pleasure take us away on Sunday in violation of the Lord’s command not to neglect meeting together. 2) We feel justified in a meager or non-existent giving pattern in violation of the Lord’s command that each do “honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph 4:28). 3) The world has convinced us that it would violate our personal rights and be repressive to subjugate our physical or mental sexual desires outside marriage. 4) We’re way too busy working long hours to obtain what we covet of our neighbor’s to have serious involvement in ministry, and maybe even in our own home. Our hearts are hard. Sacrifice in the name of God has long since left our vocabulary. Let’s get real. We are turning stones to bread on a daily basis and having our fill while the world goes to hell without Christ.
Conc – Beloved, we can do better. Don’t we want to live for eternity? Aren’t we ready to say we’ll obey whatever the cost? Can’t we say like Esther – If I perish, I perish, but I will obey God? Corrie ten Boom who survived the Nazi death camps, was preaching one Sunday from Romans 12:1-2 urging her audience to present their bodies to Christ as living sacrifices. After church two young nurses invited her to their apartment for lunch, but it turned out they lived on the tenth floor – with no elevator. She didn’t think she could mount the stairs, but they were so eager and she felt God urging her on. By the fifth floor, Corrie’s heart was pounding, her breath coming in gulps, her legs buckling. She complaining bitterly to the Lord. The stairs seemed infinite before her and she wondered if she might die en route. “Perhaps I am leaving earth to go to heaven,” she thought.
In the end she reached the apartment, There Corrie found there the parents of one of the girls. Neither was a Christian, but both were eager to hear the Gospel. Opening her Bible, Corrie carefully explained the plan of salvation. “I have traveled in more than sixty countries and have never found anyone who said they were sorry they had given their hearts to Jesus,” she said. “You will not be sorry, either.” That day both prayed for Christ to enter their lives. On her way down, Corrie asked the Lord to help her listen Boom listen to her own sermon about being willing to go anywhere God says — even up ten flights of stairs. Physical things matter; but spiritual things matter most. Let’s not be turning stones to bread; let’s obey the Word. Let’s pray.