Tempted and Tried (2): Introduction to Temptation (2)
Intro – An EMT crew responded to a call for help from an elderly man. A tech opened his shirt to attach EKG cables. "Any history of heart trouble?" "None," said the patient. Noticing bypass surgery scars, the tech asked, "In that case, do you remember when the lion attack you?" There was a guy in denial. Just like many today are in denial about an enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Pet 5:8). People in denial are easy prey. The world is full of them. I don’t want that to be us.
That bring us to how Christ met and conquered that temptation in Luke 4. We started last week to look at some general principles from these verses under the outline I. God’s Part; II. Satan’s Part and III. Our Part. We found that God is involved. What Satan intends for evil – for our downfall, God intends for our growth. Satan tempts; God tests! Temptation is never randomly imposed. Rather, a sovereign God allows it – His goal is our benefit and His glory. He administers or controls it. I Cor 10:13 tells us that He will never allow more than we can endure. And He accompanies it. He goes through it with us -- right to the end. So, the most important thing to know about temptation is that God is in control. Never doubt it.
II. Satan’s Part
But though God is greater, it is still critical that we know our enemy. To understand Satan’s role in temptation, we’ll see 5 characteristics of his person revealed here. They show what he brings to the table and why temptation is no small thing. We minimize it to our detriment. Five things about the devil.
Is the devil real? This passage of Scripture is nonsensical if he’s not. Some suggest there is no personal devil; the name just represents human tendency to err. But that definition hardly fits this context. These temptations are very specific. He quotes Scripture. He demands worship. And eventually, he even leaves for a time per v. 13. Listen – if Jesus is real, Satan is real. Satan here is not just some vague personification of evil. He is personal – a fallen angelic being who is after your soul and mine. He wants to bring us down. His treachery knows no bounds. And were it not for the limitations imposed by Almighty God, we would have been done in a long time ago.
One 7-year-old sent a letter to Santa: “I’m sorry for putting all that Ex-lax in your milk last year, but I wasn’t sure if you were real. My dad was really mad.” There is no similar reality test for Satan because he inhabits another dimension – the spirit world. Years ago a commercial showed a beautiful bus with the Greyhound logo. But when sprayed with water, the logo came off. Beneath was the logo of another line – unseen until the covering façade was washed away. Our world is very like that. The physical world is only a veneer. Behind it is a spiritual universe, inhabiting the same space we inhabit, with spiritual beings just as real as we are. We don’t see them, but they are there. (See II Cor 4:18). But even a cursory look at our world shows that Satan has an amazing influence through the limited means that God gives him.
He’s very happy to operate anonymously. It is much easier to destroy someone when they deny your existence or think you’re a joke. The old Flip Wilson jokes that ended, “the devil made me do it” play right into his hands. He’s convinced the world that he is a joking matter which makes it all the easier to take us in. It’s easy to take someone down who doesn’t know you’re there. No precautions, no warning system, no guard. We’re a piece of cake.
John Huffman pastors Hollywood Pres. While a seminarian at Princeton he supervised clinical work at Trenton State Hospital, a psychiatric institution in NJ. An orderly would open a door, then lock him in during visits. One day while inside a doc called him aside and began to brief him on several patients. He walked him to their beds, introduced them, went through their case histories. After an hour, he walked Huffman to the door and called the orderly – who quickly advised Huffman that he had been talking to a patient – not a doctor. Huffman’s mentor reminded them that pathology does not always look like pathology. Neither does our enemy always look like an enemy. He’s not called “deceiver” for nothing. With Satan, the fix is always in. Rest assured, he is as real as you. And he hates you with a passion.
Second, we must know Satan is absolutely ruthless. He is a cold-blooded, heartless killer. And he hates you with a passion. V. 3, “The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Consider the context. Jesus has just heard the Father say, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (3:22). Now here is the devil saying, "If you are the son of God." What’s he doing? He's inducing Jesus to live up to his reputation -- appealing to his pride. He is trying to get God to sin -- to use his deity for selfish purposes. If He can get Jesus to do this, all hope of salvation is lost. One selfish act will end the whole thing. He will win the whole world. The devil does not want anyone ever under any conditions to be saved. He is a heartless, cold-blooded killer. We must never lose sight of who it is that we are dealing with. He’s a roaring lion seeking someone to devour and you are right in his path.
Jim Caviezel stars in a new TV show, "Person of Interest." Each week he saves the life of someone who has been targeted for death. He himself is a jaded, heartless ex-CIA operative who has seen too much of the bad side of life. In one episode he finds that a former girlfriend, whom he left behind out of fear for her safety, has been brutally killed by a new love interest whom she had trusted. He tracks the man down, and everyone assumes that he has illegally killed the man given the brutality evidenced at the crime scene. Only later in the show is it revealed that he has legally arranged for the man to be incarcerated in a Mexican prison. He’s not such a bad guy after all.
Listen, Satan has no such qualms. He hates us more than anyone else ever did. He hates us before we are in Christ, and he hates us even more if accept Christ. He is out to destroy us at any cost, and there is nothing good in him to ever cause him to let up. His ruthlessness knows no bounds.
Bird watcher Irene Wanner described a nature team who captured a young snowy owl. But after banding him, no one wanted to release him. They wanted to admire him first. He was passed from one person to another without incident. But suddenly, without warning, one of the owl's legs flexed. The knees of the man who holding him began to buckle. His head tipped back and he began to scream. The talons of the owl’s left foot had gone right between the bones, all the way through the man's palm. That pictures the ruthlessness of the enemy who wants to take us down and destroy our spiritual existence. He can’t take away our salvation, but he would love nothing better than to make our life a shambles, a misery and a disgrace. sThere is no mercy in him, only hatred. He wants to squeeze the fear of the Lord out of us, get us out of the Word, – turn us into spiritual zombies. That's his goal and he is ruthlessly pursuing it.
Some times of temptation are worse than others. Believers have three great enemies identified in Scripture – the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world and the flesh are constant impersonal forces tempting us toward evil. At other times, such as this temptation of Christ, Satan, or his demonic followers, specifically tempt us. Notice v 13, "And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” Satan is always alert to opportune times to pile on – times of vulnerability. This may help explain why some times life seems more difficult than at others. Many times our vulnerability is at times when we are down. Satan love to kick us when we’ve been devastated in some way. But that is not always the case.
In this instance, he attacks Jesus at a high point. That's instructive. Notice v. 1, "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” Jesus has just returned from the Jordan where He was baptized. This was the high point of his existence to that time. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simultaneously affirmed the readiness of Jesus to begin His ministry. Then bang! Forty days of relentless temptation.
Luke is helping us understand that Satan's temptations are selective. He seeks to catch us off guard. That may well be at high points in our life spiritually. Times of heightened spiritual awareness because of some retreat we've been to, some experience of sharing Christ, some moment of victory over temptation. That's when he will strike. That's why God says in I Corinthians 10:12, "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Beware of high moments. Beware of pride. Beware of those times when you are most feeling the presence of God and experiencing the goodness of God and living in victory. These may be opportune times. He’s relentless.
CS Lewis was a brilliant Oxford educator -- the foremost Christian apologist of the 20th century. He began life as an atheist, but came to believe Xnty best explained things in the universe that could not be explained in natural terms. Against his own will, he came to Christ. Around 1940, he began a little club at Oxford to discuss theological issues. Usually there would be a paper presented by an unbeliever, and then a paper presented by a Christian. Often Lewis was defending His faith against the most challenging intellectual arguments that could be waged. Those discussions became the basis for many of his books. But Lewis once said that the hardest times he experienced as a believer were the times immediately after a debate where he had defended the faith. He said those times felt like he was a man called upon to do what only God can do. That was his mission. But he said, "Those were the times when I was most vulnerable to the work of Satan."
Perhaps you have discovered Satan doesn’t come when it's convenient. He doesn't send a calling card warning us to get ready. We don't get a phone call saying, "See you tomorrow. Get out the armor." He comes when we least expect it and attacks where we are most vulnerable. And while he leaves for a time, he always returns, relentlessly looking for a more opportune time – opportune for him, not us. That’s why Jesus said in Matt 26:41, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He said this to the disciples right after they failed to pray with him the night before his crucifixion. They kept sleeping with the result that they all ran the next day. They learned the same lesson we must all learn. Watch and pray all the time – in good times and bad, in prosperous times and in poverty, when God seems close and when God seems far away. Always watch and pray for the enemy is relentless.
Did you know Satan is religious? He is. James 2:19, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” They’re religious, but they’re not going to heaven. Religion is many things. Religion is man's attempt to reach God on his own terms, rather than accepting God on God's terms. Religion is the desire to have God's blessing without having God. Most of the world is religious. Satan is certainly religious. And, he tried to use his religion on Christ. He quotes Scripture in the second temptation in verse 10. But it is taken out of context. It is misinterpreted. It tempts Jesus to have God's blessing without having God's will. Jesus sees right through it. But the question is, would we? Satan is at his most dangerous when he comes in religious garb.
Most Christians are absolute patsies when it comes to evaluating false teaching. We are easy. Let someone come along using the name of God, or claiming allegiance to Christ, or quoting Scripture and we’re convinced. That’s why we have to test the spirits. Satan is religious. He knows more Scripture than any of us here this morning, and if he can take us down by quoting it to us through someone out of context he will gladly do so.
The Bible can be made to say almost anything. You must learn to know it in its near and far context. One very famous TV preacher says we have an exaggerated view of God as 28 feet tall with hands as big as basketballs. Not so, says this man. He claims that God is "a being that is very uncanny, the way He's very much like you and me. . . . a Being that stands somewhere around six-two to six-three, that weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of hundred pounds, little better, and has a hand span of 9 inches across." I know some of you think I make this stuff up, but I promise that it’s absolutely true! Where does he get that blasphemous idea? From Isa 40:12 which says God marked off the heavens with a span, so this man takes out a ruler, measures the span of his hand, find it to be 8-3/8 inches, grants that God's hand may be slightly larger than his – thus 9 inches. From that he extrapolates the rest. He willingly overlooks Jesus’ comment in John 4:24 that “God is spirit", and thus not subject to any physical definition. Isaiah is using figurative language that any normal person would have no trouble understanding. But many are taken in by false teaching.
Satan fools many with his religion. Jeremiah decries false teaching. God notes in Jeremiah 5: 31), “the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?" People love to hear preachers tell them what they want to hear. They love it. That’s Satan at his religious best. That's why Paul tells Timothy and II Tim 4:2, "Preach the word." Whatever the consequences, and however hard it falls on the ears of people, preach the word. And he tells him why in vv. 3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Don’t be taken in, beloved, by everyone who has a verse of Scripture. Satan loves religion. The antidote is – know the Word!
In the Middle Ages, when there were no radios, no magazines, no newspapers, no movies, no telephones, the people were frequently amused by the miracle plays -- religious stories acted out on stage. The audience learned to look for one character on the stage who was always dressed in red, wore horns on his head, and a tail dangling out behind him. His hoofs were cloven, and he had a pitchfork in his hand. This was the way that the devil was depicted. You can be sure that Satan had a hand in defining this comical caricature of himself, for it bears no resemblance to reality.
Listen, dear friends, although Satan is relentless and ruthless in his desire to steal your life, you will not look like that, character. He will not look like a demented serial killer. There is no government agency requiring him to put a label on his temptation that says, "This will be fun for a while, but in the end it will kill you." Nothing of the sort. We will see when we look at these temptations in detail from Luke 4 that they were all extremely attractive to our Lord. They were similar to ones that we give into everyday. They were in keeping with the description of Satan that we have in II Corinthians 11:14, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Rest assured that whatever temptation he brings your way will look like the best idea you have ever seen. Just like me, you will do everything possible to rationalize your way into it. Satan will look ravishing – attractive beyond anything you ever imagined. Despite the scars on your body from previous encounters with him, you will do everything possible to convince yourself that this is the real deal, this is from God, this is good. I deserve this. This will make me happy! And all the time, you will be in denial. That's how good he is.
Let me close with this. A few years ago this story hit the news in Southern California where we lived at the time. Two young women across the border to Tijuana, Mexico for some Christmas shopping. While there they noticed a small animal that appeared to be a dog, a tiny Chihuahua, struggling for its life in the gutter. It was breathing heavily, shivering – barely able to move. Their compassion would not let them drive off and let it die. They picked it up with the intention of taking it home with them to nurse it back to health. Fearing that it would be detected by the border patrol officers, they carefully placed it on some papers among their packages in the trunk and shortly found themselves back in California. One of the women agreed to keep the little orphan in her home overnight. She cleaned it up, but it would not eat anything. So she finally wrapped it in a small blanket and placed it beneath the covers of her bed to sleep with her through the night. Next morning she took it to the vet. Handing him to the doctor, she described all the things she had done to help the tiny creature.
The Dr. quickly interrupted her, "Where did you get this animal?" Not wanting to mention the illegal entry, she said she was keeping it for a friend. Again the vet interrupted sternly and said, "I'm not letting you leave until you tell me where you got this thing. She finally confessed that she and her friend had found a little Chihuahua while shopping in Tijuana. The vet just looked at her and said, "Chihuahua! Young lady, this is no Chihuahua. What you brought home with you is a rabid Mexican River rat!" Beloved, I beg you, don't deny the existence, the character, or the attractiveness of your enemy. As God said through Jeremiah what will you do when the end comes? What will you do when you find that what you thought was a cuddly little Chihuahua is a vicious killer? If you think cultivating a relationship with God is optional, think again. It’s an imperative. Let God be your God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you to be replaced by something far better supplied by our heavenly Father. Let's pray.