A Testing Time

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This morning in our studies in Luke’s Gospel we come to chapter 4.1-13 where we read about Jesus’ Temptation.

That this happened, cannot be denied. Jesus himself must have been the source for this account. There is nothing in the Old Testament that could have led the early disciples to make up such a happening. There is no prophecy about the Messiah having to face temptation that might have given rise to a fictitious fulfilment. And had the whole been a human invention it would surely have been less profound and more sensational.

You will see that after some words of introduction my headings are first, WHY RESIST TEMPTATION, secondly, WHAT TO RESIST and thirdly, HOW TO RESIST.

So first by way of introduction note when Jesus was tempted. We are told in verse 1, it was when “full of the Holy Spirit” [he] returned from the Jordan.

That is referring to Jesus’ baptism that we thought about last week and when there was that divine disclosure confirming Jesus’ Sonship and that new coming on him of the Holy Spirit in a visible way. It took place at the river Jordan and must have been a wonderful experience for Jesus. It is after that experience that there is, for Jesus, this confrontation with the devil.

How true to life that is! All seems to be going well spiritually, and then something happens to deflate or depress you. It is at that point you need to be alert to temptation.

Then, note, where Jesus was tempted. Verse 1 tells us it was in the desert. Jesus was on his own. It is important to be on your own for prayer and Bible study – for some Quiet Time when you can think and meditate and pray. Moses and Paul both had periods in the “desert”. But you can also be “lonely” when you are on your own. And that too is when you need to be aware of temptation.

Then note the context for Jesus’ temptation. Verse 1 says it was as he was being “led by the Spirit”. Being “led by the Spirit” is a mark of a true believer. Paul says in Romans 8.14:

“those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

So never think you are too spiritual to be tempted! But when you are tempted to do something wrong, do not think you, therefore, are not a true follower of Jesus Christ. For Jesus was tempted when he was being “led by the Spirit”.

And, finally, note the condition Jesus was in when he was tempted. Verse 2 says “he was hungry”.

When you are physically tired or emotionally stressed or under some other sort of pressure that causes physical strain, that is when you can be tempted. I can think of someone recently who has been under that sort of pressure and been tempted.

Well, so much by way of introduction.

That brings us to our …

... first, heading and WHY RESIST TEMPTATION

There are three reasons I want to mention this morning – I am sure there are many more.

The first reason is that sin is real.

But what is sin? It is a vast moral disease that has infected the whole human race. It is like a spiritual AIDS which you ignore to your peril. And that is what millions are doing. The Bible says “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3.4). It is any deviation from God’s law – his moral law. There is also the sin of omission as well as commission. This sin is simply failing to do good. So sin is not just the bad we do but the good we do not do. Jesus makes that so plain in Matthew 25.41-42 where he says this:

“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.”

It was old Archbishop Ussher who prayed, just before he died:

“Lord, forgive me all my sins, and specially my sins of omission.”

And there are also sins of ignorance. The Old Testament teaches that and so does the New. Jesus said (Luke 12.48) that

“the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment [will not be excused, but …] will be beaten with few blows.”

Sin is certainly real. That is a fundamental reason why you must resist temptation.

The second reason is that sin is denied. This was one plank of the philosophy of the secularizing 18th century European Enlightenment. At the heart of the Enlightenment were two beliefs.

One was the denial of sin and the belief in the perfectibility of humankind through evolution or education. And, two, there was the belief that God, if he existed at all, never got involved in this world. That means we have to make up the rules for living as we go along.

Those ideas got into public education and so public consciousness through Rousseau, the 18th century French thinker and writer. Rousseau held that man is by nature good but society and civilization corrupt this goodness. So education on his lines, he said, is the answer. And many today are still following Rousseau’s advice with sin-ignoring education. The second reason, therefore, to resist temptation is that with sin denied, temptation is ignored or not noticed.

The third reason to resist temptation is because the devil is real. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says:

“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.”

But you say, “can you believe in the devil today in 2010?” Why not? It was Jesus and his apostles who especially taught about the devil. It is entirely reasonable to say that all the evil in the world is not accounted for by the sum total of individual misdeeds or omissions. For there is more - a super-plus, if you like - of evil. And that is to be seen as a personal intelligence rather than an impersonal force. Certainly Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ experience means the devil is real. That is the third reason why we need to resist temptation.

We must move on …

secondly, to WHAT TO RESIST

Look now at verses 3-4:

“The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’”
Jesus answered, “‘It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.’”

The three temptations here are archetypal temptations. And each of them can apply to so many different types of situations. Of course, they would have come to Jesus in a different way to that in which they come to us. They would have involved his call to Messiahship, his identity as the divine Son of God and his use of supernatural power.

But basically they are common to us all. Their essence is, surely, suggested by Jesus’ replies to the devil. The reply in this first temptation comes from Deuteronomy 8.3. It refers to God’s treatment of the people of Israel in the desert during their Exodus from Egypt. Let me read the original in Deuteronomy 8.3 to you:

“He [the Lord] humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

This temptation, then, comes in a problem situation involving the things of this life – food (as here). But it could relate to money, health, property, employment, human relationships, your business, your clinic, your school, your college – things that cause (to quote the Parable of the Sower) “the worries of this life”.

The temptation, then, is to fail to trust in God’s goodness and sovereign control in a stressful or worrying situation relating to the things of this life. And the temptation is to try any quick fix to put things right – with the fix being inherently wrong. For Jesus at this stage, using his miraculous powers for his own personal purposes, would have been wrong. His heavenly Father could have provided any miracle that was needed – as happened with manna in the wilderness.

So this is the simple temptation not to trust God who in his way and in his time can solve all your problems in a way that is best for you. In the present it doesn’t necessarily seem that way. For Jesus was feeling hungry – no doubt desperately so. But Jesus was going to wait for God’s timing for ending his fast. So when Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount – Mat 6.25-27:

“… do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” …

… when he said that, he knew what it was to trust God when under physical or this worldly pressure or pain. So his conclusion was in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 6.33):

“seek first his [your Father’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Of course, it is not wrong to work at, think about, take speedy action over (when that is right) this life’s needs or all that is represented by the word “bread”. But the temptation is to live as though man lives on “bread” alone – as though the material world is all there is. It is the temptation to forget God and ignore him. And that is the essence of sin. Sin is not just fraud, lying, violence, murder, adultery, fornication, homosexual sex and all the high profile sins. The root of all those sins is the ultimate sin of omission – living as though God was not there and not in control. So much for the first temptation.

Look now at verses 5-8:

“The devil led him [Jesus] up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Now this is the temptation not for when you have a problem in this life – in this material world. It is when you are faced with a positive opportunity for doing something that is good and you are tempted to do evil that good may come.

Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords now before his second coming when he will be revealed in all his glory and power. But in this age it is to be a hidden kingdom, based on faith and not on force or worldly power. Jesus said to Pilate (John 18:36):

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

So for Christ the temptation was to have all the world under his control but through submitting to the devil’s purposes and not his Father’s. It was to let the end justify the means.

But this is happening everywhere today in our relativistic world. It is what happens when you believe nothing in and of itself is essentially wrong. It is when you say all that matters is your motive and the result. So with a good intention anything goes if the result seems good.

This is what is called “utilitarianism”. And it is currently affecting medical ethics, sexual ethics, business ethics, politics, education – so many areas of life. Paul refers to this in Romans 3.8 as saying

“Let us do evil that good may result”.

He will have none of it. Nor will Jesus. So that is the second temptation.

And the third temptation is there in verses 9-12:

“The 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. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered, ‘It says: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’”

This is a temptation in wanting to do good not relating to material daily and ordinary life but to the life of faith – to spiritual life. And it is a temptation to use fanatical tricks. But Jesus ministry was not to be marked by fanaticism as well as not by force. Nor are we to be foolish fanatics.

Of course, God can and does work directly in this world (miraculously) as well as indirectly (through more natural working). But this temptation of testing God is to demand, as of right, his miraculous instant direct working in response to our needs.

In verse 12 Jesus replies to the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 6.16. That says: “Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah.”

Massah was where the people of Israel questioned the presence of God because he wasn’t immediately supplying their need for water. So here the temptation is for Jesus to win the world by being a miracle worker. But his mission was to be a Messiah dying for sins of the world on the Cross. He there died in our place but only then was he raised victorious as the true King of kings and Lord of lords.

And Jesus certainly knew the limitations of the miraculous in evangelism. As he said in his’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, when someone’s heart is not right, “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16.31).

So this is the temptation to be fanatical or major on signs and wonders in seeking to win men and women to Jesus Christ. If you watch some religious TV, that is still a temptation.

How we, therefore, need more Christians involved in lively, well produced but not fanatical biblical Christian TV. That is the aim of Clayton TV. And, yes, pray for the sick (we are going to pray for the sick tonight) and pray about practical needs. But let God answer those prayers as he will. So …

thirdly, and finally, HOW TO RESIST

First, be alert. Peter prefaces his remarks about “the devil prowling around like a roaring lion” with these words: “Be self-controlled and alert”. Then he says,

“Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5.8-9).

Secondly, use the Bible as Jesus did. Counter the Devil’s temptations by recalling a verse or principle of Scripture that is crystal clear. That is so important.

But remember as Shakespeare put it in The Merchant of Venice and referring to this third temptation: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”

Once again it is getting fashionable to be “biblical”. It is all the more important to remember Article XX of the Church of England’s Thirty-nine Articles. This says you are not to “… so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” That is what the Devil is doing in that third temptation and quoting out of context. Sadly so many are doing that today, not least in many high-profile ethical issues. But Jesus will have none of that. So he supplies the wider biblical context and resists the devil.

Thirdly, remember Hebrews 2.17-18:

“Because he [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

So, of course, pray for his Holy Spirit to strengthen and help you.

I must conclude.

We fail, Jesus didn’t. So if we confess, he will forgive. But in his strength we must then work to resist temptation, for sin is real, sin is denied and the devil is real. And there will always be temptations to live ignoring God, to let ends justify the means and to be fanatical.

So be alert, use the Bible properly and always seek Christ’s help.

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