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Jan 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 16, 2011

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. Luke 4:1-2 (1-13) 

INTRO: We return to where we left our bookmark 

Jesus is on the move and he goes from his baptism directly into the wilderness 

Even if we had never heard this story before, there is something about it that sounds familiar
– we can detect a series of events in Jesus’ movements that are typical of folk tales from ancient times to today
– the main character: 

  • leaves home
  • is given a quest
  • is given help (directions, a gift–e.g., “led around by the Spirit”)
  • comes to a border crossing (“the wilderness”)
  • may perhaps encounter a border “guardian” (“tempted by the devil”)
  • is tested by an ordeal
  • passes the test
  • returns home different from when he left and now empowered (see vv. 14, 16 & 22)

Why would Luke use a story form that is so close to the folk tale form?
– perhaps it was because Jesus was his hero
– we will see in this story that a hero is precisely what we need 

Jesus’ temptation needs to be read alongside that of Adam and Eve (who failed)
– as there were cosmic consequences to their failure,
– so there are cosmic consequences to Jesus’ success 

Why three temptations?
– I don’t know of a specific reason and I doubt these are meant to cover every possible temptation
– these are a sampling from the category of “temptations”
What we do know from experience is that temptations hit us on several levels
– In the movie, “Devil’s Advocate,” a number of temptations are thrown at a young attorney
– when he sees what giving in to them does to his life in the long run, he rejects them
– but just when it seems that he’s escaped the devil’s snare, the tempter comes in a different disguise and attracts him on a new level
– reassuming his earlier form, the devil delivers the last line in the movie, “Vanity! It gets them every time” 

Temptations that appeal to physical needs and drives 

“He became hungry”
– this kind of temptation usually comes to us as seduction
– it appeals to a legitimate desire or need, but presents satisfaction by an illegitimate means
“tell this stone to become bread” 

For this to work, the tempter (devil): 

  1. Has to exaggerate the importance of our need
    – if I’m desperate, then it seems to me that the ends justify the means
    (Ge. 25:32, where Esau exaggerated his hunger, “What good is my birthright if I starve?”)
    – we panic, as if our life will be nothing or wasted if we don’t grab at what lies before us
  2. Has to constrict our thinking to temporal and material dimensions
    – he has to get us in the mind-set that everything real or worthwhile is located in this world
    – there must be a physical or tangible benefit for our effort
    – central to this concern is my physical body, “What will I eat? Drink? Wear?” (Mt. 6:25)
    – fear is the motivation behind this temptaion (e.g., “If I don’t get it now, I never will”)

We notice that the tempter creates panic by constricting our thinking to this specific time and place, the here and now
– at first we may find this disturbing because the focus of our attention in contemplative prayer is the here and now

It may seem like a subtle difference, but the goal of contemplative prayer is not to live for the moment, but to live in the moment
– it is by bringing our attention to God in this present moment that our awareness is extended to a larger reality (Ps. 73:16-17) 

Jesus’ response to this type of temptation, “Man shall not on bread alone”
– he orients himself to two reference points that break the spell: 

  • one reference point is outside this world (God and his word; see the full quote in Deut. 3)
    – besides the laws of physics and biology, other laws affect and influence our actions
    – for example, the rule of God’s will over my life – “You shall worship the Lord your God . . .”
    – the tempter offered Jesus a way around the cross (vv. 5-6), but there is no getting around it
    – Jesus’ body was of relative usefulness in relation to bigger issues of God’s will
  • one reference point is internal to “me” and more important than my body
    – my soul, my true self, at it needs more than bread to nourish it

Temptations that appeal to reason (logic) 

Many temptations begin with a question
– the devil is smart enough to not hit us with an outright contradiction, lie, or blasphemy
– such an assault would immediately raise our defenses
– instead, he gets us questioning God and his word – “Has God said . . .?” (Ge. 3:1)

The first and third temptations begin with an “If”
– he calls into question whether Jesus is the Son of God
(which also callsGod’s word into question; see 3:22)

Notice the logic: “If this is true, then that will follow”

We fall into this temptation all the time

  1. We assume that God should work in a particular way; we have certain expectations
    – an “if” enters into our thinking
    – e.g., “If he is God, and he has done all these great things in scripture, then he should do this [specific action] for me”
  2. Then, when God doesn’t do what we expect, logic kicks in
    – we’ve uncovered a contradiction that undermines everything
    – a (supposed) contradiction between what the Bible says and the way God acts in our lives
  3. We draw one of several possible conclusions:
    ∙ God doesn’t exist
    ∙ God is not all-powerful
    ∙ God is not all-loving
    ∙ God makes no sense

We hold God responsible to manage the world as we reason that he should
we will not allow God to transcend our logic 
– but if the Creator is bound to human logic, as we are, then logic is god

If this temptation is successful, we lose our trust in God and eventually fall away from him
– for if we cannot trust God, then we dare not obey him 

Jesus’ response to this type of temptation:
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread [or logic] alone'” and, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’”

Temptations that appeal to piety 

In this third temptation, it is the devil who says, “It is written”

It is as if he were saying, “So You want to brush me off with Bible verses? Okay, I can quote scripture too. But if you’re going to play that game, you had better be ready to back it up. How strong is Your faith, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you ready to prove it? It is written that God’s angels will protect his people. Here You at a dizzying height above the temple. Let’s see if You really believe the Bible. Jump to the stone pavement below and find out whether the angels catch You. But if You don’t believe in the Scriptures enough to live by them, then don’t quote the Bible to me as a valid reason why You won’t run the experiment I’m suggesting.”

Here is what we have:
– the devil argues that a true believer in God and his word would act in a certain way
– then he suggests that we do something absurd

Jesus’ response to this type of temptation: to attempt the absurd is not faith but a dare
– it isn’t the believer who is being challenged, but God, and we are not to put him to the test
(This sort of  thing never ends well. If we say, “Lord God, I am going to jump from this bridge to show the world that Your angels will catch me!” he is likely to respond, “Okay. Then I’ll be seeing you in a few minutes . . . up here.”)
– God does not ask for or support foolish risks
– whenever we’re drawn to some absurd stunt, it is temptation, not a sign of faith

The temptations thrown at Jesus are blatant 

The devil is not so out-in-the-open with us
– he doesn’t offer us the world for our soul
(and a good thing, too. I wonder how many would trade their soul for the winning Lotto numbers)
– rather, he takes our soul little by little in small trade-offs

  • to get that next promotion I need to spend more time at work and less with my family
  • to make this sale, I’ll have to fudge the facts
  • to increase the money I have in retirement, I’ll put to more into investments and less into charity

So I make these little compromises, that seem like nothing in themselves
– but piece by piece, they all add up until my soul no longer belongs to me

The devil runs a great casino, because in the end he gets our soul without giving us the world
– without giving me anything

Why are the words, “It is written” an effective strategy for resisting temptation? 

Because God’s word:

  • provides us with wisdom and resources greater than our own
  • provides us with an authority on which we can rest our defense
    – like the child who says, “My mother says, ‘Never talk to strangers’”
    – no other argument is necessary
    – as long as the child sticks to that authority, he has protection
  • puts my eyes on the horizon of my life rather than on the temptation
    – in the stress of a crisis or the heat of passion, temptation may seem impossible to resist
    – God’s word lifts our thoughts above the temptation

Typical horizon questions: Who am I? What am I capable of becoming?
– one of the great tragedies of a human life is to “miss the mark”
– to be able to do some great thing for others and to have opportunity to go in that direction, yet die without ever doing it

Other living things cannot miss the mark
– a “bird of paradise” plant that grows normally cannot fail to fulfill its purpose of producing beautiful blossoms
– it is in the plant’s DNA to fulfill its destiny – achieving it’s destiny is the same thing as being alive and growing
– only humans are given a role in their destiny – we must make choices if we are to fulfill it
– This requires us to keep looking at the horizon

Dag Hammarskjold, “Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step: only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road.” 

God’s word lifts our sites to the far horizon

CONC: The movie, “Pacific Heights” is extremely frustrating film to watch

A young couple buys an investment home and rents rooms out to tenants. A sociopath, who moves into one of their rooms, is bent on destroying them. He is both brilliant and totally heartless–he wants to take them for all they have, but he also wants to devastate them in the process. His strategy, however, is not to assault or openly attack them, but to irritate and frustrate them. So he fails to pay them what he owes in rent, annoys other tenants until they move out, breeds cockroaches in his room, and so on. Then, after driving them crazy, he leaves them clues as to how they can retaliate against him or force him to move out. But he designs these opportunities carefully so that each time they do something against him, they are the ones who are breaking the law and violating his rights. Therefore he wins judgments against them in court every time.
Basically, the sociopathic tenant sets temptation before them and lets them destroy themselves.
By sixty minutes into move, you’re screaming at them, “Don’t give in! Can’t you see this is just another trap? You’re doing exactly what he wants you to do!” Their greatest weakness is their own sense of justice and passion.

The devil doesn’t need to destroy us; he merely tempts us and lets us destroy ourselves
As Helmut Thielicke said, “The secret of temptation lies within ourselves . . . . It lies in the fact that we are ‘temptable.’” 

How can we win against one who is so good at loading the dice and stacking the deck?
– we cannot win
– but we have have a hero who can win, who did win; the One who did not give in to temptation

Jesus has disarmed the devil (see Lk. 11:21-22 & He. 2:14)
– Jesus has disarmed the devil so that now he can be beaten by puny men and women such as ourselves

So when your are tempted, stay close to Jesus, do as he does, and follow him through it to the horizon on the other side

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