Luke 4:1-12 “In the Wilderness”
We are starting our look into Luke as a sermon series this morning. Although you may be confused that we are not starting in the first chapter, please note that we will get back to the birth of Christ and all the events surrounding that in about three months when it is Christmas time again.
We start with the beginning of the adult ministry of Jesus in chapter 4. Like so many great ministries, Jesus’ ministry to us starts right after his baptism by John in the Jordan. The Holy Spirit comes down and touches His life then. Then, this selfsame Spirit from God directs Jesus out into the wilderness.
The wilderness in this case is the desert in Israel. It is stark. Sometimes when we think of the wilderness we imagine a forested setting. This is not the case there. Jesus goes out into a desert wasteland void of any life. There are not even cacti or yucca trees. Jesus is out where there is only rocks and dirt. No animals are to be found. No humans are to be found either. Jesus is quite alone.
As it turns out, however, Jesus is not alone. Somehow the devil himself sees Jesus in the wilderness and approaches to cause havoc. How did the devil know that Jesus was there? When I swim in the ocean, I know that I am not alone in the water. I might not see the sharks, but they will always sense me. In that same way, I think the devil senses when we are alone and vulnerable. Maybe Satan is thinking that this is his big chance to cause the plan of salvation to end even before it gets started.
I know that we do not like to talk about the devil in worship! In a way that gives him more of a voice than anyone ever should give him. Yet, the reality is, as we see in the Bible itself, often times we will be confronted by the devil’s temptations.
On Wednesday this last week, little Tekoa Snyder came up to me with a book he had checked out of the library. Now, you all know that I am used to reading highly theological treatises. Tekoa handed me a book all about Lego building blocks. In it were pictures of so many things one can build with the little plastic building blocks. And, there were great stories about little Lego figurine characters in their struggle against—wait for it—“THE DESTRUCTOR.”
In this Lego book was the story of how the “CONSTRUCTOR” would do constructive buildings. Then, the “Destructor” would come and de-construct the Lego cars, planes, ships, and the like. Somebody would have to build them up again. These were the heroes of the story.
Who would have thought that Lego could be so theologically astute? In our days, we have seen hurricane after hurricane wreak destruction, and throw in an earthquake, over cities and villages. Many in Texas and Florida are asking that question of God—WHY? Why did God send the hurricanes? But, we must remember that God is the Great Constructor, not the Destructor. That is the other guy! That is the one who is facing Jesus in the wilderness!
We have to be careful, though, not to believe that the devil is in any way on par with the Son of God. Christianity is not like Hinduism that has a “god of destruction” named Shiva. Our God is a God of Creation and building up. The devil is just the chaotic minion that is easily cast out by Jesus.
I will just share with you that in my life I have met this “Destructor.” When I was a young boy, I also played with Legos. I would spend hours building all kinds of things. Then, no matter how well I tried to hide away my Legos, my little sister, not old enough to go to school yet, would destroy what I had built up the day before. It was a constant struggle. And, you might ask why I did not throw my little sister outside to live with the coyotes and gophers. I was bigger than she. That just would not have been the right thing to do! I feel like Jesus is stuck here too. Lucifer used to be the light bearer angel in heaven. . . .what to do now with him? After all, he will get his in the end anyway.
So, the devil comes up to Jesus who has not eaten for 40 days now and tempts him to turn stone into bread to eat. Can Jesus even do this? Well, in fact Jesus does this miracle multiple times in the gospels. Who can forget that he changes water into wine at the marriage of Cana? Who can forget how he feeds five thousand people with enough bread to have leftovers? Who can forget the miraculous seaside breakfast after His Resurrection? Who can forget the Last Supper itself when Jesus takes bread and turns it into His very body broken for us? Transubstantiation is an easy thing for Jesus to do because He is God, and IS the Creator. I know that that is a big word: “transubstantiation,” but that is the real and correct word for it.
Jesus responds from a Hebrew biblical text “One does not live on bread alone but on the very word of God.” (Deut. 8:3)
Jesus in essence says, “No way.” Does the devil take the hint? No. It would be so great if in this world all we would have to do for temptations is to say “No” once and that would be that. Way back in the 1990’s there was an anti-drug program out of Washington called “Just Say No.” All the addicted drug users say “no,” but their peers and suppliers and own bodies just didn’t get that memo.
Our longest war in history, that being in Afghanistan, is now in its 16th year. Did not the other side understand that we won that war? Why do we keep on fighting?
The next temptation to Jesus is that he is shown all the kingdoms of the world. The devil says that he has been given authority over all of them. Stop. Let us think about that statement. Are all the earthly governments really under the devil’s control? Or, is this a lie from the great deceiver? He challenges Jesus to bow down to worship him and in this way be given the authority over all these nations.
Well, this is the greatest lie, isn’t it?! Jesus has authority already over all the nations! But isn’t it also interesting that the devil shows him ALL the nations? I have to think that must have included Mexico under the Aztecs at the time, the Incas in Peru, the Native American nations, China, India, and even Hawaii! At the start of His ministry, Jesus is shown the Kingdom of Hawaii!
While the devil is showing Jesus all these nations, Jesus is clicking off in his eternal brain: “Must send my missionaries to these places. . . .”
Jesus responds by stating Scripture again: “Worship God alone.” Why does Jesus always quote Scripture? He is being confronted with the greatest lies. He responds with the greatest truth there is! That is how you stop the great deceiver from having people believe his lies.
Watch out now: The devil himself now quotes scripture. He takes Jesus to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem and says that if Jesus jumps, then the angels will have to catch him—because that is scripture. Wow! This is the greatest temptation—pervert, corrupt, the Word of God. Wow, the devil can quote scripture to you!
You know, I have been asked a few times why I preach with the Bible open and invite everyone to open up to the pages in the bible as I preach from them. It is because all of you should be checking every word I say. Just because someone says that it is in the Bible, that does not mean that it actually is or that they are not putting some kind of insidious spin on the text. Perhaps they have mistranslated or taken the text out of context completely. My warning to you, even the devil himself will quote scripture to tempt the Son of God!
Jesus responds, “You shall not tempt the Lord, your God.” This is from Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test, as you did at Massah.” You see, it is important to know the context! At Massah, as we see in Exodus 17, the Hebrew children freed from slavery, protected from destruction by the Egyptian Army, having crossed the Red Sea, having been given Manna from heaven to eat, now complain that there is not enough water to drink. So they complain that God has brought them out into the wilderness to die. See how this fits the idea now of Jesus in the wilderness?
The Holy Spirit did not bring Jesus out into the wilderness to die! He was brought out to face his greatest fears and challenges. God is with him the whole time. Jesus will not have to prove that by jumping off the temple.
Do you catch what did just happen though? Jesus is taken out of the wilderness by Satan in that moment. He is taken to Jerusalem! Facing the final temptation takes him out of the wilderness! Once Jesus is out of the wilderness, Satan has no power over him anymore. Satan goofed up here. Jesus is now at the temple; he can get all the food and water he wants just there at the temple. Oops.
The devil finally leaves Jesus alone. Yet, the bible is clear that it is only for a season. We think that Jesus has won the fight and that the devil would know that he is defeated and simply stay away from Jesus. But, as we read, the next thing that happens is that the devil shows up again in Nazareth.
Temptations never really ever just go away. They keep coming back. The Destructor is always busy destructing our lives. Yet, God will build us back up again and give us the strength we need. As long as we hold fast to the Word of God, Satan will eventually goof up again.