Luke 4:1-13 “Tempting”
To begin today, I want to share with you an article from Wednesday’s Garden Island Newspaper. The newspaper has a feature writer named Ayda Ersoy who writes a column called “Health Angel.” The article that was written into print this last week was entitle “How can you stick to your New Year goals?” She gives nine ideas on how to stick to your goals. The number one piece of advice that she offers is “Make a decision after a meditation, or after a long hike or another form of gentle exercise.”
If you are like me, upon reading this part of the Bible, the question comes as to why would Jesus go out into the wilderness for forty days to fast. My guess is that he must have read the “Health Angel” article in the TGI and realized it would be good thing to pray and go for a long walk in nature. This would help him later to stick to His goal of saving all of humankind!
So Jesus is trying to get away from all of the worldly temptations, yet the Devil is not going to let Him alone. The devil likes to pester people. The devil follows Jesus out into the wilderness.
There in the wilderness we see that Jesus is faced with three temptations. Indeed, Jesus has fasted for forty days and is in a very weak physical condition. Yet, he is able to draw on a strength that comes from outside of himself through the Holy Spirit. As I was thinking about the three temptations that Jesus faces, I recalled that the Apostle Paul once wrote about the three different ways that Satan can attack. To me this was a double confirmation of what I should share with you today.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12 about the three kinds of attacks from the devil that we must have spiritual strength against. These kinds of attacks are very clear in the Greek but get a bit confused through the translation into English. Here are the three kinds of temptations that seem to be sent by the Satan: “αἷμα καὶ σάρκα,”
“ἀρχάς καὶ ἐξουσίας” and
“ta epourania.” I know—“It is all Greek to you”!
“αἷμα καὶ σάρκα,” or the first kind of attack by the devil, is to cause us to lose faith and belief in the goodness and providence of God. “αἷμα καὶ σάρκα,” is a reference to “blood and flesh” as it says in the text from Ephesians. We can surely name some of these temptations. They are the most prevalent in our lives. When we are hungry, we want to relieve the empty feeling in our stomachs. We want good physical feelings such as may be attained by using illicit drugs. Or, we just want to fulfill whatever physical desires we might have. In Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He is tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread to alleviate his hunger after fasting for 40 days.
I just want to add that after all the food we have eaten over the holidays, I could put in for forty days of fasting. Why did I eat all that? The devil made me do it! Why cannot I be more like Jesus in blood and flesh? I need to follow Jesus, and the Health Angel in the newspaper, by praying more and going out into God’s creation.
Jesus is able to defeat the temptation of physical hunger. He knows that his strength comes from God. That is why he quotes the Scripture that says that, “one does not live by bread alone but by the Word of God.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3) Jesus echoes this in his ministry time and again. For instance in John 6:24-25, “Do not work for bread that perishes. . . . “
And, we know for sure that Jesus would be able to turn a stone into bread. After all, he turns water into wine. He feeds five thousand people with five loaves of bread. After his Resurrection he goes up and feeds the disciples on the beach fish that did not come in on the catch as we know.
As an aside or a preview, we will look at this whole idea that Jesus loves to quote Scripture to Satan, or to “throw the book” at the devil, more next week when we look at the rejection in Nazareth. The idea was brought up in Tuesday morning Bible Study this last week, but I want to reserve it for the next sermon. Satan will see the strength that Jesus is able to garner from Holy Scripture and therefore convinces the crowds in Nazareth to reject Scripture when Jesus quotes it to them. But, please garner your strength to stand against Satan from the Holy Scriptures, just as Jesus did.
“ἀρχάς καὶ ἐξουσίας,” the second temptation according to Paul in Ephesians and in this text from Luke, is the temptation of power and authority. This is an attack against God’s plan in this world. We might want to think about it this way that the second attack is against Christ’s earthly ministry as Jesus is the rightful King. Satan offers a kingship over the world. Satan is really grasping at straws and looks very pathetic now as he is trying to make us believe that he has some authority over God on this planet. The temptation is to give up heaven, Christ’s heavenly throne, for earthly dominion that will be Christ’s anyway after the Second Coming!
Jesus is taken to a high mountain and is promised all the kingdoms of the world if he will bow down and “worship” Satan. Please note that the word to worship here literally means to “kiss” He is taken up this mountain so that he might get the larger view of things. We forget that Christ does not need the larger view; he enjoys the largest view already!
Why would Jesus allow himself to be led to the top of that hill by Satan? Do not let Satan lead you in your life to the desire for authority or kingdoms! Rest your worship in the greatest authority in heaven. Do not kiss the earth! Your mouth will be filled with dirt!
I have been intrigued this last week with the idea of Epiphany being on the same day as the Washington DC insurrection. It is a fascinating contrast between the Three Kings of the East bowing down before God incarnate in the form of Baby Jesus in the manger and a violent mob taking over the seat of American democracy! The three Kings seeking the incarnation of the Truth Almighty, and the human propensity to use brute force on display on the same day of remembrance.
“ta epourania,” The third attack is that which comes against heaven itself. In the Scripture from Luke, we see Jesus being taken up to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem. He is tempted by Satan to jump off and let God save him. We can see how this would upset God’s plan that Jesus would go to the Cross and be crucified for our sins and our salvation. If God were to send down angels to take up Jesus in that moment rather than in the Ascension after Resurrection, then we would not have Christ’s ministry at all. We ourselves would not have the salvation that Christ came to give to us from God!
And, I have to point out that in this particular instance that the Devil does something that is truly confounding: He quotes Scripture to Jesus! Look there in verse 10. Satan gives a Bible lesson to Christ! “The Bible says the angels will save you, so go ahead and jump!” We should really take this to heart and realize that Satan can and does quote Scripture. Satan knows the Bible. Satan knows the heavenly plan. And, Satan will use all means to disrupt it. This is the essence of that third kind of attack by evil. This is the perversion of heavenly things.
We might also want very simply to see these three attacks then as the attack against our bodies, against our intellects, and against our eternal souls themselves. In all of these attacks, Christ is victorious over the devil. And, we can be too!
How is Christ victorious? He simply tells the Devil to stop pestering! Let me say that again one more time because it feels soooo good: “Satan, leave.” Or, as we like to say today “Satan, you have been cancelled.” Except, what the text really says is that the devil stopped pestering Jesus for the moment because, as mentioned before, the devil seems to follow Jesus right back to Nazareth and continues the attack there. We may think that the devil has left us. Even Jesus could not keep the devil away!
I want to make sure that you leave here today with this simple and yet powerful understanding that because you have taken Christ into yourselves, you now have the power to tell evil to leave your life! You do not have to suffer through temptation. We pray that every time we meet that we will be delivered from evil, but we have to know that that power is within us already! We pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Lead us not into Temptation.” We do not want to have to face the Evil that is out there in the world today. Yet, we know that it is following us and when it does confront, our only hope is deny it as Jesus did by standing firm in the faith. That is our power over temptation.
Jesus ends his time of temptation with the words to the devil, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” That is indeed the most devilish thing that we can do and goes against the very Will of God in heaven.
We know that these are wasted words to the devil—but not to us here this morning. For, we worship the Lord our God and serve only Him.