January 20, 2019
Temptation is resisted with the Word of God.
I. The desires of the flesh (Luke 4:1-4)
II. The desires of the eyes (Luke 4:5-8)
III. The boastful pride of life (Luke 4:9-13)
I have long tried to figure out and describe how we are tempted. I’ve been tempted enough in my life, fallen to it enough, resisted enough, that I ought to be able to describe the process. But it’s difficult. Let’s examine some mental pictures. Temptation is like being stalked by a wild animal. It creeps along undetected, and suddenly leaps and seizes you. This picture comes from Scripture, which says Satan prowls around like a lion, sin crouches at your door and temptation seizes you. The strength of that picture is the notion of being seized. Isn’t there a sense in your own experience, in which temptation seems to suddenly grab hold and get you in its clutches? The weakness is that with a wild animal there is no warning or escape. Temptation usually gives some advance warning.
A more homey illustration of temptation might be making oatmeal. When you put the liquid and the oats on the heat nothing seems to happen. until the surface of the mixture begins to move and bubble a bit. And if at that moment you choose to look away, next thing you know this whole mixture has bubbled up over the top of the pot. Here we have the sudden bursting forth of temptation, but also the slow boil, the conditions that make sudden temptation possible.
Another image might be drunkenness or drugs, not as sins in themselves to which you are tempted, but in the sense that they cloud your thinking and impair your decision making so that you do things you would not do when sober. In other words, sin makes you stupid, or rather, temptation makes you stupid. Satan doesn’t want you to think about what’s going on, but to walk into a trap.
One more. Temptation is like a rip-tide that drags you out to sea. When swimming in the ocean you often feel this current, pulling you along, drifting you in a certain direction. If you’re aware of it, you can move the other way to stay even. But if for even a few minutes you give in and drift with the current, you can find that it is not only moving you along the beach, but out into the ocean. Suddenly it becomes a strong, almost irresistible force, dragging you away from the shore. That’s temptation, a sudden fever, but with warning signs.
Probably the most exact analysis of temptation in Scripture is found in James 1:13-15 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Notice the action. We are lured and enticed. But it’s not Satan who does it. It is our own desires. It is these desires Satan uses to grab us.
The most exact analysis of those desires is 1 John 2:15-16 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.
Three types of desires are identified. First are the desires of the flesh. These are the physical desires, for food, drink, addictions and sexual lust. The second group is the desires of the eyes. This is longing for the splendor, security and stuff of the world. resulting in greed, materialism and selfishness. The third is pride in what we have or are, the boastful pride of life. Specifically, this desire puts God in a box and seeks to bend him to our will. When the Lord Jesus was tempted, the Devil appealed to each of these desires. But he was met, at every point, and in every desire, with Scripture. Jesus used Scripture as a weapon against Satan and against temptations. And we are called to do the same. We learn from Jesus that temptation is resisted with the Word of God.
First, Satan tempted Jesus with the desires of the flesh. Luke 4:1-4 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”
Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit because of what happened at his baptism. The Spirit, you’ll recall, descended on him in bodily form as a dove. Luke is careful to show the Sprit at work throughout chapter 4. This is tremendously important. On the human level, for Jesus as well as us, the key to victory over temptation is the power of the Spirit. When we try to resist in our power we inevitably fail. And I believe that Jesus, if he had tried to fend off this temptation only from the power of his human nature, would have failed. In fact, the reliance on himself alone would have been the failure. Instead, he spends these forty days in the desert, the Judean wilderness, in dependence on the Holy Spirit.
It’s seems certain Jesus was thinking and meditating on the wilderness experience of the Israelites, as recorded in Deuteronomy. It’s also likely he was teasing out, from the Word and in prayer, the full meaning of being the Messiah and the Son of God. In addition, Jesus was fasting. He went without food for forty days. It doesn’t say he went without water, which you can’t survive, except miraculously. But you can survive without food that long. This fast was very practical. He was in a wilderness with no food. To concern himself about food would have distracted him from why he was there. Food was set aside so he might more fully spend time with God. That’s the right kind of fast.
Yet, even in the midst of his prayer, fasting and meditation on the Word, God allowed a time of testing and temptation. “The devil said to him: ‘If (or since) you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’” On a divine level these temptations all challenge Jesus’ self-understanding as the Son of God. How will he use his divine power? On a human level, Jesus was hungry. The Devil offered him the desire of his flesh. In this the evil one sets up one of his common ploys: the excuse. Yeah, but it’s not my fault, I was hungry. It’s hard to resist when there’s an excuse at hand. My childhood was horrible. I was broke, stressed. That’s why I blew up, drank, abused my kids, destroyed my marriage, why I stopped doing good. Yeah but, that’s why. I’ll never forget a guy who excused cheating on his wife. His circumstances, he said, were a perfect storm. It was impossible to avoid an affair. Jesus was hungry. Praise God hunger wasn’t his strongest motive. Jesus had been led into the desert, into the fast, by the Spirit. To turn from it would be to disobey.
Satan wanted Jesus to put his fleshly desire above his communion with God, but Jesus gives the perfect answer, “Man does not live by bread alone.” He’s quoting Deuteronomy 8, Moses says “You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Jesus saw his wilderness test to be like theirs: would keep the he Lord’s commands. Notice that his quote emphasizes the word man. Jesus experienced this temptation as a man, no different than you or me. As a man he saw that physical satisfaction wasn’t enough. He must have God through His word.
Do you struggle with the desires of the flesh? With gluttony? A pre-occupation with the next meal, the next restaurant. With alcohol or smoking or drug abuse? An opioid or painkiller you can’t live without? A video game or YouTube content consuming hours each week or each day? Do you struggle with sexual desires or addictions you know are wrong? Or wonder if they’re wrong? We hope to do a forum for adults within the next few months on sexual issues and ethics.
We all struggle with the desires of the flesh. We need to learn from Jesus, and apply, the truth that temptation is resisted by the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit that slays those desires. I want to encourage Bible application on two levels today, one more practical, the other, I believe, more powerful. The practical level is the use of specific Scripture to combat specific temptation. Psalm 119 “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
This means finding, studying and memorizing verses that strengthen you against Satan’s attacks and temptation’s power. Verses that remind you what is right, and warn about what is wrong. Verses that reveal the blessing of following God and the peril of sin. For most characteristic sins a careful word search in a Bible app will reveal these verses. A simple Google search, “Bible verses on _____” will also yield results.
But I see something even more powerful when I notice that Jesus answered Satan out of the Scripture that was filling his heart. That’s the only explanation for the fact that all his responses are from two chapters of Deuteronomy. This is what he had been meditating on in the wilderness. When we are filling our hearts with the exploration and discovery of Scripture, the Spirit will give us power over temptation from that Scripture. I can’t tell you how often some old temptation in my life, has been answered in a new way by the Scripture I’m just at that moment studying. Meditating on, exploring, questioning, studying and applying Scripture leads to substantial victory over temptations of the flesh. It’s a specific case of the general concept of the expulsive power of a new affection. Here it is the expulsive power of a new Scriptural affection.
Jesus answered the devil really well when it comes to the lust of the flesh. Also really well when it comes to the lust of the eyes. Verses 5 to 8: And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
The Devil offers Jesus the glory of the kingdoms. The appeal, I think is to the eyes: All this can be yours. It’s easy to imagine this in ancient kingdoms: the glory of Rome and Greece, the splendor of Egypt at its height. Beautiful works of marble, gold, silver. Monumental architecture, soaring pyramids, temples, the seven wonders of the ancient world. But even now the appeal to our eyes, the appeal of luxury or glory is strong. This is what advertising is all about. And Christians fall for it. What is prosperity gospel but an appeal to the splendor of the world? I read about a prosperity Gospel preacher who bought his wife a $200,000 Lambourghini Urus, which was her dream. Why was it her dream? Because it was the desire of her eyes. Not from the Father but from the world.
The Devil also offers Jesus authority over these kingdoms, an apparent short-cut to the rule and reign that would rightly be his after his suffering. Here are your kingdoms, presently under my authority. You can have them without the sacrifice. Just bow down and worship me.
This ‘get it now without the effort’ temptation is rampant in our culture. The get rich quick, earn $3267.75 every day on Twitter, schemes are one example. But we have the same idea about relationship success, work success, weight loss success, etc. We want the gain, now, with no pain. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, but Satan appeals to our material desires, the lust of the eyes, to trap us. Buy now, pay later. Have what you want. Ignore the consequences.
Jesus sees the consequences. Satan’s fine print is right there at the end. Just worship me. I’m not sure the Devil was asking Jesus to actually fall down and worship, though he would not have refused so obvious a display. What he really wanted was for Jesus to place ends above means, to so value the honor and glory and splendor of being king, that he would desire it above obedience to God. To accept the Devil’s no-sacrifice offer of these kingdoms would be to accept the dominion of Satan rather than God. But Jesus responds, as before from this Scripture that has been on his heart, Deuteronomy 6, “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you, with great and good cities you did not build, 11and houses full of all good things you did not fill, and cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees you did not plant, and when you eat and are full, 12then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13It is the Lord your God you shall fear [or reverence, or worship]. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you.” This is just one of many, many places in the Old Testament where God makes it clear that worship, reverence, and service are due to him alone. Satan would have us, like Jesus, put something else in the place of God.
We need to examine our lives, and see whether the satisfaction of the desires of our eyes has, in practice, taken the place of God. Our longings for the glory of the world, for things we don’t have, may have distracted us. Dreams of the bigger house, the new car, the vacation. Possessiveness too, not being willing to give up what we have, whether stuff or security, comfort or time, energy or money. When we hold on to things God has given us to manage, that’s worldly desire.
How do we respond if we find we live more for our own satisfaction than God’s? The practical answer, the same application we studied before, is to fortify your mind with Scriptures that teach the right priorities. My favorites on this are what I call the treasure verses, that speak about having treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:19-21, I Timothy 6:17-19 and others. Look them up for yourself, add them to your stock of defenses against temptation.
Better still is to so fill our hearts with Scripture that the desire of the eyes dims in comparison to the glory of the one we cannot see. I think the old hymn writer put it well: “I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold; I'd rather be His than have riches untold; I'd rather have Jesus than houses or lands. I'd rather be led by His nail pierced hand than to be the king of a vast domain and be held in sin's dread sway. I'd rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.” It’s powerful to be so filled up with the vision of God that your eyes are blind to the world. It is written: worship the Lord your God and serve him only.
Jesus also has a great response to the temptation of pride and presumption. Verses 9 to 13: And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 12And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Here again the Devil tests Jesus with the taunt: “Since you are the Son of God.” “Hey, Son of God, you should do whatever you want, and count on God to protect you.” Satan appeals as he so often does, to human pride and ego. If I am who God says I am, God must do this for me. Notice that Satan is willing to quote Scripture to support this temptation. Of course, he intends Jesus to use it out of context. He’s quoting Psalm 91, where the writer explicitly proclaims intense trust in God. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” It’s this kind of person, making God his rock and fortress, to whom it is said: “God will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so you will not strike your foot against a stone.” God will protect all who intensely looking to him. It says nothing about those who from pride and from ego put him to the test. In our own day there are many who grow in pride and elevate themselves because they think they have God under their thumb. If they pray a certain way, he must heal, he must provide, he must give wealth.
The evil one is trying to get Jesus to act out of presumption, to take pride in who he is. But Jesus will not do it. Again he quotes Scripture, Deuteronomy 6:15 “for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God. Lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth, 16You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” Moses reminds them of an incident in Exodus. God had provided manna, and quail, and even water on a previous occasion.
But when the people of Israel got thirsty, they grumbled and quarreled. So Moses struck the rock, and water came out. Exodus 17:7 “And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or no?” They didn’t trust, they tested. Crucial difference, a line Jesus would not cross. In any circumstance he would trust God, but in no circumstance would he rise up in pride and test God. You shall not put God to the test.
Now if we want to apply this, we need to honestly look for pride. I’m not excluding the kind of pride that says I’m better than others, or I’m always right or my stuff is more important than yours. That’s pride, and sin, and not to be ignored. It’s probably the kind of pride that John is focusing on in 1 John 2:16. But the pride we’re talking about here is putting God in a box, it’s presumption about what God must do and must not do. In Jesus’ day the Pharisees and the Jewish people in general suffered from presumption. Some said ‘oh, we’re children of Abraham, so God has to love us, has to hear us, has to take care of us. He must do this because of who we are. Others said “I thank you Lord that I’m not like other men. I fast, I tithe, I keep the law. You’ve got to bless me.”
In our day there is a lot of spiritual presumption. It seems like every fragment, every division of the Christian tradition has been polarized against every other, and some of the things that divide our culture divide churches and denominations. I could give countless examples. I mentioned last week this comment on our website about naming our church after a false idea that God is a Trinity. I tried to say “there are a lot of good reasons to consider that doctrine. Here, read this book.” But the answer was “I am not a trinitarian. I am very familiar with the Trinity and how much confusion it has brought and the stumbling block to Jewish people and Muslims. No thank you I'll stick with the truth.” I’m sure he doesn’t intend it this way, but he’s saying “I’ve got God in a box, and anything else, I discount.” But we have to be really careful, because spiritual pride is deadly easy to catch. The line between feeling like we understand a Scriptural truth and spiritual pride that dimisses others is a very fine line.
The line between trusting God and presuming is a fine line. This shows up especially in the area of faith for God’s provision or faith for God’s healing. God can provide for our needs in ways that are unmistakable, he can heal in ways that are unmistakable, and often he does. But it is spiritual pride to say “I know what God is going to do.” Because I prayed this way or had this revelation I know what God is going to do in this specific circumstance. This is spiritual pride, this is presumption, this is putting God to the test. It’s not real faith.
But who am I to point the finger? Spiritual pride is deadly easy to catch. How do I avoid it? Same ways, both practical and powerful. First, cling to clear verses that warn against pride, spiritual pride, and promise blessing to those who are humble before the steadfast love, might and wisdom of God. Second, be so immersed in Scripture that the truths of God’s character, the places he speaks plainly, the things I can trust become writ deep in my heart, and the places where his will or his very nature are a mystery are left to his sovereign hand.
Jesus resisted temptation by the Word of God. His example is practical and powerful. I’m involved in a situation now where there is a temptation to what the Bible calls vengeance. I can’t give you the details because it’s an ongoing situation, and to do so would hurt people. And that would be the exact opposite of what Scripture is telling me. The practical verses that come to mind are in Romans 12 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. … Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, … head." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
That’s practical stuff for resisting this temptation. But the place where the expulsive power of a new affection shows up is in this book we’re about to study in our small group, Inexpressible by Michael Card. It’s about one of my favorite Hebrew words, Hesed. And the wonders of God’s steadfast love, covenant faithfulness, compassion and mercy, all of which are translations of this one word, hesed those wonders grab my heart and turn it from temptation to repay evil with evil. The Spirit’s sword, the word of God is at work in my heart.