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The Temptations of Christ

March 2nd, 2020

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He was hungry. (Luke 4:1-2 BSB)

Jesus met the devil on the devil’s turf and in a physically weakened state but still was victorious over him. This moment was crucial for the ministry of Jesus, for he had come to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8).

The Jewish mind understood this principle more clearly than the Gentile mind. The author of Hebrews was led by God to discuss this in more detail. In the first four chapters he strongly underwrote the credentials of Christ for our salvation. He said:

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. (Hebrews 2:10)

The word translated “suffering” is pathema and it means emotional suffering more than physical suffering. It describes the intense passion of the soul, and puts the emphasis on the inner man and the inner struggles of the soul.

Our souls struggle against themselves, as well as the devil and the world. But in Jesus there was no inner conflict, rather from the very beginning His heart said, “I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb. 10:7b). So that the author of Hebrews said of our “Great High Priest”:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

So Christ did not enter His public ministry reluctantly, or out of a desire for attention and ascendancy over others. His motive was absolutely pure — to enter into the sufferings that are unique to the Messiah, the Christ of God, and to over come the devil and defeat him. His goal was to save us from our sin and to redeem humanity from the fallen world, the tempter’s power, and our own fallen natures.

Mark’s Gospel merely mentions that the temptations happened, without going into detail (Mark 1:12-13). It is Matthew and Luke that give us the details. Christ was in the wilderness for forty days to be tempted of the devil and both Matthew and Luke mention that the three temptations that they mention happened only after the forty day fast.

The significance of fasting: Scholars generally see biblical fasting as an act of humility and was done as: (1) a sign of grief and mourning, (2) a sign of repentance, (3) an aid in prayer, (4) as an experience that prepares one for a special service or mission, and (5) as an act of ceremonial public worship. We can see here the meaning of Christ’s fast at this point was a means to help prepare Him for His public ministry.

Though there are examples of people fasting in the Bible, there are no specific descriptive commands in the Bible of exactly what fasting was to be, so there are various theories. At its heart it means going without food for a specific period, acknowledging our greater need for God. But did this mean all food and water, or only some foods, or only food but not water? There are no clear biblical answers to these questions. Though sometimes it is specified that to fast is to go without food and water, it can be argued that going without water is specified in these passages because it was not normally part of fasting (Ezra 10:6).

We can note that in the first of these temptations, the Bible said Christ was hungry, and not that He was thirsty. (But on the cross He was thirsty, not hungry, see John 19:28.) So there is the possibility that Christ’s fasting was only to go without food for forty days, but to drink water. We know that the human body cannot endure 40 days without water, but still, if He did not drink water during this time, then Christ was miraculously sustained by God during this forty day fast.

The Pharisees had perverted fasting into a sign of one’s own righteousness, and something to boast about before others, but this was far from the original idea. Jesus assumed His followers would fast from time to time, and said, “When you fast” (Matt. 6:19), and not, “If you fast.” So periods of fasting, to deepen our relationship with God, are a normal part of the Christian life, even if specific seasons of fasting and specific rules of fasting are not commanded (Col. 2:16-17). The goal is humility, and not self-righteousness or seeking to pay for our sins — our sins are only dealt with in the cross of Christ.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

Christ, the Second Adam: We can draw a parallel between Christ’s fasting and the command of God to Adam not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. “The first sin in the Bible was a violation of a dietary restriction” (Kent Berghuis).  Adam ate, Christ did not. Christ as the second Adam proved Himself worthy to be our Savior:

So then, just as one trespass [by Adam] brought condemnation for all men, so also one act of righteousness [by Christ] brought justification and life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5:18-19)

So this contest, this showdown between Jesus and the devil, was bound to happen. In fact, this typified His ministry. Christ would be faced with evil repeatedly over His ministry. But there is a significant difference here in the post baptism temptation: this was a personal, one-on-one temptation between Christ and Satan. All other remaining temptations were between Christ and lesser demons and demoniacs (Luke 4:31-37), doubting disciples (Matthew 16:23), and ultimately the religious leaders of the Jewish nation where vanity, pride, and unbelief were the most entrenched.

The conniving of Satan: So for today’s study we will end merely pointing out the conniving nature of Satan. He knew when it was best to tempt Jesus, and he knows when we are also at our weakest point. There may have been other temptations that are not recorded here, in fact, most of us assume there were. And it seems that Satan comes at the end of the forty day fast to tempt him to eat.

It would be normal for the person, once seeing the finish line in view, would assume that the race was virtually over and let down his guard. Also, there would be the subtle temptation for the tempter to ask, “Why did they put the finish line there? And why not here?” Or to suggest, “What does it matter if you eat tomorrow or now?” Or, “What is the difference, really, between fasting forty days or thirty-nine and a half?”

Just look at sporting events on youtube and you will find many races lost in the last ten meters, when the leader let down his guard and assumed that he had already won, only to be overtaken at the last second by another. Near the end of anything is when we are at the greatest point in temptation.

A personal example: I am now completing my full time ministry of pastoring. Due to health considerations I will be retiring in the next few months, and though I will continue to serve the Lord as long as I can, the position of senior pastor will be taken off my shoulders. But I can say honestly that I have been tempted to say all sorts of things to people, things that the Holy Spirit would not allow me to say and certainly has not commanded me to say.

I am completing a segment of my own race of faith, and the temptations are real. I have determined in my heart to finish my race in the right spirit and to bless the people of God as I leave, which is what the Holy Spirit would have me to do. Now, of course, there are a few things (very few things) that I can and ought to say to the church at this stage of my life and ministry that they need to hear.  There is the possibility to be more fatherly than before on a few matters, but good fathers are loving and encouraging. They bless their children, and do not curse them.

So over these next few months in my life, I need to preach the grace of God in Christ Jesus, the potential for every Christian and every church to live a miraculous life in the power of God, the mercy of God which covers our sins and gives us hope. As God said, “But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification, encouragement, and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3).

Jesus while on the cross did not curse back at those cursing Him, rather He turned upward to heaven to pray for them, and toward the repentant thief to win him to faith. And it is instructive for all of us that the good examples of biblical leadership all blessed the people of God and encouraged them:  Joseph (Genesis 50:15-25); Moses (Deuteronomy 33); Samuel (1 Samuel 12:20-25); David (2 Samuel 22);  Isaiah (Isaiah 40); Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:21-33); Peter (2 Peter 3:18); John (3 John 1:8); and Paul (Acts 20:13-38).

 

Luke's Gospel

Christ’s Birth and the Spirit

February 28th, 2020

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35 BSB)

In order to tell the story of Jesus, where should we begin?

Matthew began with the calling of Abraham. Mark began with Isaiah’s prophecy about John the Baptist. John began with the nature of God and the creation of the universe. Luke, however, began with the movement of the Spirit.

All four of the Gospels agree that the coming of Christ was initiated by God. It was God who called Abraham. It was God who moved in Isaiah by His Spirit to give him the prophetic word. It was God who called and sent John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ. Both Luke and Matthew speak of the involvement of the Spirit in the miraculous birth of Jesus, but Luke continues on this theme to a greater degree. His purpose in doing so, as the Spirit inspired him, was to give us an understanding of what it means for the Spirit to empower the lives and witness of the church.

The Power of the Most High

The Spirit is the “power of the Most High God.” This title connects back to the Old Testament, especially to: Job 16:19, “My advocate is on high;” to Psalm 113:5, “The LORD our God, the One who sit enthroned on high;” and to Isaiah 57:15,

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.

This can leave no question about who the Spirit of God is: He is God. There is no possibility in light of these verses of consigning Him to anything lower than this.

That the Spirit is called “the power” (dunamis) of God indicates the domain in which He works. His role is to work in the power of God in our hearts and lives. And the description of His gentleness, especially in the impregnation of Mary, is seen in the phrase “shall over shadow you.” So from the beginning of the story of Jesus, Luke presents us with this revelation of the highest God in His power accomplishing His will. He seems like a gentle and gracious steamroller moving in unstoppable power to do the will of the Father. This understanding prepares us for what we will see in Acts in the expansion of the church.

Overshadowing and Purifying Us

In these passages about the birth of John and Jesus, we are seeing the interaction between God and human beings. There is both gentleness and sternness. At the baptism of Christ the emblem of the Spirit was a dove, gentle and hovering. The first biblical image of the Spirit is in Genesis 1:2, like a dove hovering over the waters. The fruit of the Spirit in our lives is love, joy, hope, etc. (Gal. 5:22-23). He is the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3), the “other Comforter” that Jesus spoke of, other like Him (John 14:16).

But we read later in Luke that the baptism of the Spirit that Jesus shall effect is a baptism of purifying fire, consuming the impure things in our souls (Luke 3:16-17). Certainly to receive the Spirit of Christ in our lives is a baptism of fire, and the Spirit will never release us from His grip until He purifies us entirely from sin.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6 ESV).

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your entire spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV)

There is a gentleness to the Spirit of God, and just as He overshadowed Mary with His all powerful gentleness, so He does this in our lives as well. But if this gentleness is rejected, then He does not run away from His child, rather He comes as the consuming fire of God, “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

Can’t we see both of these in the life of Paul as Luke presents him. This young firebrand of a pharisee is at first wooed by God gently, as were the other religious leaders. Christ Himself came as a lamb and silently endured their mistreatment. Then the apostles came more sternly, reminding them that they had crucified Jesus:

Men of Israel, listen to this message: Jesus of Nazareth was a man certified by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. He was delivered up by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, and you, by the hands of the lawless, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, releasing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its clutches. (Acts 2:22-24 ESV)

Paul was not there at Pentecost, so far as we know, but he was among the group of religious leaders who complained about the constant accusations of the apostles against them with regard to Jesus: “You are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood” (Acts 6:28).

When Paul is met on the road to Damascus by the resurrected Jesus, Christ compared him to a stubborn farm animal kicking against the goads (Acts 26:14), and said in gentlesness, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). But there was the sternness also of the blindness he experienced. Though it is impossible to fully prove from scripture, many of us believe that this vision and temporary blindness led to Paul’s thorn in the flesh because: (1) the encrustations “like scales” that fell from his eyes (Acts 9:18); (2) mentioning that he was among the Galatians originally due to a sickness, and that the Galatians were willing to give him their own eyes, if possible, out of their love for him; and (3) he ends the letter to the Galatians by taking the stylus in his own hand and writing in larger letters (Gal. 6:11).

But there is in this possibility a recognizable trait of God’s dealing with us. God is pleased to save us and to favor us, but to do so He also often finds it needful and beneficial to us to wound us in the process. The weaknesses He leaves us with turn out to be a great blessing in that they make us constantly dependent on God, and aware that the thing God has taken from us was not essential and has not removed Christ from us. As God told Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Consider:

  • Abraham and Sarah, a barren elderly couple became parents of the nation of Israel.
  • Jacob walked with a limp after he wrestled with God and received a blessing.
  • Joseph was despised by his brothers, lost his freedom before he was lifted up.
  • Moses struggled his entire life time with the damage his anger had caused to him and to others, but became the great deliverer of Israel.
  • David was the anointed of God yet lived in caverns hiding form Saul for twenty years.
  • John the apostle, who was a young firebrand like Paul had been, a “son of thunder,” lost his brother James, and cared for Mary, Jesus’ mother, for the first years of the expansion of the church, and did not rise to prominence until after Paul had gone to heaven. Then he softened and became the apostle of love, calling himself humbly in his Gospel, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

We can, of course, mention others, such as Job, Elijah, or Jeremiah, but these words below from Miles Stanford are proven repeatedly in both biblical accounts and in the lives of followers of Christ throughout history:

It seems that most believers have difficulty in realizing and facing up to the inexorable fact that God does not hurry in His development of our Christian life. He is working from and for eternity! So many feel they are not making progress unless they are. swiftly and constantly forging ahead. Now it is true that the new convert often begins and continues for some time at a fast rate. But this will not continue if there is to be healthy growth and ultimate maturity. God Himself will modify the pace. This is important to see, since in most instances when seeming declension begins to set in, it is not, as so many think, a matter of backsliding. John Darby makes it plain that “it is God’s way to set people aside after their first start, that self-confidence may die down. Thus Moses was forty years. On his first start he had to run away. Paul was three years also, after his first testimony. Not that God did not approve the first earnest testimony. We must get to know ourselves and that we have no strength. Thus we must learn, and then leaning on the Lord we can with more maturity, and more experientially, deal with souls.”

What must God take from you?

Every life that I have ever known, especially my own, has something, or several things, that are our “pet sins” that God must take from us. All the losses we experience in our lives as followers of Christ, we will see in eternity if not before, will serve as blessings, to make us more dependent on Him, more rested in Him, more at peace in Him and in Him alone.

There is no mountain of spiritual development that we may simply go around and become a complete person in Christ. All of our weaknesses must go. All of our lusts, all of our pride, all of our biases, our sinful prejudices, our carnal and fleshly indulgences. There are none that we may take with us into eternity.

It is well said that it is not what a man possesses that condemns him as guilty before God, but rather it is what of this possesses him. If we have our wealth and allow it to make us arrogant and proud, then God will judge us for that. If, on the other hand, it is received in thankfulness and seen as something that we may use to bless those entrusted to our care, and further the cause of Christ, then that is another matter.

But spiritual growth is achieved by God’s grace, and by His power. We must die daily and let our lives be “not-I-but-Christ” lives. It is His achievement and it becomes ours only by our constant dependence on Him.

I do not suppose that any of us, no matter how we progress in the eyes of other Christians, will be completed in the development our personal righteousness and spiritual maturity while we are on this earth, while we still must daily contend with the sinful nature and the world and the devil. And the promise that God shall complete the work in His way in eternity is comfort for us. God shall in His way and in His time, on the basis of His grace, perfect us.

What does God need to take from you to make you holy?

 

Luke's Gospel, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Maturity