Called to Live by God’s Word

Called to Live by God’s Word

At the time of Jesus’ temptation he was a young man of around 30 years about to embark upon his time of ministry.[1] All told Luke dedicated twenty-two chapters of his Gospel to the last three years Jesus’ life—beginning with his baptism,[2] on through his three years of ministry, and ending with his death, resurrection from death, post-resurrection appearances, and, last but not least, his ascension to heaven.[3] Yet Luke dedicates but a scant two chapters to the promise and prophecy of Jesus’ birth—as well as its fulfillment—and provides a brief snapshot of the boy Jesus in the temple at the age of twelve.[4] And so we’re left wondering about those first thirty years and the people and events that shaped our Savior prior to the beginning of his ministry. But that curiosity remains unmet for Scripture hasn’t been given us to satisfy our curiosity but to tell us about the God who made us in his image; who didn’t give up on us when we turned away from him; and who seeks for us to know and follow him not only as our Creator but also as our Savior and Lord. In other words, Scripture has been given that we might know the purpose of our lives by means of God’s plan of redemption for us. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, redemption is the lens through which all of the Bible’s historical people and events are presented. This is true of Adam and Eve—and Abraham and Sarah—and Jacob, Leah, and Rachel—and Joseph—and Ruth—and Moses, David, the prophets, and all the rest. In other words, we’re not told about the events of their lives for the sake of learning interesting biographies but rather we’re told about them because they played key parts in God’s plan of drawing his image-bearers back to himself by the salvation he would provide through his Son, Jesus Christ. And this is why by chapter three of his Gospel[5] Luke has turned to focus on the adult Christ Jesus being been baptized by John.[6] Because this is when Jesus Christ prepared to embark on his ministry of salvation, the entire reason why he, God who is the eternal Son of the Father, took on human form and came to earth.

And isn’t it interesting that the first event recorded in Jesus’ life after his baptism is his temptation by the devil in the wilderness?[7] A few weeks ago[8] we noticed some of the parallels Paul made between the first and the last Adam and we see another one here. Once God had made Adam and Eve, the first thing we’re told is “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” and this crafty serpent[9] approached the woman to lure her away from following God.[10] So, too, once the last Adam embarked upon his adult  ministry, the first thing we’re told in our opening verses is, “1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” The devil ever seeks to destroy God’s image-bearers. From the beginning he sought to turn Adam and Eve against their Creator and here he seeks to plunge humanity into hopelessness by attempting to sidetrack the One sent not only to save those image-bearers by dying in their place for their sins that they might have eternal life through him but also to destroy the destroyer responsible for luring our first parents away from the God in the first place. As we also noted last week, part of the curse the LORD afterward placed upon the serpent for his role in the Fall was to promise One who would one day be sent to crush him[11]—and with the arrival of Christ, that day had now arrived.

And as the first Adam was tempted with food by the serpent to question the truth of God’s Word[12] and the goodness and truthfulness of God himself,[13] we see the devil at work again tempting the last Adam with food in order to turn Jesus away from the mission for which he had been baptized and confirmed. For as we read in chapter 3 of Luke, at Jesus’ baptism, “…as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”[14] The divine events surrounding Jesus’ baptism are an incontrovertible attestation by the Triune God that Jesus Christ was indeed eternal God who had come to earth in human form to save humanity from its sins. Now as recorded by Luke in verse 2 of chapter 4, Jesus was tempted for forty days by the devil although here we’re only provided with a description of three of those temptations. And throughout those forty days, Jesus “ate nothing” and therefore “at the end of them he was hungry.” Verse 3 tells how the devil came to a hungry Jesus and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Again, as occurred with the first Adam, the devil sought to lure the second Adam to disobedience through the use of food.

What is interesting is the form of the question used by the devil. Though our English translations state “If you are the Son of God,” the form used in Greek has the sense of “Since you are the Son of God.” In other words, the devil wasn’t questioning that Jesus, who was fully human, was also fully God. Indeed, as James rightly observes concerning God’s oneness, “Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”[15] And as was true for the Jewish world into which Jesus was born, the devil further understood that this title, “Son of God,” was an affirmation of Jesus’ divinity and he accepted it as such. Regarding Jesus referring to himself as God’s Son, John records an instance when because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath “the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.” So “17 In his defense Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’” And note what John goes on to state,  “18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.[16] To Jewish ears, to claim to be the Son of God was to claim to be God. Later in his Gospel John again records why the Jewish leaders demanded that Jesus die. It was because they insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”[17] And near the end of his Gospel, John proclaimed that this truth was the very reason he wrote his Gospel for “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book” after he rose from death, nonetheless those John has told about “…are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[18] All of this is to highlight that it’s not surprising that the first thing Satan went after in tempting Jesus was to try to get him to act upon—to take advantage of—his unique identity as the Son of God. Therefore the devil tempted Jesus, who as the Son of God was therefore God who had power over the creation he himself had brought into being,[19] to make bread out of stone.

But unlike the first Adam, the last Adam who had come to earth to save those who followed in the steps of the first Adam didn’t succumb but replied to the devil’s temptation with Scripture, verse 4: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Jesus was quoting in shorthand a portion of Deuteronomy 8:3 which in full reads, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” As the LORD had provided for Israel’s physical needs for the forty years they wandered in the desert that they might learn to trust in and depend upon him and his Word, Jesus—who had been fasting for forty days and nights—now demonstrated and exemplified what trusting in God for both physical and spiritual nourishment looked like in practice. For a key implication of God having made us in his own image, is that he made us for himself and we are therefore to turn to and depend upon and trust him for our every provision, both materially—our literal bread—and spiritually for our spiritual feeding. And this spiritual feeding comes by his Holy Spirit who helps us know and enables us to follow the revelation he’s left us in his written Word that we might know, love, and serve him and each other more deeply and profoundly. Physical bread alone won’t ever sate us. No, to live our lives as God intended requires that we turn to him that we might know him and live by the revelation he’s given us in his written and Risen Word. For apart from feeding from God’s Word, we will die without him and never be satisfied.

The next temptation recorded by Luke begins in verse 5 of our passage: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” Once again, as the devil did with the first Adam, he sought to tempt the last Adam with half truths that were ultimately lies. The lie he told the first couple was that surely they would not die if they partook of the forbidden fruit.[20] And though Adam and Eve didn’t immediately die physically, their spiritual death upon eating the fruit was immediate as “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked”[21] and then LORD judged Adam and said to him, “dust you are and to dust you will return.”[22] And so now with the last Adam, the devil yet again sought to tempt him by stating a half-truth in stating that he had been given “all the kingdoms of the world” to do with as he pleased and therefore could and would give Jesus “all their authority and splendor”—if only he worshipped him. In other words, Satan was trying to lure Jesus into breaking the first commandment the LORD gave to Moses: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,….”[23] God is the only One worthy of our allegiance, love, and complete and utter dedication. And the half-truth here was that of Satan’s power and status for while Jesus himself later referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world”[24] he was a ruler whom he would drive out, not one who was equal in power to God as the devil seemed to suggest. And Jesus also said of the devil that he was “a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”[25] Jesus well knew the source of this temptation. Even if Satan had had authority over all the kingdoms of the world—which he didn’t—it is highly unlikely he would have handed them over to Jesus even if he had worshipped him.

But we can appreciate why this offer by the devil is said to be a temptation to Jesus for he was born a King with a mission to usher in the Kingdom of God by his life, death, and resurrection from death. Yet what if there were another way to rule as King over “all the kingdoms of the world”? What if he, an innocent, righteous man, didn’t have to die in order to carry out that mission? What if there were a way other than becoming sin for us[26] and taking on the penalty of sin[27] for him to usher in his kingdom rule? Throughout his life Jesus knew and felt not only the joy[28] but also the burden of the mission he had come to fulfill in order to save humanity from its sins. As we hear in his agonizing prayer later in his life in the Garden of Gethsemane, “42 ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done….’44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” [29] But, we can thank God that Jesus resisted this temptation as well by again turning to Scripture—this time from the sixth chapter in Deuteronomy—and responding to the devil: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[30]” Jesus would not disobey the First Commandment. He knew that there is only One who is worthy of our complete and utter allegiance and commitment. He would not disobey the Word of God. And so the devil was again foiled.

Next in Luke’s recounting,[31] we see the crafty serpent fighting fire with fire as he, too, turned to Scripture and sought to use it—or, more accurately, to twist it—in order to yet again try to tempt Jesus away from his destiny and mission. And, again, it’s interesting to notice that Satan also twisted Scripture—that is, God’s Word—in tempting the first Adam. As we’ve noted, the serpent sought to explain away God’s Word by stating that it could be ignored because God’s motives were wrong. Hence the prohibition wasn’t given because death would actually result upon partaking of the forbidden fruit but rather because God feared that Adam and Eve would become like God, knowing good and evil.[32] And now, too, the devil again sought to twist Scripture in tempting the last Adam. Beginning in verse 9 we read how “The devil led [Jesus] to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple” and again he said to him, “If you are the Son of God”—which, as we’ve already noted the devil took as a given—“throw yourself down from here.” So the devil again sought to make Jesus test and thereby misuse his messianic mission by suggesting that because he was God’s Son, he could do whatever he pleased and God would protect him. And the Scripture the devil chose to use comes from Psalm 91 which does indeed state in part: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”[33] The devil was tempting Jesus to think: Well, if God promises his protection, then surely it would be all right for Jesus to throw himself down from this highest point in the temple since, as the psalmist promised, angels would keep him from all harm. But of course this was a misinterpretation and misapplication of God’s Word. For rather than submitting to God’s Word, to so misapply it would have been a means of testing the truth of what God had declared by way of a fool’s errand. “Name it, claim it” theology can be a dangerous and wrong-headed way of proceeding. To assume that God’s protection means we can run into traffic and not be harmed is foolish and untrue. Yet this is precisely what the devil sought to convince Jesus of.

But thankfully yet again this third time, Jesus withstood the devil’s temptation as he answered with a proper interpretation of God’s Word as he turned once more to the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[34]” And so “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” In other words, there would be more temptations to come but, for the time being, the devil had left. And I should note that in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation, he states that after the devil left him, “angels came and attended”[35] Jesus—just as the psalmist had promised.

Well, this morning’s passage is a beautiful reminder of how not only Jesus, the last Adam, our last and best representative, was called to live by God’s Word, but how we all are called to live by that very Word. And this passage is also a sobering reminder that in our attempts to live by God’s Word we have a foe who seeks to keep us from following Christ. Satan’s tactics aren’t new but tried and true with all but Jesus.

Satan will do all in his power to cause us to question God’s goodness;

He will do all in his power to cause us to question the truth of God’s Word;

He will do all in his power to keep us from obeying God’s Word;

He will do all in his power to twist that Word and so set us on the wrong path.

Therefore we would do well to realize that part of our struggle to follow Jesus isn’t just because we are tempted of our own fallen nature but also because we have a foe, an active adversary who does all within his power to harden our hearts towards God. Now we don’t know how he manages to do so but given Satan’s spiritual nature, it’s unlikely that he tempts us in an audible voice. In the second stanza of the piece sung by the voice ensemble earlier, it speaks of, “When the cries of hurt rage in your head and they goad you to destruction….” I suspect that the voice of Satan is something like that—unbidden thoughts tempting us to hurt ourselves or those around us. Yet Scripture calls us to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ[36]—and submit it to the Word of God. And in Jesus we see the right way of doing so. For we are called to test the spirits to see if they are from God.[37] And if they’re not, we’re to turn away from them.

Dear brothers and sisters, God knows the power of this adversary and this is one of the reasons he came—to destroy Satan once and for all. Listen to what the author of Hebrews states about this:

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death….17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.[38]

I think that sometimes when we think about Jesus’ suffering we tend to focus, understandably, on his suffering on the cross for this is no doubt where the heights and depths of his suffering, of his taking upon himself the God’s wrath and subsequent penalty and punishment for our sins, takes place. Yet our passage this morning is a poignant reminder that Jesus suffered for us in having to resist the devil’s constant attacks and onslaughts in his attempt to divert Christ for the reason he came to earth in the first place. How amazing and awesome it is to consider that our dear Savior and brother, Jesus, was willing to undergo all of this because of his steadfast, unwavering, and eternal love for us!

And he calls us to similarly trust in God’s goodness;

And he calls us to similarly trust in the truth of God’s Word;

And he calls us to similarly rightly divide that Word[39] when we interpret and apply it;

And he calls us to similarly resist the devil that he might flee from us.[40]

But we aren’t called to live by God’s Word on our own for he has given us Spirit to help us understand it; and he has given us each other to help us live out its truth; and he sends us to a world that is yet in darkness that we might shed the light of that Word for all to see and be drawn to Christ. For none of us is able to live by bread alone but all of God’s image-bearers need the Word of God to feed us and sustain us; all of God’s image-bearers need the living and eternal water God in Christ offers and provides.

And so by way of exhortation and encouragement, I want to close by reading another portion of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.[41]

Let us pray.

[1] Luke 3:23a: Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.

[2] Luke 3:21–22: 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

[3] Luke 24:50–53 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

[4] Luke 2:41–51.

[5] This pattern is true of the other Gospel writers as well. Matthew also speaks of the adult Jesus by chapter 3 of his Gospel; Mark and John don’t even address the birth of Jesus, choosing to begin instead by speaking only of Jesus as an adult (and in John’s case, beginning with the Christ, the eternal Word through whom all things have been made and who became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth!).

[6] Luke 3:21–22: 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

[7] I also preached on this passage on February 14, 2016, Worship and Serve the God of Scripture.

[8] On Resurrected Bodies sermon preached on February 24, 2019 and based upon 1 Corinthians 15:35–38, 42–50.

[9] In what follows, I am affirming Scripture’s connection between the serpent in the Garden and Satan (Old Testament terminology) and the devil (New Testament terminology and the way the Septuagint translates the Old Testament “Satan”). Both the Hebrew for Satan and the Greek for devil mean “accuser” or “slanderer” (Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Matthew 4:1). And the Greek “devil” of the LXX is “Satan” in the Hebrew (Reformation Study Bible note on Luke 4:2).

[10] Genesis 3:1: Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

[11] Genesis 3:15b: “…he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

[12] Genesis 3:1b: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

[13] Genesis 3:4–5: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

[14] Luke 3:21–22. See parallels in Matthew 3:16–17: 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”; Mark 1:10–11: 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”; John 1:32–34: 32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” [Add transfiguration, too]

[15] James 2:19: You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

[16] John 5:16–18. See also John 10:36b:Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?

[17] John 19:7. See also Matthew 27:43: “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

[18] John 20:30–31.

[19] Colossians 1:15–16: 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.; John 1:1–3: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.; 1 Corinthians 8:6: yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

[20] Genesis 3:4: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.

[21] Genesis 3:7a.

[22] The last phrase in Genesis 3:19.

[23] Exodus 20:3–5a.

[24] John 12:31: 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. See also 2 Corinthians 4:4: The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 1 John 5:19: We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.; 1 Peter 5:8–9: 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.; Ephesians 2:1–2: 1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

[25] John 8:44.

[26] 2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

[27] 1 Peter 2:24–25: 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”[quoting Isaiah 53:4–6] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.; 1 Peter 3:18: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.; Romans 3:25–27: 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

[28] Hebrews 12:1b–3: let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

[29] Luke 22:42, 44. See parallels in Matthew 26:39, 42: 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will….” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”; Mark 14:36, 39: 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will….” 39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.

[30] Deuteronomy 6:13: Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.

[31] Matthew’s Gospel reverses Luke’s second and third temptation.

[32] Genesis 3:4–5: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

[33] Psalm 91:11–12: 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

[34] Deuteronomy 6:16:  Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.

[35] Matthew 4:11b.

[36] 2 Corinthians 10:5b.

[37] 1 John 4:1–4: 1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

[38] Hebrews 2:14–15, 17–18.

[39] 2 Timothy 2:15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

[40] James 4:7: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

[41] Hebrews 4:14–16: