Worship and Serve the God of Scripture

Worship and Serve the God of Scripture

Though our culture celebrates Valentine’s Day today, in the Church calendar, today commemorates the first Sunday in Lent—and I’m pretty sure you already know which of these two I’ll be focusing on! The word “Lent” actually comes from a Latin word meaning “fortieth” (quadragesima)[1] and traditionally it’s associated with the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness and being tempted by the devil. So given that it is the first Sunday in Lent—for us the 40 day period falling between Ash Wednesday and Easter and a time during which historically many believers have sacrificed something for the sake of identifying with Jesus’ sacrifice and expressing their own penitence and devotion—it’s certainly appropriate to consider this forty day period of fasting and testing that our Savior and Lord underwent.

This morning’s passage presents us with a very human Jesus being tempted as we are, yet without sin. In the previous chapter he was baptized in the Jordan and, as we also noted last week, when he is, the Father confirms that Jesus is his Son and the Holy Spirit consents by descending upon him like a dove. This is an extraordinary picture not only of the Trinity but of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit demonstrating agreement about who Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, really is.[2]

Chapter 4 of Luke’s Gospel begins with Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, being led by the same Spirit into the wilderness where, we are told, he was tempted—a word that can also be translated as tested or tried—by the devil for forty days. Now I think that one of the most difficult aspects of Scripture for us to grasp is the sense of how much time passes from event to event. Because the reading of thirteen verses goes by so quickly, we can falsely conclude, for instance, that Jesus’ temptation by Satan happened within a span of a few minutes or hours; that the devil came to him three times with one temptation immediately following another. Yet this isn’t what the passage states. We’re told that the tempting by the devil occurred over a forty day period. And though some scholars have suggested that the three temptations recorded did happen at the end of that period, I don’t think we can be sure of this. We do know, however, that “during those [forty] days” Jesus “ate nothing.” And—understandably—“at the end of [the forty days] he was hungry” (v. 2).

Luke provides no clear indication of how much time has passed before Jesus’ first temptation by the devil but even if Jesus had gone only one day without food, he would have been hungry, something to which anyone who has ever skipped a meal can attest. Satan’s first temptation attempts to take advantage of this hunger. In verse 3 we read “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’” The sense of this “if clause” construction indicates not that the devil is unsure as to whether or not Jesus is the Son of God—again, this was confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt at his baptism. No, he’s not asking Jesus to prove he is the Son of God but what he is saying is that since Jesus is the Son of God, he should be able to “tell this stone to become bread” and thus have his hunger sated. After all, of what advantage is it to be the Son of God if you can’t turn stones into bread when you are hungry? The devil seems to be attempting to appeal to Jesus’ sense of pride in his position as God’s Son and also setting up a sense of privilege—that is that as God’s Son, Jesus can, and should, perform miracles to meet his physical hunger whenever he desires.

But Jesus, of course, doesn’t take the bait. He answers this temptation with Scripture—specifically Deuteronomy 8:3. And this brings up another point that I think is difficult for us to remember when we read Scripture—namely that when the New Testament speaks of “Scripture,” it is referring not to the New Testament Gospels and epistles but to what we know as our Old Testament. The broader context of this verse from Deuteronomy is that of the Lord addressing his people, Israel, and reminding them to obey him and that he is worthy of their trust for he led them in the wilderness for forty years to humble and test them to see if they would keep his commands. Verse 3 states that the LORD—yes, it’s in all caps so this is Yahweh, the personal name of God —“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.” Do you think it’s a coincidence that Jesus—who, again, is fasting for 40 days—uses this passage from Scripture that reminds the Israelites how the LORD allowed them to experience hunger and then fed them in order to teach them that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” to stand up to the devil’s first temptation???! The parallels are striking, aren’t they? Jesus understands what Yahweh, his Father, was trying to teach his chosen nation of Israel—namely, that our true bread isn’t food, important though eating may be, but what ought to matter to us above all else is knowing the One who has made us in his image and cares for us and desires that we know him and follow his will and ways.

In the next temptation Luke provides the devil leads Jesus “up to a high place” and he “showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.” Again a quick note that in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 4), this temptation is presented as third in order, indicating that the authors of Scripture sometimes dischronologize events in order to make a point——and, again, there is no way we can possibly know just how much time has passed between one temptation and the next. But whenever this temptation occurs, we are told that the devil, after showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, “ …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.’” If appealing to Jesus’ physical hunger didn’t work, perhaps appealing to his position as King and Lord of the universe will. As we’ve seen and noted before, with the coming of Jesus, our King, his Kingdom—that is, the Kingdom of God for he is God—has also arrived. And, again, the devil knows this. But the devil also knows that for the time being and in a derivative sense, he is the prince or ruler of this world[3] and as such he has been allowed some measure of rule on earth. But make no mistake, Satan is a defeated foe and his power pales in comparison to that which Jesus holds. But his final defeat will not occur until Christ returns and brings to completion the work he began during the time of his earthly Incarnation and rule.

Nonetheless, the devil leads Jesus up to a high place and, in an instant, shows him all the kingdoms of the world. He acts as though he—the devil—has authority over all of them and is responsible for their splendor. He suggests that he—the devil—therefore has the power to hand over to Jesus all these world kingdoms. Well, first of all, though he is the ruler of this world in some measure, it simply is not true that he has authority over all of the world’s kingdoms. Keep in mind that we are dealing with the devil whom Matthew’s Gospel refers to as “the tempter.” And both the word for Satan in Hebrew and devil in Greek also mean “slanderer” and “accuser.” And, what is more, in John 8:44 we are told 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.”

The devil’s ploy is a brilliant one, isn’t it? The truth of the matter is that Jesus is Lord over the entire universe. So what would be so wrong about accepting the devil’s offer? Wouldn’t he simply be receiving what is his due in the first place? But in what the devil says next we can see his real intent. He says to Jesus in verse 7: “If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Do you see the snare? Worship is appropriate only if it is directed toward the God who made us in his image. And the devil is tempting Jesus to break the first foundational commandments that God spoke to Moses in Exodus 20:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.You shall have no other gods before[or besides] 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, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

To worship anything other than God is idolatry. It is to worship something in God’s creation rather than the God who made all of that creation. The devil himself is a created being. Yet if Jesus worships him, he is transferring his power as God to part of the creation that he himself brought about. But, for a second time, Jesus does not take the devil’s bait. He answers again by referring to Scripture, again from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, this time from chapter six, verse three. Jesus responds to this second temptation by stating: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[Dt. 6:13]

Again, it’s helpful to consider the context of Deuteronomy 6. Verse 4 of this chapter provides one of the foundational statements of the Jewish faith known as the shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[Or The Lord our God is one Lord; or The Lord is our God, the Lord is one; or The Lord is our God, the Lord alone]” There is only one God and he alone is worthy of our worship. Following the shema, Moses reminds Israel in verse 5 that they are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” and to teach their children to do the same (vv. 7–9). He reminds them of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their forefathers, to bring them into an abundant land and reminds them in verse 12 to “be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Then we find the verse Jesus quotes in verse 13 of Deuteronomy 6—but I’ll read as well verses 14–16: “13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” So you see echoes from Exodus here in Deuteronomy as well. Worshipping the one true Lord, your God, and serving him only is at the heart of biblical religion. But the devil is presenting a false religion. As he tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden, promising them that if they partook of the forbidden fruit they would be like gods, so now he himself is trying to take the position of God by tempting Jesus—who is God—to forsake his position as God and worship the devil as God, all for the sake of attaining all the kingdoms of the world. But Jesus sees through the devil’s plan and stands on Scripture.

For his third attempt at tempting Jesus, as recorded by Luke the devil leads him to Jerusalem and has him stand on the highest point of the temple and says to him (verse 9): “If you are the Son of God…throw yourself down from here.” Scholars aren’t certain but the pinnacle or highest point of the temple was anywhere from one to three hundred feet above the Kidron Valley. Whether one or three, for Jesus to throw himself down would have probably resulted in death. And again, the construct here makes clear that the devil isn’t uncertain as to whether or not Jesus is God’s Son, but he is rather saying that since he is God’s Son, he should throw himself down. And, having had his temptations twice now countered by Jesus with Scripture, the devil himself uses Scripture to support this temptation. He quotes Psalm 91, verses 11 and 12, which tell how God “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.” Psalm 91 begins by stating “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[El Shaddai]” It then goes on to state the many ways in which God will protect those who are his. So upon first blush, it certainly seems as though the devil is on surer footing here. Since God promises to protect his children—and Jesus is God’s Son—then wouldn’t it follow that even if Jesus were to jump down from this highest point of the temple, surely no harm would come for God has said—in Scripture—that he will not allow any harm to come for he will send his angels to make sure that not even his foot will strike against a stone.

But Jesus again sees through this. He, of all people, is able to provide the correct interpretation of Scripture. And so he replies for a third time from the book of Deuteronomy, and for the second time from chapter six, this time verse 16: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Satan is testing God—he is testing Jesus—by taking a Psalm whose purpose it is to cause believers to trust God and he is using it as an opportunity to cause Jesus to question and test God’s goodness. When Jesus again refuses to listen, we see that, at least for the time being, the devil is done for Luke tells us in verse 13 “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” So we know he’ll try again.

Now though Luke doesn’t record it, Matthew records a detail that we mustn’t miss. What the devil misquoted to Jesus from Psalm 91 was that God would use his angels to guard him so that not even his foot would strike against a stone if Jesus would throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple—and again, it’s hard to imagine that succumbing to this temptation would have resulted in anything other than death. But upon resisting this temptation, Matthew (chapter 4) tells us the following: “11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” So the angels did come to care for Jesus but they came after he had resisted this temptation not yielded to it.

This morning’s passage is a reminder of God’s tremendous love for us. When Adam and Eve yielded to the temptation of the serpent in the Garden, everything changed for humanity. Our fellowship with God was broken. We went from living in dependence upon him as he intended to living independently from him. We went from trusting in his goodness to questioning it. Our fellowship with each other was broken. We went from serving and caring for one another to wanting to be served by others. Our fellowship with nature was disrupted. We went from having a joyous stewardship to having a troublesome one, complete with pain in childbirth and thistles and thorns springing from the ground we were to till.

But God, in his eternal wisdom, and knowing that our first parents would yield to the serpent’s wiles, determined to send the Son to earth as the last Adam in order to re-establish and bring into being the fellowship with God, each other, and nature he had always intended for us to enjoy. But as the last Adam, Jesus would need to undergo the same temptation as the first Adam. And had he yielded, as one of my students put it in class this week, then “game over.” But he didn’t yield so the game of life goes on for us not only now but for all eternity. Jesus is our new head. Whereas sin and death entered the world because of Adam, our old head’s, disobedience, because of Jesus our sin has now been transferred to him and, underserving though we may be, his righteousness is now transferred to us so that we can never be removed from God’s presence again.

Our passage this morning sets up a stark contrast, doesn’t it? When we consider the nature of God versus the nature of the devil, the difference is palpable:

The devil is a liar and a slanderer; God is a God of Truth;

The devil is the accuser of the brethren—and sisters, too; God is our advocate. He is on our side and has given his life that we might know ourselves to be “not guilty” since he has died for our sin and guilt. And whether our hearts or the devil condemn us, we can know that in God’s sight, we are holy and cherished and loved with an eternal love;

The devil is full of hate; God’s nature is love and he desires that we know his love;

The devil is a murderer; God is life and gives us his eternal life the moment we turn to him;

The devil desires that we be slaves to sin; God desires that we be his slaves and he is the most merciful and kind and compassionate of all masters.

Brothers and sisters, this morning’s passage reminds us that out of his great love for us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ resisted temptation of the most intense kind that we might never be separated from his love.

It reminds us, too, of the importance not only of knowing Scripture but of understanding and interpreting Scripture rightly for our enemy, the devil, knows Scripture as well and will gladly use even God’s holy Scripture to unholy ends, finding ways to twist it in order to cause us to question God’s goodness and love for us.

Our passage reminds us that our adversary, the devil, will find those things that uniquely tempt us to draw us away from God. For Eve and Adam, it was a beautiful fruit that held seemingly endless promises of an even better life than the one they had; for our Lord Jesus, it was food when he was hungry, power though he was already king, and assurance that he was really God’s Son so why not jump off a pinnacle to prove it? I think that the devil will try and take those things that mean the most to us and use them to draw us away from God and each other—so we need to be watchful. The devil knows the temptations to which we, individually, are susceptible and will seek to use them to draw us away from the God whom we know and love.

Our passage reminds us as well that our true bread—the one thing we will always need—is the bread of knowing the God who made us in his image, redeemed us by his love, and sealed and sanctified us by his Holy Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, this morning and always, let us worship and serve the God who has revealed himself not only in Scripture but ultimately in his Son.

Let us seek his wisdom and help in all circumstances.

And let us help, love, and serve one another as we seek to love and serve our gracious Savior and Lord.

Let us pray.


[1] For Protestants, one calculation for the forty days has been that the season of Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. This calculation makes Lent last 46 days, if the 6 Sundays are included, but only 40, if they are excluded, because there is no obligation to fast on the six Sundays in Lent.

[2] On the importance of two witnesses, note Deuteronomy 17:6:  On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.  Deuteronomy 19:15: One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

[3] John 12:31: 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out; John 14:30: 28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me; John 16:11: But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

Leave a Reply