Tested in the Wilderness of Preparation
Our Scripture lesson this morning comes from Luke 4:1-13:
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ ” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and 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. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ ” 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, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
May God bless this, the reading of His holy and infallible Word.
In our text this morning we again find ourselves in the wilderness. Just as the children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness, and Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai, so Jesus, the New Israel and New Moses must spend 40 days in the wilderness. In addition, just as these wilderness experiences served to prepare Israel and Moses for greater ministry, these 40 days prepared Jesus for His public ministry which will begin in the next verse of chapter four.
This morning, I want to suggest to you that our wilderness experiences are used by God to prepare us as well. We all go through “wilderness experiences”, perhaps you are going through one right now. They come to us in different forms: Sometimes they come to us in the form of financial difficulties, other times in the form of health problems, at other times as interpersonal conflicts. In all these situations, Satan is right there to tempt us unto unbelief and sin; but God is there as well—to test us.
Testing is much different than tempting. Tempting is designed to destroy us. Testing is designed to perfect us. When a sword smith creates a sword, he “tests” it. Iron in its native form is not strong enough to be a good sword, it must be turned into steel. This is accomplished by heating iron and carbon together to create what we call steel; but this not enough, the steel must be “tested” by heating, pulling, folding and hammering the steel until it has just the right ratio of hardness and malleability to make the perfect sword.
So let us look at these three temptations of Satan, to see how God turned them into tests to prepare and perfect Jesus for ministry. Let us also use them to see how God turns our trials and temptations into tests which perfect us for the glory of God!
The first temptation that God turns into a test is found in vss. 3-4. This is a test of faith in God’s provision:
Testing Our Faith in God’s Provision
Testing Our Faith in God’s Provision
In all three temptations, Jesus cites Scripture, (more specifically the book of Deuteronomy), to defeat Satan and his temptations. In His citation, Jesus only cites a portion of the passages. He does this as a sort of shorthand to save time. We do the same thing with familiar phrases and passages. For example, a whole category of shorthand acronyms have come into existence because of text messaging. So, when Jesus says, “Man shall not live by bread alone”, Jesus expected us to think of the entirety of Deuteronomy 8:3, along with its context. Consequently, the entire verse, along with its context is important for us to properly understand Jesus’ answer to Satan. With this in mind, let us look at Deuteronomy 8:3:
And 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.
It is clear from both the context of Jesus’ temptation and the citation from Deuteronomy that the issue was provision. We speak of the “necessities of life”. These are things like food, water, clear air, shelter and clothing. In recent years a whole category of TV shows has appeared—the survival show. The first of these shows was Survivor Man, and many have followed. In these shows a person is placed in a life-or-death predicament, and we watch them attempt to survive. This is what this text is about—survival. Who or what will provide for us the “necessities of life”?
According to Moses, one of the reasons that God placed Israel in the wilderness for 40 years was to teach them that they will not live by the “necessities of life” alone. In other words, it is possible to “survive” but not really “live”. To truly live, we need more than just food, water and shelter—we need the Word of God! That is what this temptation is really about—living by the Word of God.
Although Jesus was very hungry after forty days of fasting, he refused to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. He had the power to do so. So, why did He not used His power? Jesus chose not to use His power, because God the Father had sent Him on a mission, and a critical component of that mission according to Hebrews 2:17 was that "he had to be made like His brothers in every respect”. Why was this? It was because this is the only way he could be our “faithful high priest” and the “propitiation for our sins”. He had to live His life with all the limitations and weakness we have. If Jesus would have turned that stone into a loaf of bread, He would have forfeited His mission.
This why it was critical for Jesus’ faith and obedience to God’s Word be tested before He began His public ministry. In the same way, this is why it is necessary that our faith in God’s provision be tested as well. Serving God is hard, and it will quickly use up your natural resources. At that point you will have to make a choice as to where you will turn for your provision. Will it be to God and His Word or will it be to the empty promises Satan offers you. Why are there so many worldly churches in America today? Is it not because those congregations chose to turn stones into bread, rather than rely upon the bread of heaven!
This brings us to the second temptation, which God turns into a test:
Testing Our Faith in God’s Name
Testing Our Faith in God’s Name
In this test, Satan tempts Jesus with political power without suffering and the waiting. Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of this world now!
Have you ever noticed how many of Satan’s temptations offer a “short cut”. Rather than waiting for marriage, enjoy intimacy now. Rather than working hard and saving, steal. Rather than waiting for justice, take revenge. The list is endless, because almost every temptation carries with it the promise of “quick and easy”.
Of course, Satan’s promises are always lies. In our text, he is promising Jesus a kingdom, but the price of not being THE King.
If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
If Jesus gave into this temptation, he would not be the King of kings, and Lord of lords, He would simply be another vassal of Satan!
Jesus, of course, does not fall for it. He cites Deuteronomy 6:13:
It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.
This is a text about fearing the Name of the Lord, serving the Name of the Lord, and worshiping the Name of the Lord. Biblically, a name is more than just a word we use to identify ourselves by; a person’s name represents all that they are. To dishonor a name is to dishonor a person. Conversely, to honor a name is to honor a person.
What Name do you worship and place your faith in? The answer you give to that question will set the whole course of your life.
When we come into a wilderness situation, Satan is always there with his promise of a short cut. If we take his short cut, the “name” we place our faith in will not be God’s! The next time you come into a wilderness situation and the Devil tempts you with a short cut, be aware of what is going on—you are really choosing who or what your god is.
When the early Christians faced persecution, they would encourage themselves with a saying preserved for us in 2 Timothy:
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.
Isn’t it interesting that when the early Christians faced the loss of their property and even their lives, they encouraged themselves with the thought that if they remained loyal to the Name, they would someday “reign with [Christ]”. I don’t know what “kingdom” Satan has promised you, but whatever it is, it is a lie!
We are now ready for the last and greatest test:
Testing Our Faith in God’s Presence
Testing Our Faith in God’s Presence
In a vision, or perhaps by a miracle, Jesus finds Himself standing on the pinnacle of the temple, and there, Satan tempts Him to throw Himself down to test God if He would be true to His promises.
To understand the power of this temptation, we need to once again look at the text Jesus cited to overcome Satan, it is Deuteronomy 6:16:
“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.
What happened at Massah? Let’s find out:
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
The people were grumbling, and we have just heard some of their complaints, but Moses saves the most important complain for the end, at vs 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 not?”
There it is, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Isn’t this what we always say or think when we are in a really difficult situation? It feels to us as if the Lord has abandoned us and does not care for us. I know I have felt that way and I am sure you have too.
Let us also not to be unsympathetic towards Israel’s plight. God had led them out into a desert, the people numbered into the tens of thousands, they had flocks numbering even higher, and now they find themselves in a place with no water! If they did not find water soon, they would all be dead before a week had passed; and yet their grumbling was a sin. It was a sin because they were not trusting in God’s presence with them. God was with them every day visibly:
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
My friends, just because the water is not there, does not mean God is not there! I am using “water” metaphorically, it can be anything that is lacking in our lives. The absence of these things makes us feel as though God is absent; but this is only an illusion. God is there, and He will provide the water when He deems it best.
In three years, Jesus would reach the pinnacle of His ministry, and in this same city, and in this same temple Jesus would throw Himself down upon the cross, and in the agony of bearing the full weight of the world’s sin and the Father’s wrath against sin he would cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” We know however, that His faith in God’s presence did not waver, because a few moments later He would utter His last words, “Into your hands I commit my spirit”!
Brothers and sister, the day on which we will commit our spirits unto God will come to each of us, and on that day, we will need a faith that has been tested. I don’t enjoy my wilderness experiences, and I know you do not either, but God leads us there to prepare us for greater things.