Pastor Scott Andrews | December 10, 2023
Several years ago, I went on a classical novel binge, reading books I’d never read, but knew I should. You know, like the almost 1500-page Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, which has over a hundred pages on the Paris sewer system – I could have edited that book to 1400 pages right quick; the 864-page Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, the 840-page Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the over 1200-page War and Peace also by Tolstoy which, by the way, has over 500 named characters in the book. That’s a new character every two and a half pages that we are somehow supposed to remember. Can anyone say Cliff Notes? I know, I just irritated all the English Lit majors here. By the way, I never finished Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Have you read the first page?
Well, we’ve been in the book of Luke since July and have only covered three chapters – which contain about a hundred names, so I guess apologies to Tolstoy. We’ve met, for example, an aged priest named Zacharias and his barren wife Elizabeth who bore a baby boy – an important boy – who would become John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. We met the angel Gabriel who made some significant birth announcements; we met some famous governmental leaders like Herod the Great, Caesars Augustus and Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, and Herod Antipas. Other governmental leaders we won’t remember, like Quirinius and Herod Philip. We’ve read about a couple of high priests who will become important later – Annas and Caiaphas. We read about a couple of elderly saints, I trust we’ll remember – Simeon and Anna. And just last week, we read a genealogy of 77 names – most we’ve never heard before, and probably can’t repeat a week later.
But then, of course, we also read about a young virgin named Mary, and her betrothed Joseph – names we know because we rehearse them annually at this time of the year. And yes, we also met the protagonist of all protagonists, the hero of all heroes, Jesus – the main character of the story, the Bible, the universe, and I trust, of our lives.
Now, there is a sense in which the first three chapters of Luke’s book, which we just finished last week, are an introduction to the 24 chapters of the entire book, laying some necessary groundwork. You may remember I gave this Luke outline several months ago when we began our study – we’ve already covered the first three main points in lightning speed.
- The Prologue (1:1-4)
- The Birth Narratives (1:5-2:52)
- The Preparation for Ministry (3:1-4:13)
- The Galilean Ministry (4:14-9:50)
- The Travel Narratives (9:51-19:48)
- The Passion of Jesus (20:1-23:56)
- The Exaltation of Jesus (24:1-53)
You’ll notice the first four verses of the book are called the prologue where the author identifies the recipient of his work, Theophilus, and the purpose for writing it, namely, “so that you may know for certain the things you have been taught.” Luke wanted to tell the story of Jesus in a convincing and compelling way so we can be sure that what we believe is true. As such, Luke says he investigated everything carefully, and sought to write an orderly, trustworthy account.
From there, he launched into the birth narratives in which he brilliantly, as historian and theologian, interwove both the announcements concerning John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah, and their respective births.
So, we quickly finished the first three chapters, the introduction to Luke’s gospel. And it seems his purpose was to introduce the main character by reciting His qualifications – that is, He is fit to be the long-awaited Messiah. For example, He has a forerunner, named John. His coming birth was announced by the angel Gabriel and introduced to shocked parents as Son of the Most High God, son of David, who would sit forever on David’s throne, Immanuel, God with us, and Jesus, who would save His people from their sins. His actual birth was announced by an angel to shepherds and proclaimed by a chorus of angels, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among men. Later, two elderly saints would marvel at His birth, having been told by God they would taste death until they had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
The forerunner John then began His work – proclaiming to all who would hear the need to repent – to prepare for the coming King and His Kingdom. He baptized those who heard and obeyed his message – a baptism of repentance. He even baptized Jesus – not because Jesus had sins of which to repent, but Jesus was ready to enter His ministry and to identify with those He came to save. And, as Jesus came out of the water praying, He was anointed for ministry – empowered by the Spirit who descended upon Him, and endorsed by the Father, You are my beloved Son.
It’s been incredible. It seemed all was ready, but Luke was not quite finished with the credentials, proving Jesus had all that was necessary to be the Messiah. So last week, we looked at that 77-name genealogy, of which we made a few important observations: namely, that Jesus was the son of David, necessary to sit on David’s throne; the son of Abraham, necessary if through Him all nations of the world would be blessed; the son of Adam, necessary if He was not only the divine Son of God, but the human son of man – the God-man, who would represent the people to God, and God to the people. So now, all seems ready, right? His credentials have been fully presented and vetted; He has reached the age of thirty at which age He seems ready to fulfill His messianic responsibilities. His pedigree has been read and authenticated. It’s time.
But not quite yet. There is yet one more necessary story. Oh, maybe not explicitly stated in the OT, but clearly needed. You see, His genealogy went back to Adam – the father, the federal head of all people – the one who failed and plunged humanity into sin. If this is true, and it is, there was need of a second Adam – one who would neither fail like Adam in the garden, nor like the children of Israel in the wilderness. Enter our hero. The story is found in Luke 4:1-13.
Can you believe it? The first thing Jesus faced after His anointing to enter His long-awaited, necessary for humanity ministry was not the adoring crowds, not the worshiping disciples, not even the sick whom He healed. The first thing He faced was opposition from the devil himself. And this isn’t just any old demon. Oh no, this is the one who successfully tempted and derailed the first Adam. (no chapter divisions) The one who successfully enticed the first Adam and plunged humanity into sinful rebellion. This is the one Matthew and Mark, the other synoptic gospels, call Satan – the accuser.
There is a sense in which God’s plan from eternity past hangs in the balance. All that has been done to this point – from creation, to the Fall, to the multiple promises of redemption, to redemption itself, to future glorification in heaven – not just for us, but for the Son of God – is at stake. What will Jesus do? Now, for you theologians, I am aware of and agree with the doctrine of impeccability, but this was a real temptation, a real battle with far-reaching consequences.
So, as we jump into this story, I want you to know a couple things. First, it is a real story – that is, two persons: Jesus and the devil/Satan who are part of the story, and it actually happened. It’s not a myth, legend, a story to lend hero status to Jesus as the victor. No – it happened, and since Jesus was the one there, that means He told the story to His disciples, who thought it important enough to mention in three of the four gospel accounts. Second, as I already said, this was a real temptation. The author of Hebrews says Jesus was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. Meaning, He understands when you face temptation. This morning, I want us to look at:
- The Timing of the Temptation
- The Nature of the Temptation
- The Victory over the Temptation
Starting with the Timing. Consider the story. As we know, Jesus has just entered His public ministry. You would expect Him to burst on the scene with a miracle or two – to heal a sick person, calm a storm, raise the dead, or drive out a demon. But that’s not what happens.
The first thing He faced was the prince of demons, the devil himself. I suppose we should talk about Satan for just a moment. In Scripture, he’s called the old serpent, the slanderer, a murderer, the father of lies, our adversary, the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the accuser of the brothers, Beelzebub, the prince of demons, Abaddon and Apollyon, both of which mean destroyer, the devil, and in Matthew’s account, he’s called the tempter. He is openly opposed to God and His purposes. He started his opposition to man as early as the Garden of Eden where he successfully tempted Eve and Adam to eat the forbidden fruit.
Peter says he’s like a roaring lion, prowling around, seeking someone to devour. He’s out to get us, to oppose us, to cause us to stumble and fall, to devour us. He is not an abstract idea representing evil – he’s as real as you and me. We’re told to resist him, to stand firm, to be aware of his schemes, to draw near to God, who will then draw near to us, causing the devil to flee. Beyond any hope of redemption, Satan is and will always remain the enemy. But his end is sure, victory belongs to God, Satan has already been defeated, and will ultimately and fully be defeated when Christ returns in glory. But until then, he fires deadly arrows against us. And he will especially do so if you are faithful, if you get serious about your faith.
Now, to be clear, this story is not a blueprint on how to face temptation. It is the forces of evil in the person of Satan seeking to subvert the plan of God by tempting the second Adam. So, this is the one who stood against the newly anointed Messiah. As Jesus entered His public ministry, Satan was prepared to do battle. And I find the timing very interesting. Because you see, the very important principle for us today is this – if God is active, then the enemy will be active as well. You see, if Jesus would have just stayed a carpenter, not fulfilling the Father’s purpose for His life, everything would have been just fine. He could have kept on making yokes, hand tools and furniture. But, as soon as He stepped forward as the Christ, things heated up.
And I would suggest, the same is true for us. When you decide to get serious about God, it’s then that everything seems to fall apart, right? As long as you go on your merry way, tipping your hat to Christianity, everything seems to go more or less okay. But, you decide to start reading your Bible, get serious about your prayer life, make a commitment to be involved in some ministry, you put yourself aside and decide you’re going to be a good father, good husband, good mother, good wife, good brother or sister or roommate or whatever – you decide you’re going to follow Christ – you can almost feel the Spirit of God descend upon you in a new way, and all of a sudden, everything falls apart.
Why? We have a tendency at those times to question ourselves, to question God. God, what am I doing wrong? Why am I facing so many trials, so much temptation? And the answer is – the enemy. In the words of Steve Lawson in his book on the life of Job, “When all hell breaks loose, you might be doing something right.”
So, it shouldn’t be a surprise the enemy is active. We should expect it. And so, it shouldn’t surprise us we face his attacks. He attacks families. Many of you are facing some of the most difficult challenges of your married lives. Some of your marriages are on the rocks. Some of you are facing significant challenges with your children. The enemy is tempting – our adversary is prowling around, seeking someone to devour.
I suspect that some of you are battling discouragement for any number of reasons right now. You’re upset with your job, you’re struggling in school, you’ve been disappointed by a friend, you’re unhappy with the church – you don’t like someone or something. I want to challenge us, be aware of the devil’s schemes – he’ll use anything to discourage us – to keep us from fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives. When God is active, we can expect the enemy to be active as well. We should expect it, and battle it the way Jesus did, as we’ll see in a few minutes.
Now, I want you to notice a couple of other things before we move on. First, verse 1 speaks of the Spirit twice – Jesus was filled with the Spirit, and the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. And why did He lead Jesus there? To be tempted by Satan. It was the Spirit who led Jesus into battle. But don’t miss this: Jesus was led by the Spirit, which means the Spirit was there. See it, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness.” The point is, you don’t have to face the battle alone. As a child of God, you are filled with the Spirit of God.
Now, why did Jesus have to face those temptations? To prove Himself a worthy Savior – to prove Himself perfect – not to the Father, not to Himself, not even to Satan. But to us. Which is why later, the author of the book of Hebrews will say, “He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.” Further, Hebrews also says, “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” There’s not a temptation, there’s not a trial we face that Jesus is unfamiliar with – He faced them all… successfully, and as our High Priest, He comes to our aid when we’re facing similar temptations.
Now, by the way, we learn something very important about temptation here. Jesus faced temptation, but never sinned. Which means, temptation is not sin – it’s what you do with the temptation that makes it sin. You can’t do anything about the temptations that bombard your physical, emotional and spiritual senses all day long. But you can keep from acting on those temptations. Martin Luther said it this way, “You can’t keep the birds from flying around your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
So, why does God allow temptations in our lives? Same answer: to prove us – to put us through the fire and find us genuine – refined – mature. Peter said it this way, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” Trials and temptations are sure to come – but when they do, they fulfill God’s purposes in our lives.
And so, here we see when we get serious about God, we can expect trials and temptations to come. Now what do those temptations look like? That brings us to our second point, the Nature of the Temptations. Three times Satan tempted Jesus. And notice, he came when Jesus was at His weakest point: after He had fasted forty days. Let’s look at each of those:
The first is found in verse 3. Jesus had just fasted for over a month, and He was hungry. Remember, He was fully man. No food for a month will make anyone hungry. And so Satan tempted Him with a physical temptation. He said, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Now, by saying that, Satan knew who Jesus was. He wasn’t saying, if You are the Son of God – but maybe You’re not. He was saying, since you’re the Son of God, there’s no reason for you to experience physical hunger – turn this rock into bread.
What was he doing? He was tempting Jesus to satisfy His own needs apart from the will of the Father. He was trying to elevate Jesus’ physical needs above His spiritual needs. One said it this way, “Jesus was tempted…to use His power as God to alleviate His suffering as a man.” (Ryken) You see, Jesus did have the power to turn stones into bread – that was no big deal – He would later take a boy’s lunch and feed 5,000 men. But Satan was tempting Him to use powers He had laid aside to fulfill God’s purpose – namely, to identify with humanity to bear their sins – to be the Savior of the world. To use those powers to accomplish His own ends would not be in keeping with the mission. Further – don’t miss this – it was God by the Spirit who led Him into the wilderness to fast – and it would be God who would end His hunger. Not Jesus tempted by Satan. He was to fully trust God.
How might that look for us? We might also try to meet physical needs, ignoring the more important spiritual needs in our lives. We might set goals in life to promote ourselves physically, to make life comfortable, to elevate ourselves in the eyes of men, all the while, failing to meet our more important spiritual needs, and ignoring God’s plan for our lives. Satan tempts us with all the physical luxuries of life. As in the parable of the sower, the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth can choke out the reality of faith. We must be aware of his schemes.
The next temptation comes in verses 5-7. He led Jesus up – Matthew says to a high mountain – the idea is to a vantage point to see all that Satan would show Him – namely, all the kingdoms of the world in a moment. Likely through a vision – Jesus saw it all – to include the mighty Roman Empire. And if Jesus had come to deal with the Romans, this would have been a temptation indeed.
What was Satan doing? He was offering a shortcut – full messianic authority – full rule, which rightly belonged to Jesus, by sidestepping the mission – not to mention the introduction of idolatry. He was offering the crown without the cross, glory without Calvary. At first, he tempted Jesus to do something for Himself. Now, he tempts Jesus to allow Satan to do something for Him. He drops all pretense – it’s a direct frontal attack – worship me, and look what I can do for you. It’s always what Satan wanted – to be in the place of God. As ridiculous as that sounds, people worship all kinds of things today for all the perceived benefits.
The last temptation comes in verses 9-11. The devil led Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple – likely the southeast corner of the temple mount, plunging almost 500 feet to the Kidron Valley below. Satan was saying, come on, you’re the Son of God, so Your Father won’t allow you to be hurt. Throw yourself down from the temple – surely the angels will take care of you. Which, by the way, they do when Jesus finishes, successfully, battling the temptations. If you won’t use your own power to meet your needs, then prove you’re the Son of God by having God use His power to save You. But in so doing, Jesus would have been putting God to the test – tempting God to fulfill purposes outside the mission. It would be demanding God’s miraculous protection as proof of His care. The bottom line is, to test God is to demonstrate doubt – which is exactly what Satan wanted Jesus to do.
The truth in the same for us. When we doubt God’s care for us, we’re falling prey to Satan’s temptations – believing the lies of the evil one.
Now, did you notice what Satan did in this third temptation? We find Jesus quoting Scripture in the battle, so Satan thought he’d do the same thing. He actually quoted the Bible – he took a passage, a little truth, twisted it, and tried to use it against Jesus. Which is the way he’ll try to trip us up as well. He’ll mix in just enough truth to get us confused, to trick us, masquerading as an angel of light. It’ll come in the form of false teachings, heresies, anything to get us to disbelieve God or put Him to the test. Very quickly, how did Jesus respond to each of these temptations? That brings us to our final point, the victory over temptation.
Ever since Christ walked on the earth, people have tried to figure out the best way to deal with temptation. Some have tried to remove themselves from it altogether – shutting themselves up in monasteries or convents. Simon Stylites. Benedict of Nursia, who lived in the 6th Century, thought he would increase grace and remove temptation by wearing a rough hair shirt and living for three years in a desolate cave. He had just enough food to keep him alive lowered to him on a cord. Once he threw himself into a bush of thorns and briars until his body was covered with bleeding wounds.
Others have tried to overcome temptation by denying it. Jovinian, a heretical 5th Century monk, taught that after a person was baptized, he was free forever from the devil’s power and temptation. Don’t you wish that were true. Jerome, who was a contemporary of Jovinian, wisely pointed out that baptism does not drown the devil.
So, what’s the best way to overcome temptation? We have the greatest example before us in the person of Jesus Christ. We should follow His example if we expect to withstand the fiery darts. How did He respond? Three things here:
First, He faced Satan in the power of the Spirit. Remember, He was full of the Holy Spirit when He faced the enemy. Listen, there’s no way you can face the forces of evil on your own. Jude tells us even the archangel Michael wouldn’t bring a slanderous accusation against Satan when they battled for the body of Moses – rather, he said, “The Lord rebuke you.” The point is, even Michael knew where his power came from. The good news is, we don’t have to fight the battle alone – because greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.
Second, when Jesus knew He was going to face battle, He did it with prayer and fasting. Even though the text doesn’t say anything about prayer, we know the two disciplines – prayer and fasting go together. That is, after all, one of the reasons we fast. We set aside the physical things of this life to pursue spiritual things. And I would say, when God is doing great things, and we know we’re in a battle, fasting and praying is certainly in order. You say, I know I’m in a battle for my marriage. I know I’m in a battle for my kids, or with my job or my church. Then fasting and prayer just may be what you need to have the spiritual strength to persevere.
Finally, the last thing Jesus used, very obviously, was the Word of God. Each time He was faced with a temptation, Jesus responded by quoting truth from God’s Word. In this case, each verse came from Deuteronomy chapters 6 and 8. That means a couple of things for us. If we’re going to be spiritually successful, if we’re going to successfully protect ourselves from the fiery darts of the devil, then we must know the Word of God.
That’s why, in Ephesians 6, where we read about the armor of God, Paul speaks of the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. You want to successfully defend yourself against the attacks of the evil one? Then be a person of the Word of God. Don’t miss what Jesus said in the first temptation – spiritual food is more important than physical food. In the second temptation, worship God, and serve Him only. Third temptation, don’t put God to the test – in essence, trust Him. Three good principles – be people of the Word, worship God, and trust Him.
Notice a couple things in closing. First, the first Adam was placed in a perfect environment in the Garden of Eden, with all his needs and wants met – with everything you could possibly imagine – with one great-looking wife and no other women to tempt him. And yet, he did not resist the temptation of Satan. He disobeyed God and plunged humankind into sin.
But notice here, the second Adam, unlike the first, was wandering in a hot, barren desert. The hills are dust heaps, the limestone blistered and peeling, the rocks bare and jagged. Luke tells us He was with the wild beasts. There’s hardly any place He could have been that would have been more uncomfortable. And He was alone, without food, hungry. But He was also full of the Holy Spirit. And He was victorious over those same temptations.
The point is, your circumstances and environment have nothing to do with your ability to withstand temptation. It has to do with your character, your heart, and surrender to the Spirit of God. Are you serious about your faith? The bad news is, when you are, you will attract attention. Don’t be surprised when it comes. When all hell breaks loose, it might just mean you’re doing something right. Stand firm. And the good news is, Jesus made victory available to us through His victory and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. You can withstand temptation by being full of the Spirit, by remaining close to God through prayer and fasting, and by being a person of the Word of God. Your circumstances do not matter.
Finally, the last thing I would note is this. Jesus quoted passages from Deuteronomy 6 and 8 – when Moses was giving Israel instructions about entering the land of promise. You see, they, too, failed, and had to wander in the wilderness for…forty years. Moses was reminding them of that in Deuteronomy. Failure after failure. And so, Jesus accomplished what they failed to do. You see, Jesus was not only the second Adam, because one was needed, He was also the new Israel, because one was needed. His perfect life, death and resurrection made not only our redemption a reality, but so also the ability to live a sanctified, holy life.