May I Have a Word?

Matthew 4:1-11

 

Let’s talk about books for a moment.  I’ve had a cyclical relationship with books throughout my life.  As a little kid, I loved them.

I couldn’t get enough of them.  Then, as I grew into high school and college, I came to dislike the things.  The reason was simple:  school.

I had to read them in school.  I was forced to read them.  Therefore, I did almost no reading on my own.  I had too much to read for school.

This was especially true during my seminary years.  Some of the required readings were actually quite good.

But the fact that I was obligated to read them tainted them, to a degree.  This carried over into my first years of ministry.

In my eight years as youth minister, I’ll bet a failed to read even a dozen books.

 

But something happened when we moved to Marshall and I became a pastor.  I don’t know exactly what it was.  Call it growing up.  Call it God’s intervention.

Whatever it was, I fell back in love with books.  I topped a dozen books during my first year here.  Now that it’s been over three years, I’ve lost count.

I’ve developed a list of authors I really enjoy.  Some of the books, as many of you know, have enhanced my preaching and my Bible teaching.

In fact, one of the reasons I most look forward to school starting next week is that, each day in line waiting on the boys to get out of school, I get some reading time.

 

Now, books can hold various functions within a person’s life.  I’ve had those books that I’ve read primarily for entertainment.

It started in elementary school and junior high, when I owned every Calvin and Hobbes book there was.  I still have them all in my office.

In fact, if any of you don’t know Calvin and Hobbes, I recommend you visit my office immediately.  Your life will be enriched.

A couple years ago, I read a 700-page book titled The Book of Basketball.  I have since reread it and revisited certain chapters from time to time.

Books such as these are fun, but they don’t really bring about any life change.  I’ve laughed a lot and learned some cool facts.

But I haven’t had any revelations regarding the direction of my life in these books.

 

Then you’ve got your books for growth.  Consider the Bible Study we just finished on the Parable of the Prodigal Son—better titled the Parable of the Loving Father.

I routinely referenced Timothy Keller’s book, Prodigal God, throughout that study.

But that book, along with several more by Keller and others of my favorite authors, had a profound impact on my personal life, in addition to furthering my ministry.

These are those sorts of books that make you think, reconsider, and share with friends and family.  These books at times offer a fresh perspective on things.

These are the sorts of books that I find myself talking about the most.

 

When you get right down to it, books are great because words are great.  Words are what separate us from the animals—along with reason, which most of us have.

Words create imagery.  They formulate pictures within the mind of the reader.  They bring out emotions.  There’s a reason that the most popular books become movies.

When you read them, you can see the movie scenes play out in your mind.  The authors of those books are masters at painting pictures.

Sometimes the movies stink, but that’s the fault of the book.  Some movie producer made a poor interpretation of the vision the author created.

Words have power.  Words provide meaning and clarity.  Words, at times, can bring life beyond what gifts and money could ever bring.

Words, at times, can also tear down in more painful fashion than any weapon ever could.  All that, in a nutshell, is why I love words—and therefore books.

 

And then there’s the Bible—often called the Word of God.  To use some Wizard of Oz language, that’s a book of a different color.  That book is alive.

That’s the only book there ever was through which God—in the person of the Holy Spirit—has promised to speak to us.

No other book has words that can bring such comfort and hope.  No other book has words that can cut you to the core.

And no other book can be used practically more so than the Bible.  Of course, no other book has been as underused and neglected as the Bible.

 

Keeping all this in mind, I’d like us to turn to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter four.

In this famous passage, we see Jesus’ knowledge and use of scripture.

We also see Jesus in the midst of one of the most interesting and powerful confrontations of all time.  So I invite you to join me there.

I’ll begin our reading with verse one of chapter four.  (Read Matthew 4:1-11.)

 

So our passage begins with the word “then”.  This is one of those words in the Bible that ought to cause us to pause and look back whenever we read it.

Imagine if we saw each other on a Sunday morning as you arrived at church.  Imagine that we hadn’t seen each other since we last met on Wednesday evening.

Now imagine that the first words out of my mouth were, “Then I went out to eat and saw a movie, and then I came back home, and then…”

You might be prone to consider me crazy.  It’s also crazy to read this word in the Bible without looking back at what “then” references.

You don’t start a conversation with the word “then”.  That word only fits when there is preceding material.  Therefore, we ought to glance at chapter three.

 

The end of that chapter covers the baptism of Jesus.  This marked what we might consider to be the inauguration of His ministry.

John the Baptist was hesitant, but Jesus said that it must be so for now.  Upon His baptism, Jesus came out of the water and so the Spirit descending upon Him.

He also heard the Father voice His approval, proclaiming Jesus to be His beloved Son—and also proclaiming that He was pleased with Him.

Could this have been in preparation for what lies ahead?  I think we have to consider that to be the case.  Jesus got visible and verbal affirmation from His Father.

Commentators have debated whether or not Jesus always knew that He was the Son of God and the Messiah.  I’m not here to get into all that.

At this point, however, we see God publicly endorsing His Son.  Moreover, He is encouraging His Son, it would seem.

This encouragement would serve Him well in the temptations that lay ahead.

 

Now, what about the problem we might encounter in verse one?  The scripture said that Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Well, whatever happened to “lead us not into temptation”?  This is where it would serve us well to look at some other gospel accounts.

Luke says that Jesus was full of the Spirit following His baptism, and was led around the wilderness by that same Spirit.

Luke points out that Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, but he doesn’t insinuate that the Spirit led Him into temptation.

 

However, we ought to at least consider this prospect.  After all, Jesus had a different sort of mission than we do.

In Hebrews, chapter five, the author states in verse nine that Jesus is “the source of eternal salvation”.

He is elsewhere referred to as the “author and perfecter of our faith”.  He is also called the sinless and spotless lamb.  He was and is holy, in the purest sense.

And, in that Hebrews passage, we learn that Jesus “learned obedience from the things which He suffered”.

Moreover, verse nine refers to Him as “having been made perfect”.  We must remember that He was perfect and being perfected .

Jesus became the perfect sacrifice for us by the life He lived.  This “perfecting” process was completed on the cross.

But the process began here, and would continue throughout His lifetime.  You see, this wasn’t the only time He would be tempted.

Luke, in his account, states that the devil left Him until an opportune time.  Later Jesus would refer to Peter as “Satan”.

That was because Peter was attempting to persuade Jesus toward a more pleasant and popular form of being Messiah—toward a plan other than God’s.

 

So, without further ado, let’s get into these temptations.  At their core, we see some fundamentally alluring possibilities for Jesus.

All of them have to do with His standing as the Son of God.  That standing was just ratified at His baptism.  So how would it play out?

Would He use His power merely to address His own needs—such as turning rocks into bread in a time of great hunger—or perhaps to address others’ needs?

Would He use His power to wow the crowds with pointless and purposeless miracles—such as jumping off a ledge, knowing the angels would rescue Him?

Would He use His power to establish His own earthly kingdom—one in which He could correct all the ills of society and show everyone the right way to live?

We begin finding answers to our questions with the first temptation—a temptation in which Satan comes to Jesus, addressing His weakened state.

We have to remember that Jesus had fasted for forty days.  Fasting is a spiritual discipline in which a person denies himself or herself something—anything, not merely food—for an extended period of time.

The purpose is usually so that the person might devote the time and energy spent on that thing to God, perhaps even gaining a greater focus on Him along the way.

Fasting is not some sort of legalistic requirement for us, but that doesn’t mean it is valueless.  God may well call any of us to a fast of some sort.

In addition to food fasts, I’ve heard of technology fasts of various kinds.  Also, in the Bible, there is a time for a sexual fast, according to Paul.

Incidentally, if you are not married, you are always to be in the midst of a sexual fast.

These sorts of fasts can help us become more disciplined, more attuned to God and what He says to us, and especially more reliant upon God’s strength.

Clearly, for Jesus, this fast served a preparatory function.  He knew what awaited Him in the desert, and He wanted His Father to have His full attention.

 

And yet, not surprisingly, He got hungry.  I can’t imagine the hunger and weakness He must have experienced.

I feel as though I’m better suited for the forty-minute fast, not the forty-day version.

Look at Satan’s first words to Jesus:  “If you are the Son of God…”  Satan attempts to place doubt in the mind of Jesus.

He knows what has happened.  He knows that the Father just publicly proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God.  He also knows that Jesus is the Son of God.

But Satan has been a dabbler in doubt from the beginning.  Think back to the Garden of Eden.  “Did God really say that you couldn’t eat from any tree?”

Of course He didn’t.  That command only dealt with one tree.  But Satan places doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve.

Maybe God isn’t fair.  Maybe He doesn’t love us.  Maybe He doesn’t want what’s best for us.  Maybe He’s only out to deny our joy and pleasure.

 

And then we get to the crux of the temptation.  “You’re hungry, Jesus.  Turn these stones into bread.  You know you can.”

Jesus, however, answers in regards to a different food.  Listen to these other words of Jesus, found in John, chapter four.  I’ll start with verse 32.  (Read John 4:32-34.)

Jesus said that His food was to do the will of His Father.  Okay, fair enough—but how might He know the will of His Father?

For that, we look into the next chapter of John.  In verse 19, He states that He can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing.

In verse 30, He says that He can do nothing on His own initiative.  In other words, Jesus did only what the Father told Him.

That’s the focal point of that verse out of Deuteronomy, which He quoted to Satan.

Jesus doing what the Father said was an absolute statement.  It was even true out there in that wilderness, under duress.

 

We have to remember, Jesus was in this situation at the initiative of the Father, through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

He wouldn’t eat a thing until the Father said it was time to do so.  He certainly wasn’t going to do it just because Satan said to.

In fact, He wouldn’t even do it just because He was hungry.  This causes some pointed questions for our own lives.

Just who—or what—is initiating things in regards to our lifestyles and our decisions?  Just who—or what—is the authority in our lives?

 

Next comes the second temptation—prove yourself and your God, Jesus.  To understand a bit about this temptation, we need to pay attention to where they are.

Now, we cannot exactly know whether or not Satan actually took Jesus to this physical place or rather simply showed Him the place, as in a vision.

Either way, it doesn’t really matter.  The point comes across clearly.  Verse five says that they are in the holy city, standing on the top of the Temple.

They are in Jerusalem.  This is a holy place.  This is a religious place.  This is a populous place—well-known and typically teeming with people.

 

Again, Satan begins with an “if”.  You see, this is how Satan so often wins with us.

He wins with doubts and questions.  The temptations are rarely as overt as a pornographic magazine being delivered to your house or someone leaving a briefcase full of cash in their car, unlocked.

Satan gets us to question and doubt certain things about ourselves and, more importantly, about God.

“Oh, God wouldn’t really mind if you did that, would He?  I’m sure He’d understand.”

“Well, that doesn’t seem fair, does it?  Surely God must not know your circumstances, or He wouldn’t expect such things from you.”

“You’re strong enough to handle your own life.  You don’t really need God in every part of it, do you?  Why bother Him with the little stuff?”  The list could go on and on.

 

Also, notice that Satan knows the scriptures.  He quotes Psalm 91 in this passage.

Here’s an important caveat regarding Satan’s knowledge of the scriptures.  He knows the words, but he loves to confuse the applications.

That’s what he does here.  That passage from Psalm 91 is about the security we have in the Lord—that God can handle anything we may face and will one day reside eternally with those who love Him.  But Satan tries to make it mean something else.

Too often, we miss the mark in life because we have misapplied scripture.  We read it out of context.  That’s why we looked at the word “then” in verse one.

We can’t fully understand this passage without looking back at chapter three.  We need to see every passage we read in light of the bigger picture.

The Bible has many little stories, but they all point to one really big, unifying story.

There is a God, and always has been.  He created us and loves us.  We fell, rebelling against Him, and allowed sin to enter the world.

God set forth a great plan of redemption, progressively revealing Himself to His people and bringing them back to the fold.

The plan came to fruition when God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth.  One day, He will usher in the completion of that plan.

God will bring forth a new heaven and a new earth.  Eden will be restored, and then some.  There’s your Bible in a nutshell.

All the little stories in the Bible, in some way, point toward that grand theme.  Instead, we misapply it by making select verses apply only to our situation.  That’s what Satan has done here.

“See what it says there, Jesus?  You can jump off this ledge and His angels will catch you.  Let’s test it out.”

 

Jesus responds again with scripture, and He does it with the right application.  He quotes Deuteronomy again, but this passage references the book of Exodus.

Listen to this passage from Exodus, chapter 17, where God’s people put Him to the test.  I’ll begin with verse one.  (Read Exodus 17:1-7.)

The mantra of the people of Israel is this—prove you are real and among us, God!

That’s a common cry of opponents of Christianity.  “You can’t prove any of this stuff you believe!” they might say.

But we ought to consider, in situations such as these, just who is dictating things.

If God only exists on our terms and according to our whims, then He really is no God at all.  Satan essentially asks Jesus to put God the Father to the test.

But we don’t test God.  That’s akin to a student giving a teacher a test in the classroom.  God tests us, and that’s that.

 

Finally, we come to our last temptation—one I like to call “The Easy Way Out”.  Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world.  Since there is no place on earth from which one could see all of that, this has to be some sort of vision state.

There are two things to remember, up front, about this kingdoms mentioned here.

First of all, Jesus is our coming King.  Everything belongs to Him, and one day He will return to claim it all.

Secondly, consider Ephesians 2:2.  There, Satan is referred to as the “prince of the power of the air”.

In that verse, his kingdom is associated with the way of the world and the spirit at work within the sons of disobedience.

In other words, it’s not outside of the context of scripture to say that, at this point in time, these kingdoms of earth were his to give.

 

So Jesus has two options before Him.  He can obey His Father, endure the cross, and wait for the Father’s timing—when Jesus returns as reigning king.

On the other hand, He could give into Satan right now.  He could bow and worship Him, thus receiving all these kingdoms.

And it’s not as easy a choice as you might think.  Consider the cross.  Consider it’s pain, shame, scorn, and humiliation.

Beyond that, consider the agony of separation from the Father as Jesus bore the sins of the entire world—past, present, and future.

Add to that, this.  We have to consider this notion of the ends justifying the means.

If the “end” is Jesus, ruling over all the kingdoms of the earth justly and fairly and in the Spirit of the Lord—then I’m all for that.

But if the “means” is bowing down to worship Satan, then that cancels out all that other good stuff.

If whatever “good” you want to do in this life means that you have to replace God with Satan, or anyone else, or anything else, then it’s not worth it.

I don’t care how good it is.  We cannot be an “end justifies the means” people.  God has already laid out the “end” for us.

The only “means” available to us are those which are according to His will.  So Jesus, once again, quotes Deuteronomy.

This is that famous passage from chapter six, part of a larger passage known as the Shema.  You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.

 

And so, in verse eleven, the devil leaves.  And we must notice when he gave up.  With each temptation—with each course of action—he gave up after the proclamation of scripture.  I wrote down this quote from Tony Evans.

We need to learn how to have Bible studies with the devil.  I’m not talking about regular conversations.  He is not to be trifled with.

He will make us doubt and question.  He will confuse us.  He is the Lord’s to deal with, not ours.  But we need to have Bible studies with him.

Evans says that Satan is not allergic to our knowledge of the scripture.  He’s allergic to our use of it.  We need to be proclaiming scripture.

We need to be using the scriptures, accurately, in our everyday lives.  Many of you in here know the scriptures.  But the book comes alive when it is used.

 

Through His word, God is always with us.  Through His Spirit, God lives within us and teaches us His word.

Through His “word become flesh”, God saves us from any and everything.  So that’s why we must turn to Him.

Temptation is only overcome by calling on Jesus, by speaking the name of the “word become flesh”, and by proclaiming God’s written word to us.

I don’t care what you are facing, Jesus has been there.  He’s been tempted to give up.

He’s been tempted to give in.  He’s been tempted to take the easy way out.  He’s been tempted to go His own way.  Through it all, He emerged victorious.

What is your response to Him today?  (Pray.)