Luke 4:1-13 1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.'” 5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” 9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” 12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Matthew 4:11-“angels came and attended him.”)
Who knows what this Wednesday is? Ash Wednesday, right. We are having our annual experiential Ash Wednesday service this Wednesday at 6:45 to mark the beginning of the season of Lent. And “no” Lent, isn’t just for Catholic Christians. Many different Christian groups observe Lent, including many Churches of God.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a season which lasts for 40 days and leads up to Easter. Lent is not mentioned in the Bible. There is no verse that says “Thou shalt celebrate Lent.” So how did it get started and why do I think it is a valuable observance for us?
Around 230 AD, a group of Christians started fasting for the 40 hours leading up to Easter to prepare their hearts for Easter. Pretty soon, the idea caught on. Years later, they bumped it up to 7 days of fasting. And they called it Holy Week. And by 325 AD, the church officially made it 40 days which represented Jesus’ 40 days of testing in the wilderness. If you count the days between now and Easter you will come up with more than 40 so to get the 40 days, you skip the Sundays. Should you choose to enter into an intense time of fasting and prayer during Lent skip every Sunday. The historical reason for skipping Sundays is that Sunday is a day to celebrate the Resurrection, so nothing somber should take place on Sunday; only celebration.
As you know, Jesus retreated into the wilderness and fasted for forty days to prepare for His ministry. It was a time of intense preparation. Everything Jesus did, His healing miracles, His teaching and preaching, the casting out demons and everything He experienced, the highs and lows of friendship with His disciples and the intense suffering leading up to and on the cross were all preceded by this 40 day time of preparation. Preparation was first and was key for everything that would follow.
So, as we anticipate Ash Wednesday and consider how we might fast and what our prayer focus might be and how we might personally try to identify with Jesus’s desert experience, I want us to view it as an opportunity for intense preparation. Preparation for what? I don’t know. Only God knows. Perhaps the next 40 days is a time God wants to write a new story in our lives. Maybe you will get through the Lenten season and look back and say, “That’s why God led me to fast and pray. That what God was getting me ready for.” Perhaps God wants to prepare you to become a miracle healer, a demon-caster-outer, a teacher of His truth or maybe God knows that a time of suffering is ahead that you could use the next forty days to get ready for it. Maybe, just maybe, God will prepare us, like He did Jesus, to over the next three years literally change the world! How far into the desert will we go? What will we learn? How will we be prepared for what could be ahead?
Let me say first of all that one aha from this passage which would have been an aha for the first disciples and is an aha for us this morning is that God can be encountered anywhere. Jewish worship had become really tied to the Temples and Synagogues. The idea that God could be encountered in the desert, that someone didn’t need to be in the Temple to get ready for ministry was a throwback to desert experiences the Israelites had had years before.
You’ll remember that Moses encountered God in a desert when a bush caught on fire. From that desert encounter, information was given to Moses that impacted the entire future history of the Jewish people. How they would be freed from slavery and be led into a land of promise, a place of abundance, a land flowing with milk and honey, all of that was transmitted to Moses in a desert place.
The Ten Commandments were also received by Moses in a desert encounter in Exodus 19-32. How the Israelites would live and relate to God as His people was all revealed to them in the desert. The desert may not be a great place to grow vegetation, but it apparently is a great place to grow Christians.
John the Baptist did his preparing for Jesus’ ministry, his preaching and baptizing, in the desert of Judea (Matt. 3:1). What was the message? It was a new message. It was a message about a change of life that included a change of heart. It was a message not about a tabernacle, temple or synagogue, but about a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.
Freedom from slavery started in the desert. Learning how to live as God’s people and relate to Him through obeying His commands started in the desert. Hearing about a new kingdom, a new way of discipleship was proclaimed in the desert. So, it is not surprising that God would take the One who was going to usher in this new Kingdom, the One who would free us forever from the slavery of sin, this One who would teach us to truly live as God’s people, this One who would show us what it meant to walk with God in the power of the Holy Spirit into a desert experience as a precursor to His ministry. Don’t discount what God has in mind for you in the desert experiences of life. If Jesus went into the desert, and we are truly following Him, we are bound to find ourselves in a few of them during the course of our lifetimes.
Jesus received and learned what He needed to in order to change the world in just 40 days in the desert. It was a time of intense and concentrated preparation. The desert was ideal training ground because it put Jesus in a state of isolation where it was just Him and God the Father for 40 days. Oh, Satan was there too, but it was a training ground where away from the public eye and away from the pressures and stresses of daily life, Jesus got one-on-one instruction from God the Father about how to defeat Satan and how to rely on the Father in order to do His ministry.
Think about it with me. Jesus prepared for His ministry alone. He had to rely solely on the Father to get Him through. Also, in a very real sense, Jesus went to the cross alone. Most of his followers had scattered. Oh, a few hung with him, but the cross was something He had to accomplish alone. No one else could help Him. No one else could do it for Him. I wonder, as He hung on the cross, where His mind went. Do you think He reviewed the previous three years? Do you think His mind went back to His desert training? Do you think it is possible the lessons learned there enabled Him to endure the cross? I do think the ministry He did, the authority He possessed, and the submission to the will of God He expressed were all acquired in the desert experience. In a way, I could argue that those experiences absolutely enabled Jesus to hang in there on that cross until the mission was complete. Jesus learned, in the desert, how to tune out the voices of the crowd and listen for the voice of One.
Let’s break down each temptation. Look at the end of verse 2: He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.'”
Remember, the first Adam, the first people, Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan in the Garden of Eden and the temptation had to do with eating. I am guessing Satan thought because it had worked once it might work twice, so he tempted the “second Adam” Jesus (who Scripture refers to as the “second Adam”) with a food temptation.
Turning stones to bread would not have been difficult for Jesus. He left the desert experience, and He turned water into wine for His first miracle. Just a few chapters later in John 6, He created enough food for over five thousand people with a few small loaves of bread and a few fish. He had the capacity to create food and drink, yet He chose to go without it in the desert.
What we see in this first temptation was the temptation for Jesus to be self-reliant rather than God-reliant. Who was going to be the Source for His ministry? Himself or His Father? Who was going to be His Provider? That question was answered in the desert of temptation.
Because Jesus settled Who His Source was going to be, He was prepared to stay the course, prepared to do the Father’s will, and prepared to take it all the way to the end even when in His flesh He would likely be tempted to go in any other possible direction but the direction of the cross.
Who is it that you count on to supply your needs and sustain your life? Is it God or self? Is God your supplier, or do you depend on your own strength and abilities to see you through? What if, during the next 40 days, you would go into the desert with God? Could you become more God-reliant and less self-reliant?
One problem with self-reliance is that it often does work . . . to a point. We do have abilities to make sound decisions, work hard, and achieve a level of comfort through personal success. That’s what makes it so hard to give up relying on ourselves. The reality of self-reliance, however, is that it limits us tremendously. When we rely on self we will be limited to what self can do, but when we rely on God, we will be able to achieve anything God can do!
You can only say Philippians 4:19, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” if you are relying on God and not yourself.
A second problem with self-reliance comes when we bump up against something that is bigger and stronger than we are. What then? Do you think Satan is only going to tempt you with things that he knows you can overcome? Of course not. He is going to look for your weaknesses until he finds an open door.
That’s why Proverbs 3:5-6 doesn’t say, “Trust in yourself with all your heart” but “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
I read about a third problem with self-reliance in preparation for this message as one author said, “Self-reliance will cause us to put our needs first and God’s will second.” Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me (John 4:34). Because Jesus was totally God-reliant, He saw the will of God rather than His own agenda as supreme. We cannot be true disciples and follow our own agenda.
Let me say one more thing about this first temptation. When you are hungry in the desert, Satan wants you to think God doesn’t love you because if He did, He would feed you; that if God really loved you, He wouldn’t let you go hungry. Listen, when you are hungry in the desert, God will satisfy you in ways far more sustaining and satisfying than a loaf of bread. Jesus found it to be true, and He got all of the self-reliance issues settled in the desert. He was prepared to accomplish God’s will in the desert.
What if you and I took the 40 days leading up to Easter to seek the will of God, and commit our wills to following it with our heart, soul, mind and strength?
In the second temptation, Jesus prepared to do God’s will God’s way.
Revisit verse 5: The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'”
The whole Jewish nation had been expecting a Messiah, however the kind of person they were hoping for wasn’t a meek, peaceful, servant-King, but a powerful military and political figure. In the second temptation Satan offered Jesus an opportunity to become that kind of leader. Jesus didn’t fall for it. Jesus must have already had a lesson from the Father. Maybe God had already explained the Kingdom of God was completely different from the kingdoms of this world. Jesus knew the kingdoms of this world couldn’t compare to the Kingdom of God.
I am suggesting that in the desert, Jesus made the decision that not only would He trust God to lead and keep Him, but He would trust God’s way of doing things. Besides, Jesus didn’t need earthly authority. He had heavenly authority.
God had not planned a violent overthrow of a Roman government, but instead He planned the ushering in of a Kingdom that was not of this world. It was a Kingdom of Peace, Joy, and Righteousness in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Oh, it was a Kingdom of Power, but power under restraint and the direction of the Holy Spirit. It was an upside down Kingdom in a lot of ways. To gain you would lose, to become great you would serve, to receive you would give. In this Kingdom of God you wouldn’t get even with your enemies, but you would bless them and pray for them. Jesus taught the greatest people in the Kingdom of God would have the heart and faith of a child. Simply put, what makes sense to the world doesn’t make sense in the Kingdom of God.
To take Satan’s bait to pursue worldly authority and power would have tied Jesus to the world’s system and way of doing things. His mission would never have been accomplished. People with worldly power and authority don’t let other people crucify them.
Probably the most difficult pill for us to swallow as people seeking to be in the Kingdom of God is that to truly find life we have to give ours up. Listen to Matthew 16:24-25 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
You see, the world we live in is all about instant gratification, about feeling good now. The Kingdom of God is far more about an eternal reward. God calls us in the Kingdom to some experiences that aren’t fun or pleasant, yet they are working in us to produce an eternal reward that far outweighs anything we could experience in this life. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 tells us: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” There is something unseen that guides a Kingdom of God person, and there is a sure confidence that the score is not kept in this life, but in eternity to come.
The third temptation is found in verses 9-12: The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” 12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
We often have this idea about being a Christian that nothing bad should ever happen to us. We should never suffer. Here Satan tempted Jesus to test God to see if He could allow Jesus to be hurt. We know the whole story. Part of God’s plan to save the world included intense suffering for Jesus. The thoughts Satan wanted to shove into Jesus’ mind went something like this: “If God the Father truly loves you, He won’t let you get hurt.”
I’m going to be straight up with you this morning. The Christian life is the most fulfilling, the most satisfying, the most blessed, the most joy and peace-filled life, but it isn’t the easiest. If you are looking for easy, it’s not the Christian road. Jesus learned in the desert before He ever started His public ministry that God the Father’s plan was going to involve suffering. You don’t fast for forty days and nights and not feel some pain. You wrestle with emotional well-being. Jesus was learning some mental fortitude during a time of intense physical weakness. I’m not even in my right mind if I miss having caffeine for one morning. You wonder why a loving God would allow Satan to come at you when you are at your weakest physical point.
I submit to you that Jesus accepted in the desert that the Father had good reasons for any physical or emotional hardship He allowed. Jesus willingly endured the pain and mental challenges in the desert with the help of God the Father. I believe it was because God was with Him that He didn’t just give up and die there. Jesus knew because of that desert experience that the Father could enable Him to get through anything. Jesus made it through the horrific experience of crucifixion, walked through the doorway of death, and came out victorious because God the Father was with Him. No, the Father didn’t just bail Jesus out of painful situations, but He did walk with Him through them and He did make sure He came out alive.
We say Jesus is Lord, and we want Him to have total control until we have to suffer. For some reason, we are good with God’s agenda until it comes to suffering. When we walk through suffering we want to inject our own agenda to that process. For some we can trust God with all other parts of our lives, but when it comes to suffering, we want to control the plot. We basically just want it over. Maybe that was part of Satan’s temptation. Maybe he thought since Jesus was so hungry and drained and tired He would be willing to throw it all in by throwing Himself off a cliff and testing God’s commitment to spare His life.
What a victory Jesus had in the desert. From an extremely weak physical condition He He overcame Satan. The same is true of His performance on the cross. From an unbelievably weak position on the cross He forgave those who had disfigured Him and nailed Him to the cross, and He accomplished the largest mission of all of history for all time.
Jesus experienced the truth of II Corinthians 12:9 in the desert. In that verse God said to the Apostle Paul about his own suffering, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Here is the simple truth: When we are weak, God is strong. It is God’s power in us that defeats Satan, not our own strength.
Yes, Jesus was weak in the desert. He was weak on the cross. But He was also never stronger because it was the power of God at work in His life that brought about amazing victory in His life. And when you learn how to let God’s power sustain you, you become indestructible.
One final thought from verse 13: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” Why did Jesus need to learn the lessons in the desert, and why do we? Because Satan doesn’t give up. He will keep looking for a way to take us down. But the desert lesson, the lesson of God’s will, God’s way, through God’s power, will set us up for victory every time Satan comes calling.
Jesus was led by the Spirit of God into the desert. Could God be ordaining the same experience for you and for me?