Posts Tagged With: Temptation

Ascension Day

Luke 24:44-53 44 Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

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There has been a renewed emphasis recently about the descent of Jesus (and what that means both theologically and practically) and while that is vital, the ascent of Jesus, that returning back to where he originally came from, back to the Father’s side, back to the heavenly throne, that ascent is just as crucial as well. It informs us about essential things we absolutely must know.

Dosso Dossi

Dosso Dossi

The ascension story only occurs in the Luke gospel (and in his companion book “Acts of the Apostles”) and is curiously succinct. It has been noted that the book of Luke is lengthy for the typical papyrus writings of his day so we can almost imagine Luke running out of room on that particular gospel scroll. What a quandary! He had interviewed so many witnesses, had personally traveled with the Apostle Paul on many journeys, and therefore had so much to say and yet precious little room left to say it; so here Luke finds himself, at the very end, running out of papyrus to write on. Consequently, Dr. Luke’s telling of this story is very brief.

Despite being so concise, however, this Ascension of Jesus narrative is dense and packed with details for us to learn both about Jesus and also about us. In this devotional, we will break down this passage into seven segments (as they occur in order in this storyline) and we will see why this passage is so important.

1. The Resurrected Lord (v44).

The first item to notice, right away in verse 44, is that Jesus has indeed been resurrected as he had promised: This Jesus here talking to his disciples has a changed body that can now walk through walls and yet also eat fish. Ultimately what we should notice is that Jesus is undeniably alive; thusly confirming the authenticity of his life, ministry, and teachings, and he is now appearing to his friends a final time with something very important to say before he ascends to the Father.

This is not the first post-resurrection appearance; other apostles have spoken and written about other group appearances (the women at the tomb, the two men on the road to Emmaus, the disciples on the boat, the crowd of over 500, to Saul/Paul, etc) but this is the last time they see him in his post-resurrection pre-glorified state.

Jesus is Lord, the power of God has been majestically displayed in the reality of his resurrection, and that which he said would occur has already taken place: He is now ready to ascend to the Father.

2. The Revealed WORD (v44-46)

In verses 44-46, Jesus continues the theme found earlier in this Luke chapter 24 where on the Road to Emmaus the newly risen (and unrecognized) Christ walked beside two disheartened disciples, teaching them a compacted Master’s level “Messianic Survey of the Old Testament” course (so to speak) as he explained how all of those scriptures in the Old Testament were about HIM. They didn’t get it at first.

Here in this narrative, much like earlier in the Emmaus episode, Jesus speaks of the major categories of Old Testament scripture (Law, Prophets, and Psalms) and this is a synecdoche; where one part stands in for the entire whole. Our Lord Jesus has a high view of scripture, quoting it with the prefatory “it is written” (64 times), and his gist is that the Bible isn’t so much about the Jews or even mankind in general, holy or otherwise. Instead it is all about him.

It is not about us, nor about them. It is all about HIM!

Where this teaching may have been initially misunderstood (or at least not fully comprehended) by his disciples before his death, now they’re starting to get it. After the resurrection there comes a spiritual clarity that is bestowed upon them. How does this happen? Verse 45: “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures”.

This word “opened”, the Greek dianoigo, refers to a thorough opening of something that had been previously closed (never before opened). It is used 8 times in the all the New Testament where 7 of those 8 times is by Luke in his gospel or Acts. Some enlightening instances are found in Mark 7:34 (the ephphatha healing) where he opens the ears of the mute, and in Luke 24:31 in Emmaus where he opened the two men’s eyes so that they could recognize him. Then also in Acts 7:56 where Stephen being stoned saw the heavens opened as he was being martyred. And then additionally in Acts 16:14 where the Lord opened up Lydia’s heart to believe Apostle Paul’s evangelistic message.

The Apostle John writes that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Jesus is the revealed word of God and these disciples are now starting to get it as their minds have now been opened.

3. The Repentant Heart (v47)

Jesus connects repentance with forgiveness of sins in the next verse 47. In all honesty, this concept of repentance makes our modern (and postmodern) minds uncomfortable, so we like to sweep it under the rug. Why? Because repentance, the Greek word metanoia, means a changed mind, attitude, and behavior: We are called to be changed.

This distresses us as we don’t really want to change. Our self-centeredness kicks in here. We want everyone else to change, just not ourselves; but in order to be formed more and more into the image of Christ, we must.

This repentance, this internal (and ongoing) change, is intricately linked with the forgiveness here in this passage. Not that we work it or earn it in any way, but that instead we receive it; for our repentance signifies and proves that the Spirit is sanctifying us; changing us more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. All by grace and fueled by his love.

This speaks to a major aspect why Christ died on the cross: To forgive sins. Not simply our individual pet sin actions and behaviors, but our comprehensive foundational sin nature that works itself out (often at inopportune times) into regrettable sin actions.

And lest we fool ourselves that sin only signifies the large obvious negative categories like murder, war, adultery, and robbery, we must be aware that it also denotes the small subtle positive categories like family, church work, community involvement and acceptance; basically every way (especially these positive “good” ways) where we link our identity to anything outside of Jesus Christ.

4. The Responsibility of Witness (v47-49)

The good news of God’s love was never meant to be hidden or selfishly contained; it was always meant to be generously shared with all peoples everywhere. It is for every nation, tribe, tongue, and generation; everyone. To both the religious and to the irreligious; to the self-important and to the humble; to the leadership and to the outcasts: To all nations.

Because of this, his disciples are others-centered. We are called to be evangelizers; sharers of the great news of new life in the risen and ascended Christ; both in word and deed. This witness must proceed to the easy crowds who accept the message quickly, and also to the difficult crowds who do not; those who persecute and attempt to destroy the life of Christ within us.

Since the initial disciples were with Jesus as he walked the streets, teaching and healing, there is a double meaning in the word witness here in that they were not only called to go as witnesses (Great Commission), but they were also received as eyewitnesses; of his life, death, and resurrection. Luke himself gives us a peek into how he gathered the reports to include in his gospel (and Acts) in the first two sentences of his gospel: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (Lk 1:1-2)

To Dr. Luke, the historian, these accounts are historically accurate in that he has investigated and interviewed eyewitnesses who have testified to their experiences. So these initial eyewitnesses are also the witnesses who are called to propel the message forward: To Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and they did go on to do exactly that: To witness to the reality that the Messiah did suffer and rise from the dead on the third day (v46).

This was a great responsibility culminating in the martyrdom of many of those early apostles and disciples; the story of the early church is the story of the good news going forward despite the dangers and bloodshed that awaited them. This too is our responsibility and our joy.

5. The Remaining for Power (v49)

What the disciples were called to do would be absolutely impossible without God’s active intervention so Jesus instructed those disciples (verse 49) to wait in the city for what was promised; that they would become clothed with power from on high. This concept becomes clearer a bit later in Acts 2:33; Pentecost: The powerful arrival of the promised Holy Spirit who would rest upon and live inside each believer.

But all this would have to wait until Jesus ascended back to the Father, and then together they would send the Spirit to fill and empower the disciples for life and ministry.

What does this mean? That this life of the Spirit of Christ who is active inside our hearts is both a seal and stamp of our adoption as sons/daughters of God, but is also the energizing force for life and ministry.

So as promised, this power would indeed come at Pentecost and would then propel the disciples to spread across the known world (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and beyond) sharing the good news of the suffered and risen Christ.

But as for now, in verse 49, Jesus called the disciples to wait. They could not carry on without this gift. Earlier, they had tried to heal diseases and perform miracles in his name and often failed (Mt 17:16); they needed to be empowered by the Spirit first before going forward.

6. The Rising to the Father (v50-51)

Upon blessing his disciples, and after teaching them what he had wanted them to know, it was now time. Jesus’ earthly work had come to a conclusion and he was ready to return to the Father; back to heaven. He had accomplished redemption on the cross (for both mankind and the cosmos) and with his resurrection had proven that his kingdom had indeed arrived.

Marc Chagall - Zurich

Marc Chagall – Zurich

Interestingly, this short text tells us very little about this ascension event. Luke simply says in verse 51 that Jesus “withdrew from them” and then that he was “carried up into heaven”. Very little description or detail accompanies it.

We do read a bit more about the ascension in the book of Acts where Luke launches into his second volume with a quick recap: In Acts 1:1-11 it is recorded that Jesus was “taken up to heaven”, that “he was taken up before their very eyes”, and a “cloud hid them from their sight”. Not much detail beyond that. Why might that be?

Perhaps there is a reason for this lack of detail. Perhaps it’s because it’s less important that future readers see an exciting Hollywood screen-reel in our minds and more important that we see the significance of the reality of what the ascension truly means.

And the ascension means that Jesus’ work on earth is done:

  1. Jesus could now send the Holy Spirit to empower us and would no longer be limited in location anymore.
  2. As Great High Priest, he performed the once-only perfect sacrifice for sins that all of the previous atonements from past millennia only partially accomplished and pointed towards; he had fully atoned for the sin and brokenness of both mankind and our world.
  3. As the spotless Lamb of God, he was sacrificed for sins, shedding his innocent blood for our redemption.
  4. As Advocate/Lawyer extraordinaire, he argued the case for justice (as it were) before the judgment seat of God and won; his case was airtight because the penalty had already been paid for, by Jesus himself.
  5. As Supreme Ruler, Jesus returned to and now sits on the very throne of God in heaven.  He holds together all things in the cosmos and is king and ruler of every realm.

The most quoted text in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’.” Jesus is Lord and King over all.

Jesus had to ascend in order for this redemptive chapter to come to its final conclusion (from God’s perspective) and it allowed for his presence to be spread abroad in all our hearts and not just remain proximally with that small group of disciples there in Judea.

7. The Repetition of Praise (v52-53)

The narrative (and Luke’s gospel) ends with the disciples in perpetual praise. As Jesus has ascended back to the heavenly throne to be with the Father, ruling and reigning over all things forever, the disciples responded in the only way they could: They worshiped him, they were filled with great joy, and they stayed in the Temple blessing and praising (Greek word eulogeo) God.

If the resurrection and ascension are true, then it changes everything. It validates Jesus’ teachings and his atoning death and proves that our redemption has indeed been accomplished. This is not only good news but fantastic news and should change every aspect of our lives.

To go forward rather with a lukewarm attitude towards Jesus (and the cross) would be absolute nonsense. To go forward with continued self-reliance, self-centeredness, and all accompanying idolatry would also be a ridiculous response.

Those initial disciples knew all these events to be true, as they were eyewitnesses (having been with Jesus from the beginning), and it changed them completely. They were propelled forward with joyful and repeated praise in spite of the dangers, persecution, and martyrdom that awaited them.

To summarize, the understanding about the ascension of Jesus Christ is vital and therefore should be given the rightful place in our minds and hearts. In a figurative sense, Jesus’ ascension was the very spark that ignited the towering timber pile: The logs had been chosen, cut, then placed in array, the tinder has been perfectly and strategically situated, and that spark initiated the brilliant and glorious fireworks of the next chapter in the life and growth of the Church.  The ascension was the event that proved to be the accelerant.

#Wade

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Categories: Ascension, Devotional, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Holy Spirit, Repentance, Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Embodiment of Scripture (Temptation of Jesus in Desert pt.2)

The EMBODIMENT of Scripture

LUKE 4:1-13

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where 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.’ ” 13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

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tempt-in-desert-stained-glass-chartres-cathedral

In the second part of this three-part Lenten series, the focus will be on the cryptic interchange between Jesus and the devil, specifically relating to the quoting of scripture back and forth.  What exactly was the point of that and what can we possibly learn? In this devotion, we will see that Jesus spoke the Word and that the Word spoke of Jesus.

1.  JESUS SPOKE THE WORD.
Fascinating, this interplay between good and evil.  Considering the crucial nature of this cosmic battle, one might think Jesus would have instead tapped more fully into his divine nature and zapped the devil right off the face of the earth.  But he didn’t, and he wouldn’t, because that would have short-circuited his mission which would inevitably lead him towards the cross; thereby sealing the redemption of creation and mankind.

Instead, Jesus simply quoted scripture.  Three times he quoted the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:13, and 6:16) to thwart the devil’s attacks.  Strange as it seems on the surface, of all the potential debate tactics that could have been used, this turned out to actually be the most powerful and efficient; it did the trick.  As the Apostle Paul writes, the sword of the spirit is indeed the Word of God (Eph 6:17).  So like any instrument or weapon, to be most effective, it must be most properly comprehended and wielded.

Something very interesting to note in all of this is that the enemy knows the scriptures too; very well indeed.  This is obvious from the fact that he also quotes scripture back at Jesus, but something is missing:  Though the adversary knew the scriptures, he didn’t “know” (in the fullest worshipful sense) the God of the scriptures; the God who would complete his redemptive plan out of love for his people.  The New Testament (Jas 2:19) informs us that even the demons “believe” (and shudder) so there is evidently quite a difference between intellectual assent to theological doctrine and deep heartfelt worshipful faith.  Out there in the lonely wilderness, we get a quick snapshot of that distinction.

About Jesus:  Jesus knows the scriptures, he understands them, and his conversations and teachings are infused with them. He is so saturated with the Old Testament scriptures that he drips them, so to speak, whenever he opens his mouth.  This specific phrase used three times in our narrative, “it is written” (to refer back to the Old Testament scriptures), is used by Jesus 63 times directly in the New Testament.  63 times!

This is a large relative percentage of what the Bible has recorded him as saying!  And not only that, there are many more times Jesus referenced (and inferenced) the scriptures without prefacing with that specific three word phrase.

It needs to be reminded that our Lord held a very high view of scripture.  Let’s allow the full-orbed consequences of that to sink in deeply.

In our present day, there’s a movement towards emphasizing only the “red letter” words of Jesus; downplaying the history of the gospels and Acts, minimizing the teaching of the apostles, and especially discarding the reliability and relevance of the Old Testament.  But that wasn’t Jesus’ approach at all.  He taught as if the Old Testament scriptures (“Law and Prophets”, “Law and Writings”, even “Moses and Elijah”, being synecdoches; a part standing for the entire whole) were both reliable and authoritative.  He built and based his life, works, and teachings on that certainty.  [More on this in a moment].

If this was not true, if the divine Son had not thought the Old Covenant scriptures to be reliable and authoritative, we could only deduce that his numerous references to the Old Testament were then insincere and even deceitfully manipulative, making Jesus out to be quite a deceiver, even a liar; thereby not a perfect teacher, not a perfect savior without sin, and therefore not a redeemer.  But we know much better.

About the enemy:  It’s not just Jesus quoting scripture in this narrative; the Satan does it as well.  And this isn’t the first time either.  Think back:  We’ve heard the devil quoting scripture before, and in doing so, twisting it to mean something OTHER than what God had intended (Genesis 3:1-7).  Back in the Garden of Eden, earlier in Genesis 2, the Father had created the perfect paradise and set only one rule for the first man and woman: “…you must not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die”.  When the devil, in the form of a serpent, came to tempt, his approach was crafty as he provoked with his sly twists in order to heighten doubt about what God might have meant in that (presumably, to them, unfair and unreasonable) rule.

“Did God really say you would surely die”?  We can almost imagine the private dialog playing out where the skeptic/mocker/tempter played on Adam and Eve’s human emotions.  “Maybe the serpent is correct” Adam and Eve might have said privately to one another, “If Father was really a God of love, he wouldn’t hold back from us anything… he’d certainly let us follow ALL our innate desires and allow us to eat of ALL the trees including THAT one”.

Satan used that weak moment to coerce; to lead them in erroneously believing that there was some mistake in their interpretation or understanding of God’s Word to them.   And so it went.  And so it goes.  And so it still goes, even today.

Sometimes just a slight word change or spoken inflection can cast major doubt, and if we don’t know the full context of the redemptive story of God in Jesus or the smaller grammatical-historical contexts (along with etymology) within the texts themselves, we find ourselves adrift on a sea of confusion, doubt, and potential misunderstanding.

2. THE WORD SPOKE OF JESUS.
It can be said that Jesus held a “high view” of scripture.  To more fully understand this, let’s think back to the narrative in Luke 24 where Jesus walked along the Road to Emmaus.  The newly risen (and unrecognized) Christ was walking with two disciples (one named Cleopas1) and in essence gave them a compacted Master’s level “Messianic Survey of the Old Testament” course as he explained how all those scriptures in the Old Testament were about HIM.

The Bible isn’t about “us” (or even about “them”);  It’s all about HIM.

Everything in the scriptures is about Jesus.  From the Old Covenant ceremonial laws describing priestly duties and innocent sacrificial lambs, from the prophetic foreshadowings of the prophets about the coming Messiah, on to Wisdom literature speaking of the embodiment of wisdom and knowledge.  From the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Passover lambs of the exile, the manna bread in the desert, the tabernacle, the temple, and all the symbolism and typology we discover in Adam, Noah, Abraham (with Isaac), Moses, Jonah, Boaz, David, Nehemiah,  etc, etc, etc.  It’s not about us.  It’s all about HIM.

To take it a step further, we realize it comes around full circle when we recognize that Jesus spoke the Word that spoke of Jesus.  Think about his first recorded homily in the synagogue “Today this scripture IS fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21) along with the Road to Emmaus narrative (Lk 24) and many more examples.

The apostles recognized this much more clearly afterwards.  In fact, the Apostle John launches his entire gospel biography of Jesus by writing first verse first chapter that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.  Jesus Christ:  The Embodiment of the Word.

Jesus himself not only held a very high view of scripture and frequently spoke and taught it to his hearers (followers and detractors alike), but he himself was and is the very embodiment of the Old and New Testament scriptures himself.  We catch a strong glimpse of this concept in this sword fight battle of words out in the desert.

Watch this short YouTube clip for an animated quick summary on this topic.  It’s a MUST WATCH 🙂

#Wade

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Other parts in this series:

Previously: Part 1: The Empowerment of Approval
 (What was the nourishing “food” that Jesus feasted on during his 40 days of fasting, and how does this help us see his relationship, and ours, to the Father?)

Next: Part 3: The Embracing of Calling (There is one thing lacking between all that Jesus had then, and all he would have after the cross, and that makes all the difference; to him and to us!)

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POSTSCRIPT:  The reader can clearly see I’ve taken a high view of scripture in this devotional.  Two thoughts for later development:  (1) I do not subscribe to a literalist hermeneutic, but rather view scripture through the lens of historical-grammatical-cultural context, genre, and big picture Christological typology.  (2) If or when “perceived” problems or contradictions arise, I most properly interpret/understand that potentially difficult text by weighing it in light of other more clear relevant texts, that along with the big picture redemptive story of God in Christ.  Personally, I find Prof. Darrell Bock’s chapter on “precision” –vs- “accuracy” (for instance, the very words of Jesus –vs- the voice of Jesus)2 to be far more convincing than Prof. Bart Ehrman’s skepticism in this regard.  But all that for some other posted musing down the road.

1 Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans 2006) is a fantastic treatment on eyewitness accounts related to the biblical gospels.  He handles the reason why the one Cleopas (out of two) disciples on the Road to Emmaus is named and the other is not, as well as many other important details and examples of eyewitness testimonies.

2Darrell Bock’s Chapter on Precision and Accuracy in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Crossway 2012). A very helpful treatment especially when we are dealing in this series of devotionals on three synoptic narratives that each deviate from the others, but all three written by gospel writers with differing purposes and some more concerned with “words” -vs- “voice” in the texts.

Categories: Devotional, Historicity/Reliability of Bible, Lent, Testing in the Desert | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Empowerment of Approval (Temptation of Jesus in Desert pt.1)

The EMPOWERMENT of Approval

MATTHEW 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’  5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’  7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’  11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

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Immediately after Jesus is baptized by John, he is led by the Holy Spirit directly into the desert for a crucial preliminary test of his character and mission.  It. is. ON!!!!

JesusTemptedintheDesertIconAnd it boils down to this: Does Jesus indisputably believe the words of affirmation and approval spoken earlier by the Father at the river?  Can Jesus (in his humanity) truly rest in and rely upon his Father’s goodness and love to provide and guide him along the journey towards fulfilling his mission?  Or will the enemy be able to plant enough of a doubt in his mind to warp and twist Jesus into being willing to short-cut the redemptive plan?

Some important considerations stand out in this passage.  In this first part of a three part Lenten series, the focus will be on the immediate link between Jesus’ baptism and his being tested in the wilderness.

And what might that link between those two events be?  It is the empowerment that comes in hearing the fatherly words of approval and affirmation.

No doubt the words Jesus had just heard from the Father, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17, Lk 3:22), were emotionally and spiritually energizing.  To rise up from the water and be reminded of this eternal all-encompassing delight would certainly empower Jesus for any task that might be ahead, one would think.

The immediate task for Jesus was this preliminary forty days of fasting (and, we’d surmise, praying) in the desert before his official public ministry was to be launched.  This Greek word “eremos” translated desert or wilderness (v.1) describes a very solitary, lonely, desolate, and secluded place.  Think about it:  There’s no audible voice of the Father heard there, and there’s no Holy Spirit descending in bodily form as a dove there either.  Jesus is alone and lonely.  He’s away from crowds and all by himself.  In essence, Jesus has been dropped from spiritual “high” to “low” almost immediately.  It’s so obvious, and so many of us have experienced this type of abrupt transition, though not in such an extreme form,  that it’s almost predictable; even expected.

How it all began was that right at Jesus’ weakest point, when hunger pangs were the strongest, the enemy came to tempt him. In reality, the word “temptation” doesn’t even begin to do justice to the cosmic battle that was being played out in the desert.

Here’s why:  The word tempted, translated from the Greek “peirazo”,  means to try, to attempt, to conduct a trial.  What was taking place was more than simply the devil testing Jesus’ character to see if he was a good (god-man) person.  No; it was a three-pronged (pun intended) attempt to powerfully sabotage Jesus’ redemptive calling.  Not so ironically, this word “peirazo” was used six times by Matthew in his gospel: Two times about the devil and four times about the Pharisees and religious leaders.  Notice the not-so-subtle connection there.  Basically, it was about anything and everything to keep Christ away from the cross for obvious reasons:  No cross, no redemption!

The FIRST assault of this three-pronged attack came by way of the devil masterfully manipulating God’s words of affirmation “You are my son…” when he intimated to Jesus that if that statement was indeed accurate, and if God was truly a loving Father who would give a hungry son bread, not a stone (see Mt 7:9 for the context), Jesus should then use his divine powers to miraculously change stones into bread.  “You are starving, why not?” we could imagine the private dialog playing out.  “If you died of starvation, what good would you be to anyone anyway, let alone fulfill a redemptive plan from eternity past?”

Jesus countered that first assault by quoting scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3, where it is written that “man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”.  Jesus had other bread, other food, to fuel him in his faithfulness.  He had the powerfully energizing words of approval and affirmation to ruminate on; his food was God’s word!

The SECOND assault was when the Satan took Jesus (likely in a vision?) to the holy city to stand at the very tip-top peak of the Jerusalem Temple.  Again, the enemy is strongly manipulating those baptismic words of affirmation by again asking, “if you are the Son of God…”  IF!  Another “if”!   The accuser tends to try to cast doubt and confusion over the veracity of the love of the Father.

But Jesus had focus.  The empowerment of fatherly approval and affirmation helped bring the fortitude and longsuffering necessary in order to thwart this obvious attempt to get Jesus to “show off” and earn human worship by jumping from the peak.  The enemy’s plan, it seems, was that the angels would somehow catch Jesus, or that Jesus would float down safely like a cat with nine lives.  Though we can only speculate what might have happened had he jumped, and of course he wouldn’t have and he didn’t, but the intended result would be that the people would worship Jesus NOW, apart from his going the full journey towards the cross and resurrection;  thereby disrupting the cosmic redemptive plan.

So Jesus blocked this potential sabotage like he did the first attempt, by quoting scripture.  In this instance, it was Deuteronomy 6:16.  He would not put his God, his Father, the one who loves and delights in him, to the test by performing magic tricks like some first century David Copperfield or Criss Angel sleight-of-hand master magician.  No!  Certainly it is true that Jesus would indeed earn worship, that one day “every knee would bow ” (Isa 45:23, Rom 14:11, Phil 2:10-11) and that even the “stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40) under his kingship, but this would take place later, and for something wholly different and something that would have cosmic and eternal consequences.

Finally the THIRD assault took place when the enemy showed Jesus all the kingdoms and nations of the world in what Luke describes as “an instant”.   An instantaneous victory-reel of visionary footage intended to nudge Jesus to accept his due power now, before the cross; to try and get Jesus to institute his royal kingdom on earth now, completely apart from the death and resurrection that awaited him down the road.

Jesus thwarted this attack by quoting scripture as well.  He quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 to insist that the worship that would indeed be due to himself should most appropriately be directed to the LORD God in their full trinitarian glory, not prematurely only to Jesus himself outside of his upcoming redemptive act on the cross, death, and resurrection.  The three persons of the trinity act, work, and love in unity to accomplish God’s good purposes throughout eternity.  The kingdom would come, and the kingdom was here (in Christ), but on God’s terms, obviously not on Satan’s or anyone else’s terms.

So much was taking place in this packed narrative and so much more could be said, but in a nutshell, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit of God into the desolate wilderness for a preparatory period of forty days before the official public launch of his redemptive ministry.  In his solitude and hunger, he feasted on the Word of God; especially those recent audible words of approval and affirmation.  His power during these attacks was that his eternal Father delighted all-encompassingly in his eternal Son, and this brought empowerment and faithfulness for the journey ahead.

#Wade

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Coming Next:

Part 2: The Embodiment of Scripture (What is up with the quoting back and forth of Old Testament verses? What does it all mean?)

Part 3: The Embracing of Calling (There is one thing lacking between all that Jesus had then, and all he would have after the cross, and that makes all the difference; to him and to us!)

Categories: Baptism of Jesus, Devotional, Jesus' Early Years, Lent, Testing in the Desert | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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