The Wilderness Temptations
February 25, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. The passage of scripture given to us for today tells us that after Jesus received baptism and before entering into his public preaching activities in Galilee, he had received temptation from the devil while in the wilderness desert. Through this passage today we will muse over the temptations that the Lord had undergone and we want to think together about what temptation is, which we need to overcome by participating in the Lord's victory.
A Human Does Not Live By Bread Alone
2. Let's begin by reading from verses one to four. "So, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and returned from the Jordan River. And he was guided by 'the spirit' through the wilderness; for forty days he received temptations from the devil. During that period, he did not eat anything, and when that period was over, he felt hungry. Then, the devil said to Jesus, 'Since you are the son of God, you should command that these stones turn into bread.' Jesus replied, 'The scripture says, People do not live by bread alone.'," (4:1-4).
3. So far I have experienced many temptations. But, I have never experienced the temptation to command that a stone be turned into bread because I know that even if I did command the stone, it would not turn into bread. For somebody who cannot do it, it is not a temptation. But, for argument's sake, let's suppose I did have that power. If I were granted that authority by God the Father and I exercised it, I would be able to transform stones to bread. Going a bit further along with this, suppose that I was very hungry, just like the Lord was. And then the devil shows up and tempts [me]. "You should command that these stones turn into bread." Can you picture such a scene? Doesn't it look so stupid a scene to you? The devil shows up on purpose to request such a triviality! Since it's the devil shouldn't it be requesting something devilish and very evil?
4. Here in the text "stone" is singular. So, the bread that appears in the text is also one. Is it such an evil thing to want to satisfy one's hunger with one thing of bread at at time of an empty stomach? When you're hungry it is quite devilish when [the devil] says steal it, rob some money. But, that's not how it is. [The devil] is not even saying, "You should make a huge profit by making a lot of bread [to sell it]."
5. However, the scripture is telling us all that this is a temptation from the devil. The temptations from the devil are not just the big seductions to [do] evil. Much rather, the devil's traps are set especially in the invitations to little acts where you wonder, "Where's the evil in this?" In this case, what the devil was wanting to have him do was to put one piece of bread in his hand at at time of hunger. Doesn't such a thing as satisfying a need seem a good thing to do? But, there is a trap from Satan exactly there where something seems right like this.
6. So what is the issue then, in this case? Let's listen to Jesus' response. The Lord responded by quoting a statement from Deuteronomy, "The scripture says, 'People do not live by bread alone.'" His saying that means that there is, in the little invitation from Satan, a temptation to make one think that "People can live by bread alone." In fact, the statement from Deuteronomy quoted by the Lord continues on in the following manner. "People live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord," (Deuteronomy 8:3). The point is that the temptation that would cause one to think that "A person can live by bread alone," if put another way, is in effect the temptation to separate a person from the truth that "People live by words from God, by the word of God."
7. As a matter of fact, we should probably give this some real thought. Let's suppose that in somebody's life a difficult problem has come up. That person thinks I've got to do something one way or another. Then he or she says to oneself, "At this terrible time, I'm too busy to even think about church. I have no opportunities to read any thing from the Bible." Don't you think something like that could happen to anyone of us? At times of hunger we think, "If I just had bread." When we're in a fix and don't have enough of something, we think if I could just get what I need. If there is some kind of trouble, we think, if I could just settle this trouble of mine. Seeking God's word, inquiring into the will of God ends up being in second or third place.
8. And a person may actually obtain bread in that way. A person may get a solution to some trouble. That might seem a happy thing. But, isn't that where the temptation from the devil is surely to be found? When a person's need is met and his or her problems are solved completely, will that person later become a person who says "People will not live by bread alone?" "Let's seek God's work precisely because we're in the midst of hard times. Since it's a terrible time, we will live by the word of God." Will [we] turn out to be persons who speak like this to ourselves or to others as well? Much rather, won't we be driven further and further from that point?
9. Earlier I mentioned that "I have never experienced the temptation to command that a stone be turned into bread." I made the claim that since it was Jesus it was a temptation that he [could] certainly experience. But yet, if we put ourselves there again, we will see that the extremely special and unique temptation that Jesus had experienced is quite a close temptation for us too.
Worship The Lord Your God And Serve Only The Lord
10. Next let's read from verses five to eight. "Then again, the devil pulled Jesus up high, and showed him all the countries of the world in an instant. And the devil said, 'I will give you absolute authority over and prosperity in these countries; for they have been put into my trust and I can give this to whom I want. Therefore, if you worship me it will all become yours.' Jesus replied, 'The scripture says, Worship the Lord your God and just serve the Lord.'," (4:5-8).
11. This is the second temptation. At least it seems easier to understand than the first temptation to "make a stone into bread." I say that because in the history of humanity there have been as many people as the number of stars who have been willing to put their hands on authority and prosperity by selling their souls over to the devil. One person called this "the temptation of the middle-aged." Since I've been in this stage called "middle age" for a long time, this temptation is certainly pertinent to me.
12. But upon second thought, [you may] notice that this is not so simple a temptation that we could label as "the temptation of the middle-aged." To begin with, Christ was not asking for authority and prosperity in the nations in order to satisfy some personal desire of his own. We must understand this situation for the very fact that the devil is in it, indeed, even though the devil may not be in it much. With that in mind therefore, what is being said in this text is not the simple temptation of "get power and prosperity by going off the righteous path."
13. When a person does seek for power and prosperity out of selfish purposes, I suppose it is very easy to understand how that a temptation from the devil is in that. But, what how about if it was in order to fulfill something good? What if the getting of power and prosperity were in order to fulfill the kingdom of God? As an example, please consider the church. Can the church really think that when situations have arisen where the church acquired authority over the nations and prosperity, that sure enough there was in it a temptation from the devil?
14. For argument's sake, how about if a person of importance from the local area converts, receives baptism, becomes a Christian and joins the church? What about if influential politicians or leading persons in different fields or huge celebrities with clout receive baptism one after the other, become Christians, and keep joining the church? That would definitely be a joyous thing. It is a joy whenever one of the human beings whom God has made turns to God. However, at that time the church may not actually rejoice over that but over the fact that influence and power were added to the church. Isn't it possible that the church rejoices when a big offering giver joins and the church becomes wealthy financially, when it has acquired prosperity? Do we automatically think, that it has with it the temptation of the devil in it? In fact, about three hundred years after Jesus had experienced [these] temptations, from the time of the emperor Constantine and thereafter, the church has gotten to the point where it holds "authority over the nations and prosperity." The church has considered that "The Victory Of The Church." But, was not the temptation of the devil in that?
15. Jesus rejected the devil by saying, "The scripture says, 'Worship the Lord your God and just serve the Lord.'" The temptation he had there certainly was to pull apart from [the command] to "Worship the Lord your God and just serve the Lord." When things like those I expressed earlier take place in the church, nobody thinks of themselves as bowing down to the devil and worshipping the devil. However, before one knows it, it does take place that [people] are pulled apart from God's word that says to "Worship the Lord your God and just serve the Lord." The things related to one's faith life, where one worships God alone as God, start to be done carelessly without even realizing it. Other things that give more power and prosperity than it will seem more important. Therefore, what may then be the effect? At that time, unbeknownst to the person he or she will have fallen into the devil's temptation and bowed the knee to the devil. This happens with both believers as individuals and as churches.
You Must Not Test The Lord Your God
16. Finally, let me read to you from verses nine to thirteen. "Then, the devil lead Jesus to Jerusalem and made him stand on the high point of the temple roof and said, 'Since you are the son of God, how about jumping down from here? I say that because it is written, God will command the angels on your account and he will cause them to keep you steadfastly. Also, So that your foot does not hit against a stone, the angels will support you with a hand.' Jesus replied, '[The Lord] says, You must not test the Lord your God.' The devil finished each temptation, and until the time comes he departed from Jesus," (4:9-13).
17. I get sick in high places. I don't like pain. Nor am I brave. So, I feel envious of brave people. When I hear stories of people who have acted with risk to their lives, I have pure admiration for them. I am even more impressed when it is a story of when God has miraculously helped such a person. But, I may not be alone in this. [We have all had a chance sometime] to hear testimonies of faith, of stories of people who have shown great determination trusting in God, who has miraculously helped them. People enjoy giving a close hearing to those stories. They admire [the heroes in them]. They will think, "That's something. I want to be like that too."
18. Yet, please be careful. The Bible does state that there are temptations from the devil at such points. The devil asked a life risking deed from Jesus in which he would have to trust in God as the son of God. The devil even substantiated the legitimacy of his request by quoting scripture. Were Jesus to jump down, wouldn't his actions be actual proof of his unwavering trust in God the Father and proof of God the Father's love as he would respond to his trust in him? Wouldn't it be joyous if people saw it and believed in God? But, the Lord rejected the devil's request by saying, "[The Lord] says, 'You must not test the Lord your God.'" In short, it was an enticement to an act that would test God.
19. When taken at first glance, the life risking decision and act from faith is really only a testing of God. Such things do happen. When something is missing, it will happen like that. That [something] is obedience to God. Trust in God must be expressed by obedience unto God. And the only one who can be obedient to God is the person who is seeking the will of God. Those who could care less about the will of God will do something like jump down from a temple roof even though God made no such demand of them. That's not an act of faith, but is merely an act that is testing God. Whenever we try to do something after being impressed and set off by another person's faith related actions, we will need to be careful; because you are not necessarily required [to do] what God has required others [to do]. For, it may be a temptation from the devil.
20. Jesus did not obey the devil's demand and do anything like jump down from the temple roof because the important thing to the Lord was to fulfill what God the Father was asking of him. Jesus showed [a real example of] trust in the Father, not [so much the one] on the roof of the temple, but on the cross. The Lord said, "Oh father, I turn my spirit over to your hands," (Luke 23:46) and then gave up his breath. Up to the very last the Lord did not yield to the devil's temptations.
21. As we keep seeking the Lord's help, we too must overcome the devil's temptations. For that reason we need to definitely make sure we know what a temptation from the devil is.