“The IFs of Temptation”
Luke 3:23 – 4:13 (SBC Sligo, IE)
28 January 2018
The English word “if” is one of the shortest words in our language. Any good dictionary will tell you that “if” is a conjunction, whose basic meanings are, “on condition that; in case that; supposing that.” It is often coupled in a sentence with the word, “then,” to form an “if-then” conditional statement. Let’s look at some examples:
· “If you think you’re going out of this house dressed like that, young lady, then you’ve got another think coming.”
· “If you don’t get this work done before closing, then you’re fired!”
· “I’ll make you a deal. If you clean your room, then I’ll take you to the park for ice cream.”
· “Mister, if you reach for that gun, then it will be the last thing you ever do.”
· “If you are truly the Son of God, then turn these stones into bread.”
That last one might have sounded familiar and it should. It comes from our text for today in Luke 4:3. The words were spoken by Satan to Jesus in one of the temptations in the wilderness. We’ll examine it more closely in a few minutes.
Our text for today really consists of two different stories. The first is the story of Jesus’ genealogy. The second is the story of His temptation in the Judean Wilderness. At first glance the stories seem unrelated, but I am going to show you that there is an important connection between them.
23 When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph…
For most of us genealogical studies are just a hobby. Lots of people these days have discovered the fun of delving back into their family history to learn about their forebears. They spend hours poring over old family Bibles and looking at family records on sites like Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. Ramel’s sister, Deirdre, enjoys this hobby, as does my Aunt Lorraine. Personally, it leaves me cold. I just don’t care much about who my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather might have been. I’m not interested in finding out if 16 generations back in the fog of history I’m somehow connected to the Royal Family of Herzegovina or some other place.
However, if I were a Jew I would probably have a very different attitude. For Jews, genealogy has always been very important! They were a tribal people, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whom God named, Israel. The nation of Israel was born in slavery in the land of Egypt. The families of the 12 sons of Israel were led out of Egypt by God’s man, Moses, and conducted to the land of Canaan, which He gave to them as an everlasting inheritance. Along the way throughout their history God made several covenants with them. To Abraham God promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore and that they would always be God’s chosen people. God also promised Abraham that He would give them a land of their own. To David God promised an eternal kingdom, and said that a descendant of his would be the promised Messiah who would save His people. These are promises that every Jew knows and claims.
It is important for us Gentiles to remember that the Bible, including the New Testament, is a Jewish book through and through. Nearly all the characters mentioned in the Bible were Jews. Jewish culture, history, and customs are the backdrop for every book, every chapter, and every verse. The Jews were the chosen people of God, through whom He gave us the Scriptures, the promises, and the Saviour, Jesus. The Bible describes Israel as the tree. As Gentile believers, we who are part of the Church, have been grafted into that tree. We have not replaced it. We have not taken Israel’s place. We have simply been given the right to be grafted into the story.
When Jesus began His ministry, He did it in Israel, and He presented Himself to the Jews as their long-awaited Messiah, their Saviour. But for Him to have a right to make that claim He had to meet the criteria, because everyone knew that the Messiah would be a direct descendant of King David. You’ve probably noticed that the New Testament contains two genealogies for Jesus, the first in Matthew 1:1-17 and the other in our text for today in Luke 3:23-38. But have you ever noticed that the two lists are not identical?
Matthew 1:1 starts out, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…” Right out of the chute Matthew connects Jesus to the two most important Jews in the history of Israel. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham and works down to King David and then on down the line through David’s son, Solomon (cf. Matt. 1:6), finally coming down to Joseph, Jesus’ legal “father” albeit not His father by blood (cf. Matt. 1:16). Matthew does this because his purpose in writing his Gospel is to prove to the Jews that Jesus is their legitimate King!
Luke, on the other hand, gives Jesus’ genealogy through Mary’s side, tracing Jesus’ blood connection to David through a different son, Nathan (cf. Luke 3:31). Then Luke continues the list all the way back to Adam in verse 38, “…the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” Why does he do this? Because in the Gospel of Luke Jesus refers to Himself time and again as the “Son of Man,” emphasizing His true humanity as well as His divinity. So, Luke traces Jesus’ lineage all the way back to the first man, Adam.
Let’s move on in our text to look at the second story that I mentioned earlier, the account of Jesus’ “Temptation in the Wilderness.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say that as soon as Jesus was baptized by John, He was compelled by the Holy Spirit to go into the wilderness for a forty-day period of testing, which we usually refer to as the “temptations” of Jesus.
The word “temptation” is a translation of the Greek word peiradzo, which can mean either “to tempt” or “to test.” What Jesus experienced was more properly a testing, although the element of temptation was certainly present. It was Satan’s intention to tempt Jesus to sin by relying on Himself rather than on God. However, from God’s vantage point the goal of the experience was not to entice Jesus to sin, but to test His willingness to accept His vocation as Messiah, whatever the cost. The role of the Spirit in bringing Him to the wilderness is thus made understandable; God’s purpose was testing, not temptation.
These temptations are significant in two respects: First, they are significant for Jesus’ identity and for His mission as Messiah. He has been openly declared by the voice from Heaven to be God’s Son (3:17). The question now is, will He accept His task as Saviour and Messiah, or can He be deterred by Satan? His successful resistance of the devil’s every effort to sway Him proves that He will accept His messianic vocation. Second, they are significant for us, as the supreme example of how we can effectively resist temptation. Nothing is more common to the human experience than temptation, and Jesus shared fully in that experience with us. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” In so doing, He showed us how to cope with temptation and overcome it.
This raises an important question: Was Jesus really tempted? Could He have yielded to these temptations? Or was He just “going through the motions” as an example for us? Could temptation have been the same for the Son of God as it is for us today?
First, we must accept at face value the statement of Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus was tempted “in all things as we are.” It would rob that statement of significant meaning to think that sinning was outside the realm of possibility for Jesus. Our temptations involve the very real possibility of sinning; if His temptations were truly “like ours,” they must have included that same possibility. Second, to deny the possibility of yielding to temptation in Jesus’ case would have serious implications for the reality of His humanity. Remember that He was the “Son of man” as well as the “Son of God.” We must never exalt His divinity at the expense of His humanity. Third, we must recognize that Jesus’ temptations were, in fact, even more difficult than are ours because He resisted completely.
We never know the full strength of any temptation until we have resisted fully. The one who gives in to a temptation may complain that “it was just too strong.” But only the one who did not give in knows just how strong it truly was! Jesus teaches us by example the possibility of successful resistance to temptation.
We can study the temptations of Jesus from many different angles. The following observations are of special importance for implementing His example in our own struggles with Satan’s temptation.
1. JESUS WAS TEMPTED WHILE HE WAS FULLY UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they [i.e. the 40 days] had ended, He became hungry. 3 And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, [then] tell this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
Matthew 4:1 says Jesus was “led around by the Spirit,” and Mark 1:12 says, “The Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness.” Luke 4:1 adds that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” and was “led about by the Spirit” in the wilderness. The point is, it was obviously God’s will for Him to undergo this time of testing. The Father’s idea was not to lead Jesus into sin, but to strengthen His resolve through testing. James 1:2-4 teaches us not to misinterpret such times of testing in our own lives. They are not sinful in themselves, and they are not a sign of God’s displeasure or of our spiritual weakness. Think of it. Jesus had just been baptized; God had voiced His approval of His Son; He was being led by the Spirit. He was as close to God as flesh and blood can get! Yet, He was tempted! Therefore, do not feel guilty about being tempted. Temptations may occur in your life, not because something is wrong in your life, but because something is right. Remember that Job was tested severely, not because of God’s displeasure, but because Job was, by God’s own statement, the best man on earth in his day: “For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:8)! Likewise, Jesus, after His baptism, was about to embark on the task of being Saviour of the world. Satan simply could not leave righteousness and commitment unchallenged.
When your temptations are the greatest, do not give up. You may be on the verge of the greatest spiritual accomplishments of your life, just as Jesus was. Press on, meet the challenge of temptation, and grow from it!
2. VICTORY OVER TEMPTATION WAS NOT A ONE-TIME EVENT FOR JESUS.
5 And he [Satan] led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore if You worship before me, [then] it shall all be Yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”
If asked, “How many times was Jesus tempted?”, most of us would probably respond, “Three.” But the Scriptures only record three specific temptations. Luke 4:1-2 says that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil during the entire period. It was only “when they [i.e., the forty days] were ended” that Satan came to Him with the “Big Three” temptations. Also, Luke 4:13 says that after these three, Satan “departed until an opportune time.” The four Gospels show that Jesus was assaulted repeatedly by Satan during His earthly ministry, perhaps supremely so in the Garden of Gethsemane. Likewise, if we take Hebrews 4:15 seriously, we must conclude that Jesus was subjected to many “ordinary” temptations during His lifetime; the kind you and I experience daily as Christians. We can expect basically the same experience as our Lord. Certainly, those times of intense temptations will come, probably at extremely crucial times in our lives. 1 Peter 5:8 warns us, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And these are extremely dangerous for us spiritually.
How many fall away from Christ when they change jobs, marry, move, have children, divorce, retire, etc.? Too often these occasions become the “opportune time” for Satan to strike. But day-to-day temptations also come. We can never consider the task of resisting as being “finished.” We must be on our guard at all times. Satan will use every occasion to get to us. He may flee for a time, but he will always be back!
3. JESUS USED SCRIPTURE AS A WEAPON AGAINST TEMPTATION.
9 And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the Temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, [then] throw Yourself down from here; 10 for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’ 11 and, ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’” 12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.
Each time Satan presented our Lord with a specific temptation, Jesus responded with, “It is written…” (4:4, 7, 10). [N.B., It is significant that each of the Old Testament quotations cited by Jesus come from the book of Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:16; 6:13), reflecting Israel’s own time of testing in the wilderness.] His answer to every temptation was a word from God. The point is not that the words are “magic.” Rather, the man
or woman of God who follows the clear principles of the Bible which express the will of God will overcome temptation in many instances by letting Scripture settle the issue.
For this reason, if you are serious about being a Christian and avoiding sin as much as possible, you must be serious about being a lifelong student of the Word! This constant study is not so much for “education” as for survival! Someone might reply, “I just rely on the Spirit to guide me.” But the Word of God is the Spirit’s “sword” (Ephesians 6:17). The Holy Spirit cannot work effectively in your life if you remain willfully ignorant of the Word! If you are not a serious student of Scripture, Satan is probably already winning victories in your life every day, and you may not even know it! We must not think that Jesus used His divine powers to overcome the enemy, because that is just what the enemy wanted Him to do! No, Jesus used the spiritual resources that are available to us today: the power of the Holy Spirit of God (4:1) and the power of the Word of God (“It is written…”).
4. JESUS’ ULTIMATE WEAPON WAS HIS UNWAVERING TRUST IN GOD.
The replies that Jesus made from Scripture to the devil’s temptations were all expressions of His trust in God’s righteousness and provision. Satan repeatedly attempted to get Jesus to break faith with God and to rely on Himself instead, to put His own will over God’s will. This is basically true of our temptations as well. How many of our temptations are associated with getting our livelihood or somehow bettering ourselves? We are tempted to do wrong or to otherwise neglect God because we are not sure if God will provide if we do what we know is right! That’s our lack of faith!
Jesus was sure, so sure that He could unhesitatingly say, “No,” to the devil. Once the temptations were ended, the Scripture says, “angels came and began to minister to Him” (4:11). God did provide! And God will provide for you as well. He will give you the strength and provisions you need to live the abundant life.
The bottom line is this: To overcome temptation and sin in your life, trust God. Trust His goodness, His power, and His Word. Temptation will always be a part of our life on this earth, but it need never be insurmountable because, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
You must get rid of the ifs of life. Many people tell you, “I would be happy if I had a certain job, or if I were better looking, or if a certain person would marry me.” There isn’t any such thing. You must live your life unconditionally, without the ifs. You must recognize that the devil is very good at leading us into “if thinking.” What do I mean by that? He will whisper in your ear things like this:
· “If you do this, then no one will ever know.”
· “If you don’t do this, then you’re a sucker and you’ll never get ahead in this world.”
· “If you don’t take this bribe, then somebody else will.”
· “If you do this, then it is going to make you popular.”
· “If you try this pill, then it will make all your troubles go away.”
· “If you don’t go along with the crowd, then everyone will think you are a coward.”
Wildlife experts tell us that the wolf, when attacked, will first note the earnestness with which the enemy presses the attack, and, if he shows great determination, the wolf scampers away. But if he detects the least fear in his pursuer’s movements, he will defend himself with great bravery. It’s the same way with Satan: He tempts us by first placing some trivial thing in our paths; and if we offer no resistance, he suddenly attacks us with all his force, and overcomes us. But God has given us the weapons and tools with which to fight against temptation: His Word, His power, His promises, our faith in Him, our dependence on the Holy Spirit, and our determination to do right rather than give in to the devil’s lies. We never need to fall under the ambush of temptation! We can stand! We can be victorious, because “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.” Never forget that!