The other day I came across an old VCR tape in a thrift store of the movie called Highlander, which spawned a popular TV series by the same name back in the mid eighties. I remember watching the TV show a few times. And I was thinking that this particular movie might have given birth to a whole genre of good versus evil movies, where the hero is seeking some sort of immortality by doing battle with these evil forces. For some reason they love to use swords. I guess it’s more dramatic to see these titans in some epic sword play that goes on and on, whereas in a more modern context, they would just pull out a gun and shoot one another. But there seems to be some fascination with sword fights in these epic films.
Today, in our study of Luke, we come upon the greatest, most epic battle between good and evil in the history of the universe. It’s presented here in chapter four without any undue fanfare or drama, but believe me, it was a battle with universal consequences, more so than any conflict that the human mind can imagine. But this battle wasn’t fought with swords, at least not the kind you can see. This battle was fought with words. The Word of God doing battle with the word of Satan.
In a spiritual battle, spiritual weapons must be used. In Isaiah 46 the prophecy concerning the Messiah states: “He has made My mouth like a sharp sword.” And in Revelation 2:16 Jesus says, “I will make war with them with the sword of my mouth.” So there is a sword being used here, but it is a spiritual sword for a spiritual battle. In Ephesians 6, the Christian is told to equip himself in spiritual armor for a spiritual battle, “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
We are told then to put on the helmet of salvation and take up the shield of faith, having our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel, but what I want to draw your attention to is the weapon we are given; “the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.”
So what I want us to see as we look at this epic conflict between Christ and Satan, is that not only was it important for Jesus to be victorious in this battle so that He might be able to be the spotless Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the earth, but that he also might be our example, so that when we are tempted, we might know how we are to respond. As Peter said in 1Pet. 2:21 “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH.”
And so I call this message today, “Overcoming temptation,” because not only did Christ overcome temptation by the devil, but He also presented an example of how we too can overcome temptation.
First of all though, I think it’s important that we understand why this happened. What was the purpose of Christ being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, the Judean desert, to be tempted by Satan. Because that is what the text tells us, isn’t it? It wasn’t an accident that Jesus found himself there in the desert, famished and weak after 40 days of fasting, to be attacked by the forces of evil. But the text tells us in verse 1 that Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Now for starters, that goes against a whole bunch of people’s theology right there. They have been taught by snake oil salesmen masquerading as religious figures on television and in many pulpits that if you are really of the faith, and you have enough faith, then nothing but good things are going to be in store for you. God wants you to have the best of everything, and will withhold nothing pleasurable from you, because He just wants you to have all the desires of your heart. So it’s incongruous to a lot of people in churches today to think that God would allow hardship and suffering to enter into our lives.
But Luke tells us specifically that when Jesus came up out of the Jordan River having been baptized by John, having had the witness of the Holy Spirit come upon Him in the bodily form of a dove, and having had the voice of the Father speak audibly from heaven saying “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” right after this mountaintop experience, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus out into the middle of nowhere, in the midst of no man’s land, a craggy, rocky, desolate place in the middle of the desert, and He fasts for 40 days being tempted by the devil the whole time.
I can assure you that this passage is a good example of a common theme in scripture; that often our highest moments are followed by our deepest trials. The mountaintop experience is quickly forgotten in the lowest valleys. And I’ll tell you why. Because God is able to teach us more in suffering than He can through blessings like abundance and prosperity and good health and happy marriages and so forth. Once again, Jesus is our example. As it says in Hebrews 5:8 “Although He was a Son, [Jesus] learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” But God never tempts us to sin, rather God tests us so that our faith might be proven, that we might be refined like gold. Proof tested.
Now there was another reason that the Holy Spirit led Jesus out to the wilderness to be tempted. And that is because just as Luke is presenting the credentials of Christ in the first 3 chapters, this too is another credential of Christ. The Messiah had to be able to overcome sin and temptation, to defeat the devil, if He was really deity. God is demonstrating the deity of Jesus by overcoming temptation and sin and defeating every trick of the devil.
If Jesus would triumph in the wilderness, then He would triumph at Calvary and He would triumph in the garden. He would triumph at the cross and triumph at the tomb. And if Jesus could conquer Satan, then we can be assured of that triumph and that He is able to redeem His people from their sins. And we know that He did triumph in the wilderness and later He triumphed at the cross where He bruised Satan's head with a fatal wound, where He destroyed sin, where He provided escape from hell for all who believe. And then we know He conquered death, rising the third day, now ascended to heaven He continues to conquer all sin and all accusation laid against His people because He ever lives to make intercession for us. So that in His securing love, in His conquering grace we are more than conquerors for whom nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.
It’s interesting that in the last chapter we see the human lineage of Christ go back all the way to Adam. And we know that Adam is the father of the sin nature, which was passed on to all men, and all men have sinned as a result of this inherent sin nature. But we know that Jesus was not born with that inherited sin nature, because He was born of a virgin, and the sin nature is passed from the males to the next generation. But even so, Christ could still be tempted. Hebrews 4 says that Christ was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
But lest we think that Jesus temptation is less severe than ours because He was deity in man, let’s contrast the first Adam and the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Adam was in the best of circumstances; he lived in Paradise which was perfect, he was full, fed, everything made for him perfectly. Jesus had nothing, poor, hungry, alone, in the desert, physically beyond weak. Yet Adam fell, and Jesus did not. You may blame your circumstances on your sin, if I only had this or that I wouldn’t sin. But Adam had everything in abundance, and yet he sinned. Where the first Adam failed, the second Adam succeeded. In the first Adam we all died, in the second Adam we all live.
So Christ demonstrates his power over sin and over temptation. He demonstrates to the devil and his demons that He is the Messiah, God in the flesh. And we will see that in coming studies, the demons recognize Him, they shudder, they call Him the Son of God and they are under His authority. But at this moment, in this desolate place in the wilderness, far away from everyone, Christ stands alone at His weakest moment, to contend against Satan himself.
And I don’t think that Satan comes to Christ in this moment slinking around like a little red horned toad with a spiked tail. He doesn’t come looking like a zombie wearing a black hoodie. I believe Satan comes in all his glory and power, in all his brilliance and all his splendor in sharp contrast to the humility and weakness of God in this emaciated human flesh.
Who is this devil? I don’t have time to go into too much detail about him today, but I can tell you that Satan is not the way he has been presented in our popular media. In Ezekiel 28:11 to 15, Isaiah 14:12 to 14, you read about him. Before the fall he was the anointed cherub which many commentators think means he was the praise and worship leader of heaven. He was heaven's chief musician. He was the one who led all the angelic praise. He was the most beautiful of all the angels, and perhaps the most powerful. He was the covering cherub, above the throne of God Himself. And because of his surpassing beauty, he rebelled in pride against God saying “I will be like the Most High.” When He was cast down from heaven, the Bible says he took 1/3 of the stars of heaven, (speaking of the angels of heaven) with him. He has millions of fallen angels, demons as they are now known, under his authority.
We should learn from this the way Satan works. As he comes to Christ full in his glory, full of his power and in his pride, so Satan comes to us not looking like some caricature of a comic book demon, but like a friend, a companion, a trusted ally. Someone who has it all together. Someone that we can admire, someone powerful, having or seemingly able to provide all the things that we desire.
And so Satan comes to Christ in his extreme physical weakness. After 40 days, it says he was hungry. I think Luke is prone to understatement. I read recently of someone who attempted to fast for 40 days and it killed him. At 40 days, Jesus was probably physically so gaunt, that His clothes were falling off of him. He was practically unable to move, to take care of himself. He was weak to the point of being unable to stand. And here comes Satan, full of beauty, clothed in splendor, reeking of majesty and power, usurping all that rightfully belonged to Jesus as he laid there on the hot, dusty desert floor, his body so weak He could hardly move.
Now the scripture says that Satan had tempted him for 40 days. So in addition to the physical limitations of his body, he had been under spiritual attack for 40 days. But now Satan culminates his temptation with three distinct temptations. And though there are three temptations, there are really just two major areas in which he was tempting Jesus, and you can reduce that even further to just one common theme, attacking the word of God.
So the first temptation of Christ was an attack against His identity. Look at verse 3, “"If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” His attack is on who Jesus was. Remember, that this event directly follows the baptism of Christ in which the Holy Spirit comes down like a dove and lights on Him, and the voice of the Father speaks from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” And so Satan is sneering at Jesus lying there 40 days later, seemingly abandoned by God, starving to death, as weak as He could be.
In the third temptation, the same sneering insinuation is made; “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.” The devil is challenging the voice of God with the voice of hell. God said Jesus was the Son of God. Satan insinuates that if He were really the Son of God then He wouldn’t have allowed Him to suffer in this way.
And doesn’t Satan come to us in this same way in our temptation? Doesn’t he tempt us to doubt the love of God when bad things happen in the world? Don’t we oftentimes find ourselves doubting the goodness of God, the love of God, the providence of God when the wheels start coming off and things start going bad? The devil, Diablos, comes to insinuate, to question, to accuse, as he has from the beginning when he came to Eve in the garden to question, “did God really say?” Did God really mean that? Isn’t God just withholding something good from you for no good reason? He comes challenging our identity found in the Word of God.
And that is what is so beautiful about Christ’s response. Christ responds with the written Word of God, quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Not only is Jesus attesting to the goodness and provision of God, that real life is not found in food but in God who gives life, but He is also attesting to His own deity. As John would write in chapter one of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He is saying that He has life in himself. That’s how Jesus could say in John 14:6 "I am the way, and the truth, AND THE LIFE; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jesus is not only the Word of God made flesh, but He is the life, the source of all life, by Him all things were made that were made.
So when Satan comes attacking our human identity, our identity in Christ Jesus, our identity as children of God, attacking the love of God for us his children, then our response is to be like Jesus, and rely upon the Word of God. We need to hide the word of God in our hearts, that we might not sin against Him. We need to make every effort to study and store the word of God so that in the moment of temptation we have a ready resource, a ready answer from the promises of God to counter every attack of Satan.
And the second thing Satan attacks is an assault on Christ’s ministry. When God spoke audibly at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” what He said was a direct echo of two scriptures. The first one is found in Psalm 2:7; “'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” And the second one is found in
Isaiah 42:1 "Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights.”
Satan knew those scriptures as well. Satan was well acquainted with the prophecy of Isaiah that talked of God being pleased to crush His Servant, putting Him to death. He was well aware that the plan of God called for suffering as the road to glory for the Messiah. He understood the symbolism of the sacrificial lamb that was slain on the day of Atonement. Satan knows the scriptures much better than most theologians.
This is proven in his temptations. Satan quotes scripture back to Jesus, to try to use the Word of God to tempt the Word of God. I’ve said it before, you can prove almost anything you want to prove by taking one verse of scripture out of context. But remember this, scripture will never contradict scripture. The full counsel of God’s word must be considered to know how to rightly divide the Word of truth. Satan is a master of half truths. But a half truth is just a whole lie.
Jesus also knew that the plan of God that He had submitted to before the world began would be a path of suffering and death. But Satan offered Christ an alternative, a shortcut. Oh, he claimed to be after the same goal, that of Christ’s glory, but it was only a deception. Remember when Satan tempted Eve? He tempted her by saying that if she ate of the tree, then she would be like God. Isn’t that a good thing? Aren’t we supposed to want to be like God, to be godly? And yet his shortcut required that she disobey the word of God. And so his promise was really a lie that resulted in her being disavowed by God. She obeyed the voice of the creature rather than the Creator.
Satan is trying the same old trick on Christ. Offering Him a shortcut to glory. “If you throw yourself off this temple, then the Bible says that the angels of God will catch you so you don’t kill yourself, and then all the people will know you are the Son of God, and worship You. Isn’t that the goal? To have the people worship Jesus?
I fear our modern day “worship” of God has fallen for this trick of Satan. The end justifies the means. People think they are worshipping God, but they do so devoid of truth, because they don’t know the truth. The Word of God has been eliminated from our worship, and the substitution of music and skits and drama and videos and good works have taken center stage. Doesn’t it get a lot of people to come to the services? Aren’t things a lot more exciting? Isn’t the entertainment getting them introduced to the church? Isn’t that the goal, to get more people in the door?
The devil loves to make a confusion of means and ends. His message is that the end justifies the means. He offers shortcuts and compromises while telling us that the goal is good. He does the same in other areas of our life, for example, in business, or in sexual purity before marriage. He offers shortcuts to what may be a good goal but a wrong means.
The last temptation of Christ is the same thing. Offering Christ the kingdoms of the world if He would just worship Satan. Sell himself to the devil so that He might win the nations. But again Jesus answers him not with arguments or clever dialogue, but with the written word of God. “Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Every issue was settled in Christ’s mind by the Word of God. There was no negotiation. There was no compromise on the truth of the Word. Christ was saturated in the Word of God. That’s what it means by the way to be filled with the Holy Spirit and then to be led by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean you want to do something and then you see an opportunity to take a shortcut to glory and then you feel some exhilarating sensation that you attribute to a confirmation of the Holy Spirit and so go off to the races, fulfilling your carnal desires. No, being filled with the Holy Spirit and being led by the Holy Spirit means being filled with the Word of God and then being led by the Word of God. The Holy Spirit will never contradict the Word of God. God cannot deny Himself. 2Tim. 2:13
We live in a world today filled with many voices trying to drown out the Word of God. We live in the information age, the age of Ipods, and I pads, TV’s and car stereos and computers and we’re being fed voices and messages from the world all day long, 7 days a week. We have to deliberately counteract the destructive attack of these voices that are raised in opposition to what God has said in His Word. And the only way to do that is to study the Word of God. To get under the teaching of sound doctrine. To be faithful to every opportunity to learn the Word of God. And then to study privately the Bible as the Bereans did, to see if those things are so. To have a private time with God every day. Tally up your time spent with God this week. And then tally up the rest of the time that you spent listening to the voice of the world. It’s no wonder that we fall so easily when temptation comes.
The devil tells us to make our own laws, our own decisions, our own judgments on what is right and appropriate. And so we become our own little gods, our own idols. Satan will tempt you to doubt God’s word, then to take matters into your own hands to do what you think is right, what you think is appropriate. We need to saturate our lives with the Word of God, that we might do what is right and live holy and righteous lives in the midst of an evil world.
God has sent Jesus to be tempted and suffer and die for us, that having been found righteous He might purchase with his blood our righteousness. Christ defeated every temptation of Satan that He might defeat death and hell, and having been raised from the dead, He sits at the Father’s right hand to be an intercessor for us, that we might have life in Him. He died so that we might also be set free from the power of sin and death.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” (Eph. 6) Amen.