WE are working our way through a series looking at the ministry of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. It is called ‘following his footsteps’. Last week we looked at how we need to be prepared to encounterJesus, we come to the gospel wanting to know the truth of what we believe and we come with repentance, a heart moving from going our own way to being set on the purposes of God. This week we see how Jesus prepares for his ministry. It may seem strange but we are going to start our Following of Jesus Footsteps by following him out into the wilderness: into and through trials and temptations.
Sometimes it’s easy for Christians to get there JC mixed up with their DC… DC comics that is not DC power: the unidirectional flow of electrical charge. We can get Jesus mixed up with superman. Someone who may look human on the outside but has all these amazing powers, whose bullet proof… It’s not helpful for us to have that kind of image of Jesus. Luke presents us with a very human understanding of Jesus. At his baptism we see that Jesus isfilled with the Holy Spirit, just like us Jesus needs the empowering presence of the Spirit in his life to achieve the purposes and mission God has for him. Yes Jesus is affirmed as the son of God, but Luke right away affirms Jesus humanity, In between the two readings we had today Luke tells us Jesus whakapapa, his genealogy through Joseph, back to David, to Abraham and back to Adam… and NT Wright says “if there is any doubt about his being really human, Luke underlines his sharing our flesh and blood in this vivid scene of temptation” which is our focus today. I find it really helpful to know that Jesus faced the same trials and temptations that I face, that we face. I find it really hopeful that Jesus dealt with and overcame those temptations using the same resources that God has given us. This is what we are going to focus on today…
First we need to spend a little while looking at Jesus baptism. One of the big questions that goes along with Jesus baptism is…Why if John’s baptism was for repentance did Jesus submit to being baptised? Repentance basically means to turn around and to use a car turning analogy… We often use our rear vision mirror to look at the word repentance we think that the focus is turning away from sin and going our own way, that is because that is what we have to do. But Jesus did not sin so did he need to do that? John's call to repentance was about coming out of our everydayness and focusing on the Purposes of God... It’s dangerous to spend to much time looking in the rear vision mirror to get where we are going we need to look through the windscreen at what is ahead… the other side of repentance is turning to God… being about the purposes of God. This is what John was calling people too and Here is Jesus affirming in this sign of humility that he is about the purposes of God. That is his focus.
Luke’s account majors not on that factor but rather on God’s response. In filling Jesus with the Holy Spirit and affirming his unique relationship with God, you are ‘My son in whom I am pleased’. It is this relationship with Jesus and the ministry and mission that goes with it that are now put to the test. What does it mean for Jesus to be God’s son? What does it mean for Jesus to the Messiah who John the Baptist had said would come after him? What does it mean for Jesus and for us to about the purposes of God? The wilderness in the Old Testament was a time when Israel was moulded together to be God peoples, In the Old Testament it is Israel who are called God’s son and sadly in the wilderness they also failed the trials that they faced. But here Jesus shows himself to be a faithful son.
Luke tells us that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and that it is the Holy Spirit that leads him out into the wilderness. It is important for us to realise that the Holy Spirit was leading Jesus. If you remember from our time working through the book of James, that he starts his letter by telling his readers to count it all joy when they face all kinds of trial and hardships because God is able to use those times to instils in us patience and perseverance that lead to maturity in us lacking nothing. But it is not God who temps Jesus or us. Again James tells us that we cannot say when we are tempted that God is the one who tempts us. are times when God is able to grow us in our Christian faith, draw us closer to him, invite us to rely on him and trust him. In the journey of following Christ when we make significant steps they are often followed by times of re-evaluation. Working through what this new step this new encounter means and its right that we do that but in those wilderness times the devil can also try and tempt us to turn away from God. Hardship and wilderness times in our lives can come from many different sources, they can be because God is wanting to refine our faith, they can be simply because we have made bad decisions or they can be spiritual attack. In all those circumstances it is good to be reminded of the sovereignty of God, the holy Spirit leads us into the wilderness through the wilderness and as we finished our readings this morning with the beginning of Jesus ministry in Luke 4:14, and saw Jesus begin to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can come through them in the Power of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s look at how the devil, the enemy of our soul, tempted Jesus. There are three temptations recorded.
The first is that Jesus had been fasting for forty days. Probably surviving on water. He was hungry, maybe even by that time even hallucinating a bit. Maybe the rocks around him were reminding him of bread. Fasting and prayer go together in the scriptures, fasting is a way of focusing all our attention on God. Forty is a biblically significant number. Forty days and nights in the ark, forty years in the wilderness, it signifies coming to the end of human resources and energy. The devil tempts Jesus by first saying “if you are the son of God turn these stones into bread”. You’ll note the first thing that the devil does is invite Jesus to think what his relationship as the son of God actually means. Is it something to be exploited and used for his personal gain or even his personal needs? It is a small thing but is Jesus going to be obedient and dependant on God or be about wanting God to meet his needs. The people of Israel in the wilderness had grumbled about the lack of food, they had grumbled about God’s ability to feed them and provided and were even contemplating going back to Egypt. The prophets pointed to the fact that Israel’s shepherds were more interested in feeding themselves than God’s flock, was Jesus going to be like that? So Jesus response is to quote from the book o Deuteronomy. “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. At the Samaritan well in John 4 we see this worked out in his life and ministry when asked by disciples where he had gotten his sustenance, Jesus response was that his food is to do the will of the Father.
We are tempted in the same way. It is easy to think that following Jesus is all about God meeting our needs, and it is a very small step from that to thinking God is there to meet my wants as well. It becomes more about what God can do for me rather than being about the purposes of God. God can be trusted to provide our needs. He knows what we need. When we were ministry students in Dunedin, we struggled to get by, there were times when the cupboards were empty and a grocery parcel would turn up on the door step. Farmers offered the students meat at a very low price. WE wrote our car off in an accident, and people from the church we were ministering at over summer, gave us money for a replacement. Even with all that can I say there were times when I actually got grumpy with God. One day I was being very grumpy about something, bills and stuff probably, and walking down to Knox college and I looked up and saw a kereru a wood pigeon, with its head under its wing asleep in the sun. Now I had taken to stopping and thanking God for the presence of his Holy Spirit every time I saw a woodpigeon… it’s kind of like our native dove, only plumper and a pigeon. They started turning up like this one in providential moments. And this small voice at the back of my mind that I equate with God said “Howard is that how you see me asleep on the job...” I replied Point taken and went on down the hill to learn what I needed to serve God in the way that I do. We can be tempted to turn our living God into a plastic God, settle for a gold plated cosmic credit card. I wonder if this temptation and Jesus response wasn’t in Jesus mind when he said ‘Don’t worry about what you will eat or wear, your heavenly father knows what you need even before you ask, but rather put first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
The second temptation sort of went from one extreme to the next from a loaf of bread to the whole world. The devil offers Jesus all the nations of the world if he will bow down and worship him. Luke’s narrative of John the Baptist’s ministry places John and Jesus in a historical context by naming all the political and religious rulers of the day as the powers that are arrayed against God and here we see that the Devil is actually behind that. The devil is offering Jesus power and also a way of circumventing God’s purposes and plans. In Psalm 2 we see all the nations of the world raging against God but God’s response is to establish his Son to rule, to establish the Kingdom of God. The Jews were looking for a political messiah who would kick the romans out and establish an empire but God’s kingdom is going to be established through service and suffering by the way of the cross. Not by power not by might but by my spirit says the Lord? We can get tempted as well by earthy success and by power, we can want spiritual short cuts that don’t mean service and suffering and the way of the cross. We have just been through a long period of history where the church has been at the centre of power in western civilisation and we have forgotten that we are called to be about serving and caring and sacrificing for the least and the lost and we are having to be reminded of that. We can actually worship those things… success influence, power. Jesus response is timely for us as well as for his own situation “ It is written “ You should worship the Lord your God only”. We are not called to be successful but to be faithful. Jesus would say later ‘the son of God came not to be served but to serve.”
The setting for the third temptation is Jerusalem, whether in a vision or for real we are not told. Jesus is lead to the heights of the temple and invited to throw himself off. Again if he is God’s son will not god save him? The devil even quotes a scripture to back that up… Jesus is tempted in two ways here. The first is to provide a spectacular miracle that will show everyone who he is. The second here is to be concerned and consumed with his own safety. Being in Jerusalem we see Jesus passion foreshadowed here… is he going to trust God even though it leads to the cross. We often are tempted to be more concerned with our own safety and comfort that God’s purposes and we can look for God’s spectacular intervention. When God does not intervene the way we want we can be tempted to write God off or doubt his goodness and love. I know many people who tell me they prayed for something and God didn’t answer them and so they have written God off. On a church level it can affect us as well … I believe we need revival in New Zealand a reawakening of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, but I am concerned that for a lot of people they look to that as a way out, a spectacular God turning up and circumventing the road that God calls us to walk the way of the cross, sacrificial and costly love. Jesus response is to again quote scripture that we are not to put God to the test. God can be trusted to care and be with us and keep his promises even if it means the cross. Even in the face of death.
I just want to finish today by bringing some of that home… Are you facing wilderness times… be assured that the Holy Spirit is with you, and is leading you in and through those times and will be able to lead you back to galilee in power. Are you facing temptation today know that Jesus faced temptations and know that Jesus like us was able to overcome those temptations. We have the same resources available to us… the word of God and the Spirit of God. God can bring his word to you when you need it… and regularly reading it and praying it and wrestling with it is important. The more it is part of our lives the more it is able to transform us and guide us back to God.
Finally following Jesus will lead us into wilderness experiences and times of temptation where we wrestle with what it means to be about God's purposes. WE will be tempted to focus on God meeting our needs, our success and glory and being protected from the bad things in life... But to worship God and follow Jesus ultimately leads to the way of the cross... sacrificial and selfless Love.