This post is the start of a new series called God-breathed, and the whole idea behind this series is that, based on the Bible, we believe that the breath of God is in the words that are in the Bible. Though we may not fully understand it, we believe it to be true. So, throughout 2023, we are going to be focusing on the words of the Bible, we will be using passages that come out of our Bible, and those passages will form the basis of our reflections.
There’s a story that’s been told about a salesman that was travelling through the prairies decades ago, selling electric vacuum cleaners, when they were kind of a new thing, and he had quite a dramatic sales pitch. What he would do is knock at the door, ask to come in, and when the housewife let him in, he would dump a bag of dirt on the floor and declare in a loud voice, “I am going to guarantee you that if your floor isn’t cleaner after I’m done than it was before, I will suck all this dirt up myself.” This proved to be a very successful approach for him and he sold lots of vacuum cleaners. However, his plan backfired when he visited a house out in the country, dumped his bag of dirt on the kitchen floor and boldly made his guarantee. The woman of that house replied, “Well, you better get started sucking because we don’t have electricity here.”
I share that story because it is a picture of what our life is often like. We try to live a good life, and by a “good life”, I mean a life that makes a positive difference in a long-term sense, and we try to live that kind of life without God’s power in us. And this is tragic because God has put all the power that we need for life with Him in the Bible, his Word.
So, the question that I’m asking you to consider is this: Where in my life do I most need the God-breathed power of God’s Word? And to guide us in our reflection, we’re going to be reflecting on Matthew 4:1-11. I invite you to turn there now if you have a Bible or a Bible app handy.
Here is a bit of background that will help you to understand what’s going on. In the chapter just before this, Jesus was baptized, and that is significant for a whole bunch of reasons. First, of all, Jesus did not need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. We do, but he didn’t. Though he was fully God, he was also fully human, and he was a perfect human being in the sense that he did not sin. What Jesus was doing was he was standing in our place, and undergoing that Baptism of Repentance, even though he didn’t need it, so he could be our representative in all the things that he did.
And some cool things happened when Jesus was baptized. First of all, his father commissioned him, it was like the start of his ministry. And his father also affirmed him. He said, “This is My beloved Son.” Also, the Holy Spirit descended on him and so, from that moment on, Jesus is doing all the things that he does as a human being in the power of the Spirit.
So with all of those good things that happened, perhaps one might think that everything is going to be peachy keen from this point on, right? What we find at the beginning of our passage is this: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1) Why? The reason why is that ever since our first parents disobeyed God because they succumbed to temptation, temptation has been a huge issue for human beings. And for Jesus Christ to save the world, he was going to have to overcome temptation for us. That is why he went into the wilderness and submitted himself to these temptations.
And when Jesus did this, you will note as we dig into the passage, that every time that he refuted the temptation of the devil, he did so using God’s word. What does that tell us? It tells us that God’s Word has God’s power in it.
Now interestingly, there are three temptations, and in the second one, the devil uses God’s word to try to tempt Jesus. What does that tell us? God’s Word can be misused.
Imagine for a moment that there’s a married couple, and the husband is making lunch for his wife. She’s going off to work in an office, so he puts a note on her lunch kit that says, “I love you and I will do anything you want or need me to do.” When the wife is at work, she opens up her lunch kit, she sees the note and her heart is filled with joy. So she puts the card on her desk so that she can gaze upon it throughout the day. Then, one of her co-workers walks by, sees the note and exclaims, “Do you know what that means? That means that you can divorce your husband and take him for everything he has because he said he’ll do anything for you.” That is a misuse of the words that the husband had written. That’s not what the intention was. And the same thing happens with God’s word. Anytime somebody is using God’s word to pull people away from God, that’s a misuse of God’s Word. So, it’s important for us to get to know God’s Word, not only so we can hear what God is saying, but also so we can know how to use it.
So, Jesus uses God’s word to refute the temptations of the devil, so we know that God’s Word has power in it. But there are a bunch of other things going on in this passage as well. For example, Jesus goes into the desert for 40 days. Why was it 40 days? Well, when Jesus refutes the devil’s temptations, with God’s Word, all of the passages that Jesus quotes come from a particular section of Scripture: Deuteronomy chapters six to eight. That’s significant because, God’s people, just before this in Deuteronomy five, had been given the Ten Commandments, and now, in chapters six through eight, they are in a window of time when they struggle with a lot of temptation. And it’s a struggle where they fail. In chapter nine, we see that they built a golden calf and began to worship it as their god. They fall into those temptations of, of idolatry, worshipping things that are not God.
So it’s really important that Jesus is quoting scripture from this particular section of the Bible. Because what Jesus is doing is not only standing in our place, but he is also standing in the place of Israel. Because God chose the family of Abraham to be a blessing to the world, to be the light of the world and to reflect God’s love and character in the world. And God loved his people and bless them. But often, or you can almost say invariably when they encountered temptation, they succumbed to it. And so Jesus is standing in the place of Israel, and he’s redoing all of the things that Israel did, but he’s accomplishing those challenges successfully. Israel was in the desert for 40 years. Jesus was in the desert for 40 days.
So the things that Jesus is doing, in this particular passage that we’re looking at, reverberate throughout human history. They go all the way back to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and all the way forward to today because we also struggle with how to deal with temptation. And the good news is that Jesus helps us to live in the forgiveness that He has for us as God’s people in this world.
So now we dig into the temptations and there are, as I said earlier, three of them. The first one is to disobey God to satisfy a physical appetite. So the devil says to Jesus just turn these stones into bread. Can you imagine what a temptation that was when you hadn’t eaten for forty days? If we go back to Genesis chapter three, the temptation was this: You can eat from any tree in the garden. That’s what the serpent was implying with his temptation of Adam and Eve. And today, this temptation might look like this: You can have sex with whomever you want, it doesn’t matter. It’s the temptation to satisfy a physical appetite, but disobeying God to do it.
And Jesus responds by telling the devil, “No!” Notice the refutation, the “Stop!” or the “Get out of here!” as he later says. Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” And so, Our physical appetite is not the most important thing. The most important thing is feeding our souls with God’s Word. And when that’s happening, then all of our appetites are going to get lined up in the right way.
The second temptation is to disobey God for personal gain. So the devil takes Jesus to a very high point and tells him to jump off because the angels of God will surround him and protect him and not let his foot hit against a stone. Back in Adam and Eve’s time, it was, “Look at this fruit, isn’t it pleasing?” And for us today, it might be like, “hey, you know what, it’s okay to cheat the government out of some income tax money. I mean, they’re not using it properly anyway. So you do that and you can have more money in your wallet.” It’s that kind of temptation.
But Jesus says, “The scriptures also say you must not test the Lord your God.” (Matthew 4:7) So what does he mean by this? He’s saying don’t go ahead and sin and then assume that God is going to protect you from the consequences of that sin. He might. It does happen. God is gracious, but he might not. He might let us experience the natural consequences of your sin and my sin. And even in that, he’s doing it in love. He’s letting us experience the consequences of our sin so that when we figure out what we’ve done we return to him.
The third temptation is to disobey God to gain power or glory. This time, the devil says to Jesus, “Worship me, and I will give you all the nations of the world.” With Adam and Eve, it was: “Eat this fruit and you will be like God.” Each of us faces a temptation like this, as well. Here is how it might sound: “I have certain information which, if I revealed it on social media, whether in the form of an image or words, people are going to be drawn to me and think well of me, even though that information was secret.” We sometimes think to ourselves, “If I know something, and it’s true, then even though it is a secret, I can reveal it.” No, you can’t. That is still breaking the Eighth Commandment, you are still bearing a false witness against your neighbour and you are doing it to get glory from other people.
What Jesus does is he says, “Get out of here, Satan!” He’s not playing footsies with the devil at all. In effect, he is saying, “Get out of town!” Continuing on, Jesus says, “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” Jesus is making an important point with his words here, and that is our issues when it comes to facing temptation, often center around what or whom we worship, because we tend to obey what we worship. If we worship our body, we tend to obey our body’s appetites and desires. If we worship money, we tend to obey whatever we think is necessary for us to get more of it. If we worship the approval of others, we will do whatever we think it takes to get more of that approval for ourselves. So the question really is, “What is it that we worship in our heart of hearts? And this is an invitation for us to come back and worship the one, true God.
What does all of this mean for us? In the opening reading for our Bible reading plan, we had this verse, 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training and righteousness, so the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Dear friend, you and I need the words of the Bible just like we need oxygen or food. And God has given it to us to nourish and enliven us and strengthen our souls.
This is because it’s the Holy Spirit that’s working through God’s Word, the Bible. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to create faith in our hearts, and to strengthen and nourish our faith. And our faith is so very, very important because it’s our faith that helps us to see that God has a good plan for our lives so we can trust him, to see that God really does love us, so we can worship him wholly, knowing that he has us in the palms of his hands. So we don’t have to go chasing after other things like the rest of the world does. We can just simply focus on God and his Word, and follow His Spirit, as he speaks to us through His Word.
Last Monday night, on Monday Night Football during the first quarter between the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills, Bills player Damar Hamlin tackled a Bengals player, got up, then fell to the ground again and suffered a cardiac arrest on national TV. Millions of people are watching this game. The emergency responders worked on him and an ambulance came onto the field and took him away. Football players on both teams, big tough men, were crying as all this was going on. Fans expressed their shock and dismay over what had happened on social media. Normally cynical sports commentators were talking on TV about how they felt as they watched what was unfolding that night.
One of those sports commentators was Nick Wright, and he said these words: “Two of the closest people in the world to me, my wife and you, my partner for years [here he is referring to his broadcast partner], are deeply religious people. And I’m not. And it made me a little envious in that moment and since then that I didn’t have that foundation of… there’s a greater purpose or a higher power or something because I feel like at times like this when there’s an inexplicable tragedy, you are almost flailing about, like why, why did it happen to this kid in this moment, and then you learn he’s such a good kid. I don’t know if that makes any sense to our audience, I hope it did, but that is how I was feeling watching something that we have never seen on an NFL field before.”
That’s the difference faith can make.
Dear friends, I want to encourage you to come out of the darkness, whatever your darkness looks like for you, to stop flailing and asking why and why. And instead, take some time each day to feed your soul with the Word of God. Because the power we need to live as faithful followers of Jesus in this broken and take title is in God’s Word. Amen.
(This blog post is the sermon message which was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on January 8, 2023. To view or listen to the sermon podcast, click here. For more information about our church, please go to wglc.org.)