Thursday, February 11, 2016

Luke 4:1-13 Satan’s Strategies in Temptation

KEY TEXT: Luke 4:1-5 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'" 

KEY THOT: At the height of Jesus’ spiritual power, when he was “full of the Holy Spirit”, he was led by the Spirit (not the devil) into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness is a picture of spiritual conflicts, trials and testings, like Israel's 40 years wandering in the wilderness. For Jesus, this trials and testings were preparation for his spiritual ministry to begin soon after. 

Similarly, when a believer is first filled with the Spirit, he often experiences trials and troubles that cause him to lose his sense of spiritual balance. The devil’s counter attacks become more intense. At such time, it’s easy to think that God has abandoned us, if not for the fact that Scripture tells us that it is the Holy Spirit who leads us into the wilderness. The wilderness experience is part of our preparation for ministry. John the Baptist says that we will be baptised by the Spirit and fire. And the wilderness experience is part of this baptism by fire.

Notice that the devil uses the same strategy as in the Garden when he tempted Eve: Firstly, he seeks to create doubt by his “if” challenge: “If you are the Son of God…” Despite God’s voice of affirmation at Jordan during Jesus’ baptism--“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22)--the devil nevertheless challenged God’s word spoken over his Son to sow doubt regarding Jesus’ self-identity. The serpent used the same strategy against Eve when he asked, “Did God actually say…?” 

Secondly, the devil asks Jesus to do something that is “good” for him: “command this stone to become bread.” In itself, the devil’s suggestion is appropriate and even good, for Jesus was hungry after 40 days fasting—and eating is a good thing. In the same way, the devil tempted Eve to eat of the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil but saying that it would open her eyes to discern good and evil: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Gen. 3:6). Also note that it is about eating: the devil is tempting us through food. The real issue here isn’t food or eating. The real issue is whose voice we listen when we are hungry.

Satan’s strategy in temptation is always to offer us something legitimate, but to do it his way. Eating is legitimate way to satisfy our hunger, but when we listen to the devil’s solution, we have become subject to his rule and authority. So, Jesus immediately rejected his suggestion by saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,’” quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3. In Matthew’s version, Jesus adds: “but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” In other words, it’s not about eating but about obedience to God’s word.

Many believers commit themselves to many activities that are legitimate but not necessary from God. In fact, the devil uses these activities to keep believers busy and away from God's agenda for their lives. Examples of such activities are the the pursuits of the “good life” and worldly success. While none of these are wrong in themselves, they become temptations when they are not initiated by the Holy Spirit but our flesh. The way of true discipleship is to walk by the Spirit and that usually means self-denial, not self-gratification: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do" (Gal 5:16-17).

The only way we can resist the devil’s temptation is to be committed to obeying God’s word—no matter what. If we cannot hear God commanding us to turn stone into bread, we would not do it, even though it is legitimate to satisfy our hunger. (Incidentally, one area that the devil has great success in undermining our ministry is our addiction to “good food” that is turning many Christians--parishioners and pastors--into food junkies. In following our physical appetites rather than God's Spirit, the devil has cut short our years of useful ministry.)

Father, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.

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