Luke 4:1-13 (click to display NIV text)
January 20, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson

“The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: man shall not live on bread alone.’ “

Jesus faces three tests in the wilderness. All three are deceptive words from the devil that threaten his relationship with the Father. The temptations cast doubt on Jesus identity as the Son of God. This is the identity that has been established in the first three chapters of Luke:

  •  Gabriel announces it to Mary.
  •  Jesus demonstrates his relationship to the Father at the temple when he is twelve.
  • A voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love” is heard at his baptism.  It is written into the genealogy.
  • Jesus is the Son of God.

Now the devil says, “If  you are the Son of God.” He proposes that Jesus prove he is the Son of God by turning a stone into a loaf of bread. After all, who else could do such a thing? In this way, Jesus could care for his hunger. This is the deception. Such a feat proves nothing, only that Jesus does not trust the Father to provide for him. It only proves that Jesus is willing to use the power of miracle to benefit himself. It may also prove that Jesus has decided to live on bread alone, and so break his relationship with God the Father. Jesus remains faithful to God. The stone remains a stone, and Jesus waits for God’s provision for his hunger.

The answer that Jesus gives to the devil comes from Deuteronomy chapter 8. In that passage, Moses speaks to the people about God’s provision and their need for faith. Here we find the call to love God, to obey his commands, to stay close to God and to know his grace and provision. Their hunger in the wilderness led them to receive manna from God. In that way they learned a life of faith. Moses says, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” Jesus understood that the issue was one of living for bread alone. The problem is not bread. Bread is provided in the sacrament. Bread is prayed for in the Lord’s Prayer. The work we do with our hands is honored in the Bible. But living for bread alone is different. When we feel that what we create with our hands is sufficient in life, then we come to feel we have no need for a Savior, no need for grace, no need for God our Provider. Christ calls us to follow him, to leave our prideful lives of consuming and filling material needs. He calls us into the richness of grace, into a spiritual life that brings peace with God, into a life of faith. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

The next two temptations are about turning bread into stones. What I mean is that the devil asks Jesus to replace the Kingdom of God with the splendor of the kingdoms of man. He asks Jesus to replace the good gift of faith with the anxiety that comes from constantly testing God.

But Jesus chooses relationship with the Father over what is offered by the devil, and so he remains the Son of God. This allows him to carry the mission of God all the way to the cross. So in the next section of Luke he goes into the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from the prophet Isaiah,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In the second temptation, the devil offers the kingdoms of the world in trade for worship. The devil is asking Jesus to break the first commandment. Why would this be tempting to Jesus? There is something in us, all of us, that is attracted to the authority, glory and splendor that he world offers. I think of NFL players who accept the great rewards of money and fame to play in that league, but who pay such a great price in terms of the risk of physical injury, shortened life span and the misery of brain injury. Yet they are willing to do it because they are drawn to applause and respect and power. Somehow we all share in this desire for the splendor and authority of the kingdoms of the world.

For Jesus, there is something more at stake. For him, to gain the world, that is to rival or replace Caesar, would be to gain a life of splendor and power. But if he accepted such a life, would he be willing to give his life on the cross?

Jesus chooses not to lose his soul, and so accepts the way of the cross and the kingdom of God.

“Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” –Philippians 2

For us, this is the temptation to turn the good bread of life into stones. It is the temptation to spoil what is good, what is a gift from God, because of the attraction of what the world offers. This causes us to lose our souls. This calls for discernment, to know the difference between God’s good earth, God’s good provision compared to the misuse of wealth and power. We must be willing to question things that look too good, that shine with a worldly splendor. We need to count the cost of not following Jesus. So often we think there is no cost in choosing the way of the world. The rich young ruler walked away from Jesus sad, but he still preferred his money to becoming a disciple of Jesus. Jesus was offering him something more valuable than money, more precious that the splendor of the world. Jesus says that the answer is to worship God and serve the Lord.

So often Jesus says in the gospels, “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t get stuck on what seems hard about serving Christ. Look past that, look past your fear to what Jesus is truly offering you. He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Finally Jesus is confronted with the temptation to believe that God will always protect him, even if he is reckless with his life. This is testing God. It is thinking that if I follow God, I will be spared grief and pain in life. I will not have to face the kinds of things that others encounter. So I constantly test God to see if he is with me. The devil quotes scripture on this one. He takes a few verses from the middle of Psalm 91. Jesus gives a very brief answer, also from scripture. Don’t test God. If you do not put God to the test, then you are able to live by faith and not by sight. He quotes Deuteronomy chapter 6, where Moses says to Israel, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Then he says, “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only … Do not follow other gods … Do not put the Lord to the test as you did at Massah.”

Jesus was being tempted to test God. If Jesus had jumped off the pinnacle, he might have died, or he might have been rescued by angels. But if he had jumped, then at every point of danger throughout his life he could have called for rescue again. In fact, when he was on the cross, people expected him to do just that, to call for angels to rescue him. But Jesus never asked God to send angels to help him. Yet Jesus is able to sleep in the boat during the storm at sea. Jesus lived by faith, even on the cross, and so by his death we have life, and in his resurrection we find hope.

Faith walks us through times of healing and times of loss, through times of joy and times of sorrow. Faith sees us in both green pastures and in the valley of the shadow of death. But there we fear no evil.

The temptations are deceptive. They do not produce what they seem to promise. Whether calling us to turn stones to bread or causing us to turn bread to stones, they separate us from God. But Jesus is the bread of life. We put our trust in him.


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