Real Faith for a Real Life in a Real World.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lessons from the Wilderness - Luke 4:1-13

This well-known passage teaches us a few things about temptation, opposition and our dependency on the Holy Spirit.

Beating Temptation

Temptation is a very human problem, one we all face almost every day of our lives.  Our passage tells us about a specific episode in the earthly life of Jesus when, as a human being, he endured not just the three particular temptations described in detail but 40 whole days of relentless temptation.  We can learn some important things about temptation from it.

Temptation isn't Sin

Sometimes, we can feel sullied by temptation, that we are useless failures, discouraged that we appear not to have changed much because we still face the same temptations now that we struggled with years ago.
Temptation is an inevitable part of our human condition but the important thing to remember is that temptation is not sin; it does not stain our lives.  The struggle may exhaust us at times but there is no guilt in being tempted, only from giving in.

If temptation were sin, then Jesus would be a sinner.  We see him here being tempted, and scripture tells us he was tempted in every way we are – but without sin, meaning that he overcame every temptation that ever came his way.

Oscar Wilde said, 'I can resist anything except temptation.'

Sin is not the inevitable consequence of temptation.  We see Jesus here successfully resisting temptation and the devil giving up the effort for a while.  We too can beat our temptations, and there a few pointers in the passage that can help us in our fight.

Temptation is Targeted

Temptations target our personal weaknesses.  Now, we are not all weak in the same areas.  Sometimes those weaknesses are sins to which we are particularly attuned.  There are things in my life that I find really difficult but you may never even give them a thought.  Some of your problem-areas won't present me with any challenges.  We're all different.  The important thing is to recognise our personal weaknesses and, by the choices we make, avoid things that lead us to be tempted.

What are your problem-areas?  What do you need to avoid?

Sometimes those weaknesses are circumstances that break our resolve or cause us to drop our guard.  It's easier to be selfish when we are engrossed in something we enjoy, or to leave that debasing TV programme on when we're exhausted.  The specific area of weakness for Jesus in the passage was extreme hunger after fasting for 40 days.  Satan saw it as a good opportunity to get Jesus to abuse the power at his disposal to satisfy his own needs.

When are you more susceptible?  When do you need to apply more grace?

Temptations target our trust in God.  In the Garden of Eden, the serpent said to Eve, 'Did God really say you would die if you eat?'  In two of the temptations in or passage, Satan says to Jesus, 'If you are the Son of God...'  Jesus had only recently heard his Father declare, 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'  Adam and Eve doubted the truth of what God said and led us all into sin.  Jesus stood firm on his Father's words and led us out of it.

Temptations target God's purposes for us, in an attempt to make us ineffective in our witness and mission.  There is, of course, the problem of seeing how enormous the task of mission is, from a human point of view. Having all the problems and difficulties pointed out to us is one way of keeping us from even starting the work.  Then there are those short-cuts that promise to get us to our goals much quicker than we could have expected but which, in reality, leave us compromised, exposed and without credibility.  What would have happened if Jesus had bowed down to Satan?  How long would Satan have left the world in his hands?  If Jesus worshipped Satan, wouldn't the reality have been that Satan remained in charge and Jesus would have been no more than a puppet?

Like Jesus, we need to be clear about whom we serve, and be careful about the course we follow to achieve our God-given goals.

Know your Bible

Jesus used scripture to counter temptation.  It gave him unshakeable authority in rebuffing his tempter.  Jesus knew scripture not because he was God and knew everything but because he had spent 30 years walking with God and following the pattern of Hebrew worship.

In John 8:32, Jesus tells us ' will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' (NIV)  That statement is in the context of a call to determined discipleship, of learning and growing;  learning what God is like, learning how our relationship with him works, learning how to live in ways that please him, discovering what makes us strong.  One tremendously important resource in that quest is the Bible.

Trying to be a Christian without reading your Bible is like going unarmed into battle.  I am not laying down some legalistic rule for Christian living, merely pointing out that having access to scripture and not using it is like life without breathing.

Mission Attracts Opposition

 Jesus was about to begin his mission of redemption for us all.  His objective was to rescue us from the dominion of darkness.  It's no surprise that darkness tried to foil his mission.

As disciples of Jesus, we have a part to play in taking the good news of the Gospel to the world.  It shouldn't surprise us if darkness militates against us.

The first thing to acknowledge is that there is an enemy.  Our enemy is not just the difficulties of life and human opposition.  Paul tells us in Eph. 6:12 that '...our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.' (NIV)

When we are led into mission by God, it should not surprise us when we encounter opposition; organised, concerted opposition.  Even Jesus encountered opposition.  For him, in the wilderness, it was a direct and personal encounter with the devil.

There is a battle.  There are no rules of engagement.  Your enemy is ruthless, bent on your destruction, and determined to stop you being effective for God.  How many moves of the Spirit have we seen undermined by the leader giving in to adultery, or being subverted by the love of money, or enjoying the influence he has too much?

The good news is that Jesus defeated Satan, and we can win, too, because of the resources God has given us, just as he gave them to Jesus.  We have Scripture: soak it up.  We have the Holy Spirit: let him fill and empower you.

Our enemy may be strong but he is limited.  Our God, however, is almighty and unbounded.

Our Need of the Holy Spirit

It's easy to forget that the life Jesus lived on Earth he lived as a human being.  He didn't have an unfair advantage on account of being God the Son.  Paul tells us that Jesus emptied himself when he left heaven and became an ordinary man who lived his human life in obedience to his Father.

So, why was Jesus different from the rest of us?  Jesus didn't rely on his own godly power, or his own human strength.  The passage tells us that he was full of the Holy Spirit.  The good news is that we too can be full of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, it's what God wants for us.

No Guarantee of an Easy Ride

Being full of the Holy Spirit doesn't mean that our lives will be trouble-free, that we will somehow sail along untouched by the problems of life.

Our passage tells us that it was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness, and the parallel passage in Matthew's gospel makes it clear that it was specifically so Jesus could be tempted by the devil.  Far from avoiding problems, the Spirit led him to confront difficulty.

Jesus lived his life on earth as a man.  He drew no advantage over us by virtue of his divinity.  He lived 30 years in obscurity as a man, and then exercised three years of world-changing ministry.  The reason he was so effective in pleasing his Father and changing the world was because he was full of the Spirit (see verse 1).

The same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus is available to us in our ordinary lives and in ministry.  If we are Christians, we already have the Holy Spirit living in us.  If we do not have the Holy Spirit, then we are not Christians. 

Do you have the Holy Spirit?

Having the Holy Spirit is one thing.  Allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us is another.  We can be full of the Holy Spirit in exactly the same way Jesus was, and as the apostles and other disciples were from the Pentecost after the Resurrection.  In fact, Paul tells ordinary believers to, 'Be filled with the Spirit.' (Eph 5:18b)

Power to Do

Luke says that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit.  It was through that enabling of the Spirit that Jesus could do the things he did.  The apostles and other disciples did what they did because they knew the enabling of the same Holy Spirit.  It couldn't have been anything to do with them, could it?  We see their weakness clearly portrayed in scripture.

Are you weak?  

With the Holy Spirit you can have all the enabling power you need to do whatever God calls you to, whether that be some amazing ministry or just to be a believer in everyday life.  Humility and obedience to God is the place to start.  Ask for fulness.  Be filled with the Spirit.

Summing Up

So, we have
  • learned something about temptation and how to beat it
  • recognised the need to be ready to meet opposition to mission
  • been encouraged to allow the Holy Spirit who dwells in us to fill and empower us.

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