Sermon on Luke 4:1-13 from Arborfield Church, July 16th, 2005
Question – How do you respond to temptation to sin? I'll define what I mean by sin in a few minutes, but for now run with what you think of when I say “temptation to sin”
Approach 1: License
If you're anything like me then quite often you take this approach. License is the approach that does nothing to resist. Temptation rings the door bell and walks straight in. No resistance. We do this because we're easily pleased.
A few weeks ago I was buying lunch at Greggs in Reading... just a sandwich... but why not a sandwich and a cake... a little of what you like is good for you isn't it? Before I knew it the words were out and the money was handed over... on the way out of the door I walked past a friend. Caught in the act!
We settle for what temptation offers. It happens to us all, by weakness, negligence or deliberate fault. We confess that together when we meet here. The church is a family of self-confessed sinners. If you're a visitor today you're not sat with the self-righteous of our society. We're a family of imperfect people who have come to God for forgiveness.
And many of us who call ourselves Christians still live this way. We get charged with hypocrisy, and we have to hold our hands up. We admit our sin. No point pretending! We know. The world knows. And God knows. Sin lingers like a bad smell. And temptation never goes away. What is this sin thing? What comes to mind? Sin is about prizing ourselves above God. It happens as we decide that we rule.
Twelve days ago was American Independence day. Celebrating their independence, from us. Not exactly a British festival! Sin is our declaration of independence from God. And God is not celebrating. Whether in weakness, negligence or by deliberate fault we all do it. We make our declaration of independence from God.
Approach 2: Legalism
Some of us respond to temptation by sinning. Others try and resist it. This can be called legalism. We use rules. A swear box? An Internet blocker? It sometimes looks religious, but being religious is another form of declaring independence from God. Saying I'm good by my own strength! I triumph over temptation!
We think, I'll do good and go to church and that will make things right. And then we hear that Jesus responded to temptation by quoting the Bible so we say, lets be like him! Been tempted? Read the Bible! A struggle, but surely it'll settle our debts?
Yet this all ends up miserably. Wrapped up in all sorts of rules... and none of it seems work. A far cry from the freedom that Jesus speaks about... Some sin looks “bad”, like license to sin. Some sin looks “good”, like this legalism. Both declare independence from God.
Approach 3: Look at Jesus
The Bible will offer us a different way. Look with me at Luke chapter 4, on page 1030. Luke is a master historian. He's concerned to be accurate so that we can have certainty about our beliefs. Luke doesn't believe in blind faith. And he gathers his evidence about Jesus from the Old Testament of the Bible, and also from eyewitnesses of the events that he records. He ties everything back to the Old Testament of the Bible so that we can see the explanation of the events. Here, God has just said that Jesus is his Son. Then, Luke has listed the history of Israel – a whole nation who are called “sons of God”... right back to Adam, the first son of God – see that at the end of chapter 3.
And the question for us is: what kind of son of God is Jesus? As he paints his picture he's trying to get us to think about an earlier event. I don't know if you watched the last England football match, when it went to a penalty shoot out. What were you thinking? Stadium. Lush grass. England players. Three lions on a shirt. The goal. You probably wanted to see those black and white pictures of 1966... But you couldn't help thinking of Stuart Pearce or Chris Waddle in 1990, or Gareth Southgate, or David Batty... all those disappointments. And you found yourself asking, will this year be different? Isn't 40 years of hurt enough? Here, Luke sets the scene, from the eyewitnesses and it looks like something before.
Look at the first two sentences, marked, 1 and 2:
- In history, Israel were rescued from Egypt and came out into the desert. Now Jesus is in the desert.
- In history, Israel was in the desert for 40 years, Jesus is here for 40 days.
- In history Israel were led by God, now Jesus is led by the Spirit of God.
- Israel had been hungry, so is Jesus. Israel was called God's son, so is Jesus.
- Israel was tempted, or “tested”, and they failed... Jesus is about to be tested... what will happen... will he fail or will this son of God be different?
I did GCSE Art at School. I was an average artist, I suppose. Two years later my sister came to do GCSE Art at the same school. Now, my surname, Bish, is a bit distinctive so she probably caught the eye. And the teachers must of thought, “Bish”, she'll be another average artist... And then she arrived... same dark hair, family likeness... same odd surname.. And yet my sister wasn't like me; she's an outstanding artist...
What about Jesus? Will he be just like everyone who came before him... or will he be different? Israel was tested, now Jesus is tested... And what's the test about? Its all about the same issue that every temptation is about: who rules. It's always been about that. Adam, the first man, the first son of God was tested by the devil. The devil told him that if he declared independence from God he would be like God... better off going his own way... And Adam fell, Israel fell... What about Jesus? As Jesus is tested three times he responds with quotes from Deuteronomy chapters 6-8.
His words are from some teaching Moses gave to Israel. Warnings against repeating their mistakes. In the desert Israel distrusted and disobeyed God... what will Jesus be like? Three tests. All essentially the same. A penalty shoot out. Will Jesus trust God or will he make a declaration of independence?
v3-4. Jesus' life.
It starts with an outright challenge... Its a classic challenge: prove it! We'd do it – if someone came in claiming to someone famous we'd seek some evidence... How do you prove you're the Son of God? Satan suggests: take a stone and turn it into bread... go on, you're hungry... Jesus replies swiftly with some famous words... Sentence 4... “It is written” - which means “God says” - “Man does not live by bread alone”.
Israel didn't trust God to provide for them. They wanted to be independent and go back to their old slavery in Egypt. They looked at the shop window and got the price labels in the wrong places. They thought that slavery was better than life with God. We get it wrong too. Jesus didn't. Jesus lived by God's promises, by God's price labels.
v5-8. Jesus' future.
Scene two. Sentence 5. Jesus and the devil on in a high place. Its cinematic. The devil shows Jesus the world in an instant, a whirlwind tour – the first man to see it all. And then the test. Look at sentence 6. “You can have the world”. Have it all! The price is high! What would you pay to gain the whole world? Would you sell your soul to the devil? That is what Jesus is invited to do. Sentence 7 - “If you will worship me”. The devil does have some dominion over this world... but it is not his to give away.
We rent our house, we have some dominion over it, but we can't sell it. Jesus knows how things really are. Sentence 8. “It is written: worship the Lord your God and serve him only”. Israel fell. They thought that what God offered wasn't as good as what they could get for themselves. God offered them the world.
The Promised Land, a symbol of an eternal inheritance: a new heavens and a new earth! Israel thought that independence was a better offer... In time Luke will show us that Jesus will inherit the whole earth. But he will not claim it by selling his soul to the devil. No, he will win it by submitting himself to death on a Roman cross. It looks like a weak way to win, but that shows again how different Jesus is. Unlike Israel and unlike us, Jesus will do things God's way.
v9-12. Jesus' trust
Scene 3. Sentence 9. Another challenge: if you're the Son of God.... jump off a building and God will save you... The devil takes God's promises to keep his people and misapplies them. Its the oldest trick in the book. Like some people say, “you can twist the Bible to say whatever you want...”
So we imagine that the Bible tells us to quit sin and then God will love us. But actually it says we're loved because Jesus has overcome our sin. Tiny change. A world of difference. We need to get God's word right! Here the issue is about how you apply God's promise to keep his people safe.
What would you do if you knew a speed camera actually had film in it? You wouldn't drive past it above the limit, just to test it. You'd trust it works, and stay safe. You don't prove trust by trying to break it. Trust in God is proved by trusting, not by testing. And Jesus trusts God. He is very different to everyone who came before him. Unlike them, he trusted God's promises perfectly. And in that way, he is also very unlike everyone who comes after him. You and me included.
You might have asked yourself “What would Jesus do?” and tried to do the same. Luke's point is none of us is like Jesus. Everyone fails in the face of temptation... All except one: Jesus. And that is very good news. It is THE good news.
What do you do with this?
Firstly – look at Jesus and be rescued. Admit you've declared independence from God and ask for help. Become part of Jesus' family. God will see only Jesus' success, not our failures.
Secondly – don't fight temptation by doing nothing or by being religious: Odyssesus travelled home from the Battle of Troy past the Island of the alluring but deadly Sirens. He could do nothing but he and his crew would have died. Instead he blocked the ears of his crew and tied himself to the mast... allowing himself to hear their song, but take no action. He used rules to fight temptation and lost his heart, as good as dead.
Instead look at Jesus. If you're a Christian, you are not in Adam's family any more. Instead you're in Jesus' family. Jesus who passed the test. Jesus who won the fight that we do not and cannot win.
Jason, of the Argonauts fame, also sailed past the Siren's island. He took a different approach. He hired Greece's greatest musician to play a louder better song. The sirens song was drowned out and they had safe passage. You might be right in the middle of sin today. It might feel too late to pull out. Too far gone? Not true. Never true. God will pull you out, if you will look at Jesus. A great Christian hymn says this: “Hark how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own”. When temptation comes, forget independence. Look up at Jesus.