Luke 4:1-13 NIV
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
What do you remember about Jesus going into the desert after his baptism? He was alone and went to be starved, dehydrated, cooked in the heat and then tortured by the devil’s temptation? I think that has been my thoughts on the matter but that’s not what Luke tells us. Jesus was not alone, he was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’! Maybe it’s because many of us grew up not knowing how to relate to a Spirit. Jesus is an historical person and even with the distance of history, we are, at the very least, capable of some meagre relationship with him based on intellect and information. Even though the Father is Spirit (whatever that means), ‘Father’ is a term we can identify with, for good or evil depending on your early life experiences, but ‘Spirit’, how does one relate to spirit?
Just a Thought: Have you ever wondered about spirit stuff? The devil is a spirit and God is a spirit, does that mean they are made of the same stuff? Some kind of disembodied, walk through walls kind of Caspar the friendly ghost thing? As flesh and blood human beings in a material, tactile, measurable universe, how do we begin to understand ‘spirit’? Let me share my understanding of spirits, evil and Holy. I’ll do it not as a place to start for further investigation of earthly spirits (not recommended for your health) but as a way of understanding God as spirit.
The devil and all his followers are disembodied beings without form and almost entirely powerless apart from the ‘lie’. Lies are a confidence trick that can steal power and authority from us, in order to use it for selfish and destructive purposes and do it all through the vehicle of human participation. The devil lies and intimidates us through the lies, then by pretending to be powerful he manipulates us through fear, temptations that appeal to our base nature and more lies and manipulations that encourage us to do his bidding. However, never ever say, ‘the devil made me do it’. We are able to resist temptation and make right choices as we will see shortly.
God on the other hand, is spirit of an entirely different order. The devil has no power of his own and must lie and deceive in order to steal it from us. God is all powerful in and of himself. He is, in fact, the source of all power and authority. God is ‘en-fleshed’ in the person of Jesus but even the Father and the Spirit are substantial in ways we can’t appreciate yet. If the devil is without substance and we are substantial in our material presence, then perhaps God is ‘supersubstantial’ and so unable to be perceived by mere flesh and blood. That is the meaning of ‘daily’ in ‘give us this day our daily bread’. Maybe in that prayer, we are asking not only for sustenance for to day, but for God to indwell us by his supersubstantial Holy Spirit.
Back to the text: Jesus wasn’t alone during his temptation, trial and torture in the desert, the person of God, we call Holy Spirit was with him. [In the Hebrew of the Old Testament ‘spirit’ is feminine and her name is Ruach Ha Kodesh, just in case you’d like a more personal way to address Holy Spirit (the ‘ch’ is guttural, back of the throat, the rest is as you see it).] The devil was face to face with the triune God through the flesh and blood of Jesus of Nazareth. The devil doesn’t seem to have been aware of this arrangement but this is what Luke wants us to be certain of.
3 The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ 4 Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone.”’
Firstly, let’s address the obvious, and potential elephant in the room. ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’. Even men can find this usage offensive if they believe translators are excluding their mothers, wives and daughters. You would think that a modern translation would be a little more gender inclusive. Many other texts in this same translation are. Translators usually make sure to include women and men in translations on almost all occasions, why not here? On some occasions, ‘man’ is more than a gender designation, or a word in language (gender politics aside) that was once meant to be understood as inclusive and assumed the meaning of ‘mankind’ or ‘humanity’ (modern English really makes it hard to be gender neutral). Maybe, ‘all people’ is the best we can hope for at the moment. But not here, and there is good reason. The reason ‘Man’ is used here, is that this text is not at all interested in gender, but rather, it is an important theological observation, that Jesus alone is truly and fully human: He is the truest representative of all people – of all genders. Jesus, is fully human in ways that humanity had never experienced. We say, at times of error or failure, ‘Well, I’m only human’. The truth is, until the advent of Jesus, we had never known what fully or perfectly human was, and that there never was any such thing as ‘only human’. There has always been something lacking and deeply broken in us, leaving us standing at the edge of an uncrossable abyss that lays between what we are and what God intended for us to be. Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit and under direction from the Father, is the human person that God intended us to be; a person without sin and full of the powerful presence of Holy Spirit and listening for the direction of Father. The devil was also face to face with this ‘man’; completed and perfected in all the glory of the Divine. Satan didn’t stand a chance then, and he doesn’t now.
So, to get back on track, Jesus is presumably dehydrated and definitely hungry, most likely sleep deprived for lack of covering in the icy cold of desert nights, and either freezing cold or cooked during the day, depending on the time of year. Hyperthermia or hypothermia, it doesn’t really matter, Jesus was in a state of complete physical depletion, after those forty days. The hunger and thirst and physical depletion must have had him close to tears. With that kind of deprivation, we would be don’t you think? Can you imagine it for a moment?
Exercise: Why not do just that? Use your sanctified imagine and go into the desert with Jesus and feel what his body must have felt. Dig into your emotions and let Ruach Ha Kodesh allow you to feel his feelings. Imagine, what he faced as the devil appeared and offered him sustenance. Offers you that same sustenance.
Have you ever felt that depleated? Many of us have.
Jesus answers the devil with the God’s own words from Deuteronomy 8:3, which in its context, is a reminder to the old Israel of God’s goodness to them even in their rebellion and complaining during their forty years in the Sinai desert. ‘(God) 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 now stands before the devil representing Israel again and preparing to lead a new exodus. Not out of Egypt this time, but out of death and into life, and as Israel he draws a line between the old Israel, just as he embodies the New Israel. Where the old Israel had failed to trust God, Jesus the new Israel, holds fast to his Father’s promises through the power of the Holy Spirit. He had to. After all, any human power he had prior to this moment is now entirely exhausted.
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.’ 8 Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”’
‘High places’ are places of worship in the ancient world. They were where the gods lived. Mountain tops are often isolated and dangerous places, inhabited by any number of unfriendly spirits. Local people in those days and even today in many animist cultures, avoided certain mountains wherever possible. The devil takes Jesus to a place that he believes he controls, where he believes himself to be god and where he may bestow Jesus with his ‘favour and glory’. Jesus is not fooled for a moment. Yet here we find the most powerful and subtle of lies. The truth, with a twist. Adam and Eve surrendered their authority and power to the devil and as a result gave the devil the keys to paradise. The devil had rights to the earth now by right of covenant. By allowing sin into the world for the sake of ‘the knowledge of good and evil’, the first couple transferred what was theirs by divine right to the devil, for a time. As a result, he has been terrorising its human inhabitants ever since. The devil’s strategic move to tempt and so destabilise Jesus and his mission, is outflanked by Jesus as he declares a restoration of the earth to its original management. Jesus was claiming back the earth and everything in it. He was announcing to the demons and all powers of darkness, ‘game on’! The subtext to this encounter, may well be Psalm 24:1, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.’
The worship of men and women belongs to YAHWEH alone, Jesus declares this incontrovertible truth, confident in the power, presence and support of Ruach Ha Kodesh.
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: ‘“He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’ 12 Jesus answered, ‘It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
Jerusalem is the seat of power for Israel’s messiah king, the centre of government and the spiritual centre of the nation. It is convenient for the devil and part of his confidence trick, to allow humanity to believe they rule their own lives, but he claims it all as his own. He also claims to be an expert in religious lore; in Torah. He is truly an expert in the rule of law but there is no grace in his words. The devil can take God’s love and generosity and make it look like hate and insufficiency. The devil quotes the Scriptures: Psalm 91:11,12, ‘11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’. Jesus responds with Deut. 6:16, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test (as you did at Massah).
This may seem like a familiar duel of words that many Christians enter into in order to prove their own way of thinking as superior over another’s. The devil is certainly operating this way. He employs Psalm 91 as a ‘proof’ text aimed at human insecurities. ‘Throw yourself down, Father will come to your rescue and you will demonstrate to all Jerusalem that you are truly the messiah’; quoting a word of God in isolation while ignoring God’s full council is what we call ‘proof texting’. It is self-righteousness at work in us. Jesus brings that fuller council when, by the Holy Spirit, he recalls God’s powerful words to Israel but also with an immediate relevance to his situation. By quoting Deuteronomy 6, Jesus reminds the devil of his original sin of rebellion against YAHWEY. The devil put God to the test and was cast out of heaven. He was testing God again.
It seems that the devil perceived Jesus as merely human and did not realise that Jesus, ‘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 2:6-8). Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, was neither afraid of the devil nor of death, even a prolonged and painful one. Jesus was filled with the Spirit and guided by his Father. He was confident of his place in the Father’s plan, confident of his Father’s love and of his power to save. That kind of perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Licking wounds of defeat and like the slimy, insubstantial, lying coward that he is, the devil slithered of to wait on another opportunity to stab God in the back. ‘Therefore, God exalted him (Jesus) to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:9-11)
The devil wouldn’t bend the knee. That’s pride.
What have we learned?
Christ is the New Israel. If we are in Christ, and we are, then everything that is true of Jesus is true of our new life. He is in us and we are in him. Ruach Ha Kodesh fills us, not with timidity, but with courage, love and sound thinking (2 Timothy 1:7):
- Thinking to perceive the devil’s subtle and not so subtle lies and to make right choices.
- Courage to confront the lies and demolish the devil’s arguments with the grace filled Word of God.
- Abundant love for those around us who are themselves persecuted by lies, deceits and unhealthy understandings of themselves and those around them.
What else have you learned?